It has been a year since the first rumours started about Apple launching a wearable device, most commonly speculated to be a watch. In a couple of days from now, we will know if Apple delivers on expectations. Actually, the company will never actually deliver on expectations because (a) the expectations themselves are spectacular, even unreal and (b) there will always be a section of consumers & media who either dislike Apple (hence pooh-pooh any effort from the brand) or want to see it fail. Perhaps no other company’s actions are so minutely scrutinised and criticised as Apple is. Every action of the brand – be it a product launch, financial news, content, people…all of it is keenly followed, dissected and debated. There is also a significant audience who are not fans of the company’s products & outlook (premium price, controlled experiences etc.) and hence are gleeful to see it fail.
In this context, the imminent launch of a wearable device from Apple and the next iteration the iPhone has garnered media attention globally. The hype around an Apple event is natural but this time it is even more so with Apple joining in the fun by way of an official countdown, likely mega event, the symbolism of the venue and so on. Can such a hype be engineered all the time by brands? Herewith some unsolicited thoughts on this and related issues:
Hype cannot be engineered in a vacuum; spontaneous participation is necessary
Some say that Apple is a master in marketing and creating perceptions of being superior, being in demand. And they say it in a condescending manner. In other words, the implication is that the products are actually of poor value, no substance and that people are ‘fooled’ into buying the products thanks to the hype. Rubbish. No amount of well-orchestrated, slick hype can sell a bad product. As John Kirk said in his excellent series of articles, ‘Apple’s claim chowder‘:
Many of Apple’s critics think Apple’s success is based upon the foolishness of its customers. It’s a bizarre, but widely repeated — and widely accepted — theory…Cognitive dissonance is a form of mental jujitsu that lets us flip our weaknesses and turn them into the weaknesses of others. If we don’t understand why someone does what they do, we don’t think of it as a lack of knowledge on our part, we think of it as a lack of knowledge on their part. Why should we question our own understanding of how things work and take the time to learn more about how others think when we can confidently assert that they don’t think at all?
It is true that any brand needs good marketing to be noticed and accepted. But it is foolish to think that consumers will buy products which they do not actually like but are ‘coerced’ into buying & using.
Not all brands can command such interest around their products & launches.That’s OK.
The logical question brand managers ask after seeing the hype around Apple’s products is: ‘if Apple can do it, why can’t my brand?’. Fact is, it depends on these three elements: the category a brand operates in, the quality of the product and the content that is put out, especially if it is a boring, low-interest category. Let’s face it, consumer electronics, cars, gadgets and other lifestyle categories are followed with great interest by consumers. If you are a toilet paper brand, tough luck – you have to do something which makes consumers take interest in you. That is usually led by the content – advertising, social media posts and such like. Remember what Tippex did on YouTube? Here was a brand of correction fluid doing great work and getting noticed.
Trying to steal thunder from a perceived leader? Pause, it may backfire.
Samsung has been suffering from a complex over the past two years. They are the kings of mobile phones by far as far as market share is concerned. But the brand has never been as revered as Apple is both by tech media and end-consumers. And after the patent wars, Samsung is even more determined to ‘sock it to Apple’. No doubt, the brand has a strong fan base and has triumphed spectacularly in the market over the past few years. Samsung is the only brand which is compared with Apple among all the Android devices. But Samsung is obsessed with a desire to upstage Apple, steal thunder from Apple announcements. The launch of Samsung Gear last year in anticipation of a Apple announcing a wearable is testament to that. Over the past few months, they have launched a slew of wearable devices, trying to cover all bases. It is almost as if they want to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. But the efforts have been comical, to say the least.
It is apparent that without anything to be ‘inspired’ from, they are groping in the dark trying everything from a geeky notifier of updates to a weak attempt at being a jewellery.
Rushing to market versus getting it right
Being ‘first to market’ has never been the objective of Apple. They’d rather get it right, in terms of concept. It is not the same thing as getting it 100% right and only then going to market. If that was the philosophy, nothing will ever get shipped (‘real artists ship, said Steve Jobs) in time because there is always room for improvement in any product. Going by the reports, Apple seems to have got the positioning of the iWatch (I realise that I am saying this sight unseen) right. As many pundits have said, the trick in creating a wearable is that form is very important – it must look so good that you’d want to wear it, irrespective of what it does. That is the secret sauce behind premium or luxury watches – the designs look so good that we buy many of them and wear it like jewellery. If media reports and the talent acquisition at Apple is anything to go by, design seems to lead the way with iWatch, not a techy, geeky stuff.
To me, it points to some solid thinking at Apple and being measured in their approach rather than trying to pay heed to pressure from the market and media pundits.