What Apple’s Marketing Can Teach Small Businesses

Filed in Small Biz Marketing by Matt McGee on September 7, 2007 8 Comments

You may know I’m an Apple Fanboy, but I hope you won’t hold that against with me as you read this post. Because, whether you like Apple or not, I sure hope you’re smart enough to realize the marketing genius that exists inside that company.

Marketing AppleOne of Apple’s former corporate marketers has just started blogging. His name is Steve Chazin; I’ll give you his URL in a moment. As part of the launch of his blog, Steve wrote an 8-page e-book that puts into words what we’ve all seen in action: How great marketing rescued Apple over the past 10 years and turned the company into one of the hottest outfits on earth.

You might think there’s nothing a small business can learn from a company with pockets and resources as deep as Apple’s; au contraire, I say. Let me paraphrase the points Steve reveals in that e-book I mentioned and show how they apply to small businesses:

1.) Appeal to a buyer’s emotions. Steve talks about those iPod commercials. You know, the ones that don’t show the iPod. What’s the appeal of a person dancing in silhouette? What’s the appeal of owning white headphones? Answer: Membership. Belonging to the club. Status. Being cool. Marketing is about hitting people’s emotions and creating desire.

In my previous job, I worked with a stay-at-home mom selling customized “onesies” from her living room. They were customized with cute and unique designs, and made your baby look different than the kid in the next stroller. She was appealing to a mom’s emotions: What mom doesn’t want her child to be special? Last I heard, her business was doing well.

2.) Find one thing you can do better than the competition and DO IT. Steve points out that Apple didn’t make the first PC nor the first MP3 player; they just made them better. They realized PCs and MP3 players lacked one important element: ease of use. So they solved that problem and, in the MP3 category at least, now own the market.

What can you do better than your competitors? What problem can you solve?

3.) Turn your customers into evangelists. Of course, you have to have a great product or service first. And when you do, let your customers become your marketing team. Did you know Apple includes a couple Apple logo stickers with every Apple product you buy? When I’m in Seattle, I see Apple stickers on other people’s laptops, on street lamp poles, on cars … you name it. Give away stickers and t-shirts. Make your customers part of your team and watch them do your marketing.

4.) Have a story and keep it simple. Steve talks about simple Apple slogans like “1,000 Songs in Your Pocket” (iPod) and “3 Steps to the Internet” (iMac). In marketing, we often talk about an “elevator pitch” — what would you say to someone about your company if you had 30 seconds with them in an elevator? Apple goes further and focuses its message on something anyone can remember — and repeat to others.

As I read this, it reminded me of an old post here on SBS: How clear is your marketing message? Small businesses often make the mistake of trying to sound too big and too sophisticated. People want the simple. Give it to them.

5.) Create an experience. Steve talks about how Apple stores and Apple packaging are all part of the marketing plan, and fit perfectly into the company’s brand. I’ve had several first-time, Apple-buying friends email me to say how amazed they were with the packaging their iPod came in. This is about differentiating yourself, which is really what the previous four points are about, too.

We have a local car dealership who’s trying something new, at least for this area. They’ve turned the typically boring waiting area into a very comfortable living space. Whether you’re buying a car, or having one serviced, you can now wait in a big room with an HD television while sitting on comfortable couches and chairs. There’s a food counter offering donuts, snacks, and drinks — for free. There are tables to eat on, or you can use them to get work done. And there’s even a little souvenir store selling logo merchandise, like in #3 above. There’s no other dealership in town like it.

Question: How can you differentiate yourself? How can you create an experience?

Apple has money and resources a small business can only dream of, but I believe there are lessons above for small businesses, too. (By the way, if you’re looking for more inspiration from Big Companies, I wrote about what Amazon can teach small businesses a few months ago.)

So, fanboy or not, let me highly recommend you add a new blog to your favorite feed reader: Steve’s blog is called Marketing Apple and right next to his photo, you’ll see a link to download the 8-page e-book, “Marketing Apple: 5 Secrets of the World’s Best Marketing.” Great stuff…..

(Thx to David Meerman Scott for the tip.)

Comments (8)

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  1. Cari McGee says:

    Matt,
    This is great stuff for Realtors. #1 is how houses get sold, #2 and #3 is how you keep clients and gain new ones (referrals), #4 and #5 are more about the agency you choose to work for, and less about the individual agent’s small business. But still, great info, as usual. If you weren’t already married, I’d ask you out ;-).

  2. Stuart says:

    While those are all good points worth considering there may also be an important lesson for small business in what’s been happening with the iPhone.

    I wonder how that will impact on sales the next time Apple release a new product?

  3. Hey Matt,
    Excellent post! Thanks for recommending Steve’s site – his eBook is a great read. You make a point about keeping it simple – if you really look at Apple’s marketing, it is simple yet powerful. I think small businesses tend to over complicate in an attempt to compete with that simplicity. If that makes any sense???

  4. Matt McGee says:

    Wow, a comment from the missus. And a funny one at that. Nice! :)

    Stuart – your point is well taken, but I would argue that the future impact will be minimal. And despite the backlash of late, it’s all added up to even more publicity for Apple.

    Pat – makes perfect sense. :)

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