12 Most Loyalty-Driving Brand Tactics… According to Apple

12 Most Loyalty-Driving Brand Tactics… According to Apple

For those of you following my posts on 12 Most, you’ll notice I’ve been fascinated with Apple lately. Soon after laying claim to the World’s “most valuable brand” title, Steve Jobs resigned his “day job”, which inspired me to compile his 12 Most Important Quotes for Business in tribute. The subsequent discussions around that post once again raised the topic of the militant-like loyalty that Apple has earned under Steve’s guidance.

For most brands, consumers start out as a customer, and after much use and positive engagement with the company, become a fan. Mac has never had a customer; they start out as fans and quickly move to cult-members.

Like every other computer vendor, Apple is no stranger to hardware, software or even pricing issues; the missteps and glitches that PR pros dread and sales executives have nightmares over. Yet, the legion of Appleholics grows and grows, apparently ignoring some of the very issues that they so venomously criticize other brands for. So what makes them so loyal? Alas, that may be a bigger secret than how they get the caramel inside the Cadbury Caramilk bar. So this self-proclaimed “PC-Man” has done some research and compiled this list of 12 Most Loyalty-Driving Brand Tactics used by Apple in hopes of uncovering the secret. Join me:

1. You’re “cool” or you’re “the other guy”

Regardless of what you think of Apple, you have to admit it has swagger. The marketing geniuses from the early days have positioned it as the hip alternative to the corporate three-piece suit. Right up to the modern: “I’m a Mac” commercials that personify the Mac as the good looking, fit Gen Y male as opposed to the Boomer parent/corporate manager. It’s brilliant on so many levels. Fight the Man! Just brilliant.

2. As long as they’re spelling my name right…

As referenced in the intro, Apple is no stranger to hardware, software or pricing snafus. In fact, many believe they’re all carefully orchestrated PR stunts to keep the media interested and frantically focusing on “what’s next” from Apple. Recently, a second iPhone prototype was lost in a bar. Accident? Really? Brilliant.

3. Where everybody knows your name

Removing their products from big box retailers was called out by some as snobby, when in reality it was an ingenious branding and loyalty initiative. Not only is it a show piece that seems to be designed “just for customers”, Mac enthusiasts look to it as a social club. Mac-heads go to the Apple Store to meet Mac-headettes, chat all things Apple and do their secret-handshake thing. It’s “their” place (and I’m sure each location has a Cliff Clavin waiting to give them some useless, but entertaining piece of pop-culture trivia). Brilliant.

4. Square pegs in square holes

Apple’s products pretty much plug-‘n-play so well with each other that buying just one is akin to a drug dealer giving you a free hit. He knows you’ll want the next one and the next one and will charge you through the nose to get it. In fact, Apple was so smart they control the farming, packaging and distribution of anything related to its drug so even if you wanted to go elsewhere, you couldn’t. Brilliant.

5. Don’t like Apples? How ‘bout them oranges?

There are many, for whatever reason, that just won’t buy a Mac but will fork over hundreds  or even thousands of dollars for an iPhone or an iPod. They’ll stop buying CDs and download their music from iTunes. And then the local drug dealers show up (see point 4) showing you how much faster and easier they’re designed to work with a Mac… and soon enough… you need to call the Betty Ford Clinic. Brilliant.

6. Back to the future

Many credit Apple’s incredible product launch successes with its product development patience and detailed research; however, I believe it’s their ability to give customers what they’re going to want in a year, not what they need today that has made them so successful. Back to the future, indeed. Brilliant.

7. That’s the help’s job, not Steve’s Job

Sometimes I wonder if anyone other than Steve Jobs works at Apple? They’re virtually absent from social media engagement. Is the entire company automated?  The reality is that Apple has made it a policy to outsource whatever it can so that whatever consumer engagement the public does have with it directly, is guaranteed to be positive. Brilliant.

8. More like 1984 than you may think

Apple’s Macintosh computer was launched in what will go down in the annals of marketing history as the most powerful product launch campaign ever: the “1984” Super Bowl Commercial, which positions the Mac as the means of saving humanity from the “conformity” of IBM desktops. Yet, every Apple product is incredibly consistent and “conforms” to a simple, albeit effective blueprint. Essentially, they’re criticizing the drug cartels while secretly bringing the drugs into the country via little old ladys’ handbags. Brilliant.

9. Never let ‘em out of your sight!

While the products may conform to a single formula as listed above, they are varied just enough to ensure that there’s never a time where you won’t need or want to have one of them by your side. From the laptop to Apple TV; from the iPod to iTunes; from the iPhone to the iPad… there’s never a point in your day where an Apple product will not be by your side. Brilliant.

10. Get ‘em while they’re young

The most successful drug dealers understand the value of “getting ‘em while they’re young”… and impressionable. Apple has always focused on providing incredibly attractive pricing to schools and colleges to ensure that our public school system pushes out adult Mac-heads ready to drink the juice. It’s a rather “Orwellian” policy but kudos to them for thinking about it. Bet Microsoft wishes it had done so first. Brilliant.

11. Yeah, baby, yeah!

Apple has always understood that simplicity is sexy. And sex sells. Design was never an afterthought to functionality. Design was function and they leveraged it in everything from packaging to product development to the graphical user interface. Brilliant.

12. Is it a religion or a cult?

The greatest political leaders have learned that appealing to the audience’s spiritual or emotional senses is the best way to engender loyalty. And Apple has been quietly creating its own cult, er… religion with surgeon-like precision. Complete with a deity figure (Steve Jobs) and prophets (Guy Kawasaki), Churches (Apple Stores) and Pilgrimages (Mac Expo). People don’t simply purchase Apple, they worship it at its altar. Brilliant.

Many will argue that the product is so good, that it’s enough to earn such die-hard fans. I’ve always disagreed with that premise because in other categories there are products that rise to the same level of quality, if not better, and yet they’ve not been rewarded with such fanaticism.

So you be the judge. Are these the factors that have driven such fervent loyalty? If so, could it be replicated for other businesses? What are your thoughts? Join the discussion below.

Featured image courtesy of Steve Parker licensed via creative commons.

Sam Fiorella


Sam Fiorella is a globetrotting interactive marketing strategist who has earned his stripes over the past 20 years in senior management roles with corporate sales &marketing teams as well as consulting for more than 30 marketing agencies. Sam’s experience with over 1600 Interactive projects during the past 15 years spans the government, finance & insurance, manufacturing, national retail and travel/tourism sectors. Currently, Sam is the Chief Strategy Sensei at Sensei Marketing, where he is charged with strategic campaign guidance and marketing technology development that power the Sensei Customer Lifecycle Methodology. Sam is a respected blogger and popular keynote speaker on marketing, branding and social media communications having presented at more than 200 conferences in the past 2 years. Follow Sam on Twitter or Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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