Friday, June 20, 2008

How Steve Turns Plastic into Gold

There’s a lot of talk these days about “adding value.” For all the jargon, I think adding value is part of the conundrum that has gone unobserved for many marketers for a long time and mystified them at why their efforts are unsuccessful. I think its come to the forefront more recently because marketers are trying to get into channels where they will be ignored, or worse, outright opposed, if they fail to add value, and they’re finally recognizing this.

Giving me a branded baseball hat from a software company? That’s a miss. Having a baby changing station with free baby wipes from a baby-products company? That’s a winner.

That said, I think this idea helps diffuse some of the mysticism surround Apple’s Steve Jobs. Granted, almost anything the man touches turns to gold. He’s a business wonder on many levels. But if any serious Apple lovers are reading who want to keep an image of Mr. Jobs as a paradox of divine inspiration inexplicable by the common man, I suggest checking out the new iPhone instead of reading on.

I think Mr. Jobs success comes mostly from adding genuine value. Practically every innovation he develops gives consumes something they really want, or something they can really use and don’t even know they want yet. What was one of the first things he did when he got back to apple? He created a computer in a tidy, one piece unit that could be easily carried in one hand. It didn’t require the large amounts of space that modern desktops STILL require, but simplified the package, saving space and difficulty when moving it. I wonder if that had anything to do with its success among college students…hmmm…Next, he led the charge into mp3s full speed. He didn’t wait around like most manufacturers, tentatively toe-ing the mp3 waters, seeing if they were right. He knew if you only had to bring the player and not every tape or CD you wanted to play, people would jump on it. And he was right. He also made the interface very intuitive, something that other companies making mp3 players are only now finally getting right. Next, he combined two overlapping demographics- WiFi web surfers and an extremely mobile generation to create the iPod touch. Not only was the interface incredibly intuitive and something our imaginations have been craving since Star Trek, but it allowed people to leave their laptop at home AND have their music at hand in a nice little package. Then, came the iPhone. I won’t even pretend to have to educate anyone on how that added value. And let’s not forget how he turned the desktop into an even smaller, more compact and manageable package with the newest iMacs.

Every innovation has been based on genuine consumer needs and wants. Not just squeezing more power out of a processor or reducing price again. Anyone who compares prices of Apple products to non-Apple competitors knows Apple usually costs twice as much or more. But, still they sell. That’s because they add value. I can’t believe that STILL no PC manufacturer has put a computer into a tidy package like the latest iMac. Their R&D departments must really have their hands tied. The biggest difference I’ve seen between businesses that work one ones that don’t is the ability to say YES vs. the propensity to say NO. I bet there are R&D guys at PC companies all over tearing their hair out to create something that would put the iMac to shame. But management is probably too scared to do anything about it. Meanwhile Steve says yes and stock prices rise again. Ad agencies say “maybe we shouldn’t do that” and people detest cookie cutter advertising. Agencies like Crispin take the chance to say “yes” and maintain god-like status in the business world because they create amazing things. Maybe more of us should take a hint from Steve Jobs and say “yes” instead of cringing in fear of our own shadows. Success isn’t an inexplicable power bestowed by the gods, it’s adding real value and having the courage to try a good idea.

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