Apple Inc. was recently named America’s most respected company based on a poll of US business people. Apple’s products have been the rage and its stock price has soared. Why? The press has focused on the great functionality of the iPod and Macintosh computer as the reason behind its success. That is part of the story, but certainly not all.
Apple stands out in a world of bland corporate identities and product designs. Its visual identity, store design and product designs are inspiring. They touch people on an emotional level when most products fail to inspire.
Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs is passionate about aesthetic beauty and excellence. He demands both and tries to strike an optimal balance between the two when beauty requires some functional compromise.
Jobs and his Apple colleagues have a great track record when it comes to taking these decisions. Often the press portrays Jobs as a bully. He isn’t. A bully abuses power because he enjoys dominating others.
Jobs may get upset at times but he does so because he demands that Apple products meet his standards of excellence and beauty.
When Jobs returned to Apple in 1996 following a 12-year exile, he helped create the “Think Different” advertising campaign. The advertisements saluted innovators who, although frequently dismissed as “crazy” by most people, are, in fact, the individuals who “push the human race forward”.
The copy proclaimed that Apple sees “genius” in these “crazy ones” and makes products to help them innovate and thereby change the world for the better.
This advertisement describes much more than Apple’s intended target market. It describes Jobs’ identity and the corporate identity of Apple.
A reporter in attendance when the “Think Different” television ad was debuted for Apple employees described Jobs’ reaction. As Jobs watched the ad, tears streamed down his face.
To Jobs, Apple is for those who challenge the status quo by embracing innovation.
Apple communicates this in its current television ads that feature a young, techsavvy man named “Mac” who scores points for the iMac computer in his dialogue with a frumpy, middle-aged man named “PC”. In other words, Mac is the future, PC is the past.
Jobs sees Apple as David to Microsoft Corp.’s Goliath. Americans love the biblical narrative of David and Goliath, whatever its form.
When you purchase an Apple, you vote for David and you become more David-like when you tote around a laptop with an Apple on it.
It’s only when you look at the actions of Jobs, Apple and the American computer-buying public through the lens of identity that do you truly understand the underlying reason for Apple’s success.
Michael Lee Stallard is president and co-founder of E Pluribus Partners, a leadership training and team building consultant.
As told to Anushree Chandran of Mint.