Apple's Branding Strategy


Apple Inc. uses the Apple brand to compete across several highly competitive markets, including the personal computer industry with its Macintosh line of computers and related software, the consumer electronics industry with products such as the iPod, digital music distribution through its iTunes Music Store, the smart phone market with the Apple iPhone, magazine, book, games and applications publishing via the AppsStore for iPhone and the iPad tablet computing device, and movie and TV content distribution with Apple TV. For marketers, the company is also establishing a very strong presence to rival Google in the advertising market, via its Apps business and iAd network.

Steve Jobs, Apple's co-Founder, described Apple as a "mobile devices company" - the largest one in the world (Apple's revenues are bigger than Nokia, Samsung, or Sony's mobility business).

For several years Apple's product strategy involved creating innovative products and services aligned with a "digital hub" strategy, whereby Apple Macintosh computer products function as the digital hub for digital devices, including the Apple iPod, personal digital assistants, cellular phones, digital video and still cameras, and other electronic devices. More recently, the full impact of a very well throught out brand strategy has come into focus - and one in which customer experience is central: the Mac is no longer the hub of all things Apple. Now, Apple offers a harmonised, synchronised, and integrated user experience across all of its main devices (iPad, iPhone, and Mac), using iCloud as the hub. It is in the process of extending this experience outside Apple-controled environments by introducing deep integration with Facebook and Twitter on iPad, iPhone and Mac.

Apple's core competence is delivering exceptional experience through superb user interfaces. The company's product strategy is based around this, with iTunes, the iPhone (with it's touch screen "gestures" that are re-used on the iPad), and the Apple Apps store all playing key roles.

The Apple Brand Personality

Apple has a branding strategy that focuses on the emotions. The Apple brand personality is about lifestyle; imagination; liberty regained; innovation; passion; hopes, dreams and aspirations; and power-to-the-people through technology. The Apple brand personality is also about simplicity and the removal of complexity from people's lives; people-driven product design; and about being a really humanistic company with a heartfelt connection with its customers.

Apple Brand Equity and Apple's Customer Franchise

The Apple brand is not just intimate with its customers, it's loved, and there is a real sense of community among users of its main product lines.

The brand equity and customer franchise which Apple embodies is extremely strong. The preference for Apple products amongst the "Mac community", for instance, not only kept the company alive for much of the 90's (when from a rational economic perspective it looked like a dead duck) but it even enables the company to sustain pricing that is at a premium to its competitors.

It is arguable that without the price-premium which the Apple brand sustains in many product areas, the company would have exited the personal computer business several years ago. Small market share PC vendors with weaker brand equity have struggled to compete with the supply chain and manufacturing economics of Dell. However, Apple has made big advances in becoming more efficient with its manufacturing supply chain,logistics and operations, and it can be assumed that as far as like-for-like hardware manufacturing comparisons are concerned, Apple's product costs are very similar to those of Dell. In terms of price to the consumer, Apple's computer products have an additional cost advantage: the company does not have to pay another company for operating system licences.

The Apple Customer Experience


The huge promise of the Apple brand, of course presents Apple with an enormous challenge to live up to. The innovative, beautifully-designed, highly ergonomic, and technology-leading products which Apple delivers are not only designed to match the brand promise, but are fundamental to keeping it. The recent emphasis on the iPhone 5's manufacturing build quality and design standards reflect this importance.

Apple fully understands that all aspects of the customer experience are important and that all brand touch-points must reinforce the Apple brand.

Apple has expanded and improved its distribution capabilities by opening its own retail stores in key cities around the world in up-market, quality shopping venues. Apple provides Apple Mac-expert retail floor staff staff to selected resellers' stores, and in the past it entered into strategic alliances with other companies to co-brand or distribute Apple's products and services (for example, HP who was selling a co-branded form of iPod and pre-loading iTunes onto consumer PCs and laptops in the mid-2000s - though in retrospect this may now just have been a stepping-stone).

As it has developed the iPhone business, Apple has hugely increased its retail reach through the retail outlets of the telco companies.  Apple has also increased the accessibility of iPads and iPods through various resellers that do not currently carry Apple Macintosh systems, and has increased the reach of its online stores.

The very successful Apple retail stores give prospective customers direct experience of Apple's brand values. Apple Retail visitors experience a stimulating, no-pressure environment where they can discover more about the Apple family, try out the company's products, and get practical help on Apple products at the shops' Guru Bars. Apple retail staff are helpful, informative, and let their enthusiasm show without being brash or pushy.

The overall feeling is one of inclusiveness by a community that really understands what good technology should look and feel like - and how it should fit into people's lives.

Apple Brand Architecture

From a brand architecture viewpoint, the company maintains a "monolithic" brand identity - everything being associated with the Apple name, even when investing strongly in the Apple iPhone, iPad, iPod and Apple iTunes products.

Apple's current line-up of product families includes not just these devices and and iTunes, but also iMac, iBook, iLife, iWork, iPhone, iPad, and now iCloud. However, even though marketing investments around iPod are substantial, Apple has not established an "i" brand. While the "i" prefix is used only for consumer products, it is not used for a large number of Apple's consumer products (eg Mac mini, MacBook, Apple TV, HomePod, AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule, Safari, QuickTime, and Magic Mouse).

The list of Apple's Trademarks reflects something of a jumbled past. The predominant sub-brand since the introduction of the Apple Macintosh in January 1984 has always been the Apple Mac. Products whose market includes Microsoft computer users (for example QuickTime, Bonjour, and Safari) have been named so they are somewhat neutral, and therefore more acceptable to Windows users. Yet other product have been developed more for a professional market (eg Aperture, the Final Cut family, and Xserve).

The iPod Halo Effect

Though Apple's iPhone and iTunes music business is profitable in its own right, Apple's venture into these product areas was based on a strategy of using the music business to help boost the appeal of Apple's computing business.

Apple is using iPad, iTunes, iPhone, and (very important at the time) iPod to reinforce and re-invigorate the Apple brand personality. At the same time, these product initiatives are growing a highly relevant, appealing brand image in the minds of consumer segments that Apple has not previously reached.

In a so-called iPod halo effect, Apple hoped that the popularity of iPod and iTunes among these new groups of customers would cause these segments to be interested in Apple's computer products. This does seem to have happened. Since the take-off of the iPod there has been a dramatic rise in Apple's computer sales and market share.

A couple of years ago, Apple's aspirations for the iPod halo effect was was highlighted most strongly when it used the slogan "from the creators of iPod" in its promotion of iMac G5 computers. In this instance, the Apple brand came full-circle - having been built into a branding system that originates in the personal computer market, then leveraged into the consumer electronics market, and then back into the consumer personal computer market.

This halo effect is extended with the hugely successful Apple iPad tablet computer. Great customer experience with iPhone (and familiarity with Apple's touch screen gesture controls), combined with a great product in its own right, has made iPod a huge success that in turn is drawing even more people to Apple's Mac computer products. In a move which brought matters full circle, the 2011 Lion version of Mac OSX gave the Mac the same touch screen gesture controls which iPad and iPod users have learned. In 2014 at the company's World Wide Developer Conference, it further strengthened the link between the Mac and other product lines by making it easy to provide continuity of user experience for a customer using a mix of Apple devices during her daily life.

Apple is employing the halo effect in its Apple Mac product strategy.

The mid-2012 Mountain Lion version of OS X incorporated many small changes to the Mac user interface that make the Mac's style of use much more like the iPad and iOS. By introducing such changes (which have frustrated some long-term Mac users), Apple has clearly decided that greater volumes of Apple Mac can be sold through selling to iPad (or iPhone) users than can be generated by upgrade sales to long-term Mac users.

This extension of a common user experience across Apple products was further strengthened by the introduction of the Apps Store to Mac OS X in mid-2011. Mac users can now buy their OS X applications with the same convenience as iPad or iPhone users can buy iOS Apps.

In mid 2012 Apple further harmonised the user experience of Mac and iPad users by introducing even more features from iPad into the new Mountain Lion version of the Mac operating system. With the introduction of Mountain Lion, Apple dropped the Mac part of the name from the operating system, so that it is now called just "OS X", rather than "Mac OS X". This small but important branding change opens the way for Apple to consolidate, perhaps into a single Operating System, the software used across its multiple devices.

Expect the Halo to Speak - Siri and beyond

Speech will be the next dimension in which Apple will gaining synery across its product lines. The natural language speech processing and interactivity capabilities introduced in October 2011 on the iPhone 4S are being introduced on the iPad (which uses the same operating system and A7 processor as the iPhones).

Apple is giving substance to speech interactivity by giving it a character - a personal assistant called "Siri". Siri can be somewhat customised by using different languages and idioms (for example, there are three versions of English speech available with country-specific accents and pronunciation - US, UK and Australian). Presumably other customisation or personalization features will also be introduced (perhaps user choice of name and other "identity" characteristics).

Siri highlights the marketing genius of Apple: speech control and interactivity are not new features on computers or phones. For example, smartphones running Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system have had very similar functionality to Siri for some time. When Apple created the Siri "personal assistant" which gives these otherwise rather hard to describe features a character, consumers were given a hook around which they could finally understand what voice interactivity was all about.

Having taught customers to use touch gestures, Apple is now going to teach us how to speak to computers (almost unavoidably, in a specific Apple dialect of speech interaction).

Apple Brand Strength Now Creating Financial Success

So far, Apples' branding strategy is bearing fruit. For example, Apple reports that half of all computer sales through its retail channel are to people new to Macintosh, the company's sales and margins have been growing strongly since 2006, and Apple has achieved several "best ever" quarterly financial results in recent years, and in early 2012 when Apple's share price passed $500 per share for the first time, the company was the most valuable business in the world with a market capitalization which exceeded oil company Exxon, the previous top business.

Leveraging the success of the iPod, Apple launched the iPhone (released in July 07) to extend the brand even further. Apple's buzz marketing efforts in the first half of 2007 were truly superb, culminating in the release of one of the most highly anticipated products for many years - and launching apple into a completely new market: mobile handsets. By July 2008 the buzz about the 3G iPhone resulted in over 1 million units being sold in the first 3 days of its release in over 20 countries around the world. This success was repeated in 2010 with the introduction of the iPad tablet computer, and in March 2011 with the launch of the iPad 2 which sold 1 million units within 24 hours.

Apple Re-entering the Corporate Market via the iPhone and iPad Halo Effect

Though no-one at Apple would say so today, the next phase of Apple's strategy seems focused on the Corporate marketplace.

A long time ago, Apple had a fairly strong market share in large companies.

A long, long time ago (at the end of the 1970's) the first spreadsheet program (VisiCalc) was launched on the Apple II. The first PC (the IBM PC) to run a Microsoft operating system (PC DOS) did not appear until 1981. When Microsoft launched its Excel spreadsheet in 1984 it appeared first on the just-released Apple Mac, such was Apple's presence among accounting and finance departments.

Even though Apple effectively stopped competing for corporate business during the 1990s, the Apple Mac is still used in corporate environments. Microsoft still has a vigorous applications development team totally dedicated to writing business software for the Apple Mac. New versions of Microsoft Office for Apple Mac still come out approximately 2 years before similar functionality is placed in the next version of Microsoft Office for the Windows operating system.

Over the next few years it seems likely that Apple will re-focus on the Corporate marketplace: The company provides regular updates on the proportion of Fortune 500 companies which are either trialing or deploying iPhone (currently over 90%), and the iPad. In 2009, when Apple announced "Snow Leopard" (the then-latest version of the Apple Mac operating system) it included features allowing Mac computers to fully support Microsoft Exchange. This enables corporate IT departments to support business users who wish to use Apple Macs for their main email clients. Apple's Mac OSX Lion release (in Summer 2011) includes all the functionality needed to use a Mac as a business server.

Also, Microsoft continues to bring out advanced versions of Microsoft Office for Apple Mac, and - very significantly - in mid-2008 Apple announced a software upgrade for the iPhone which allows iPhones to be fully supported by Microsoft Exchange email servers. Corporate IT departments can now include iPhones as email clients.

One aspect of Apple's strategy seems clear: to use the popularity of the iPhone and iPad to break back into large corporations, sell lots of those devices, and have Apple Mac back on the desks of large businesses (or more probably - in the laptop bags of middle and senior managers in most large businesses).

The Macbook Air and iPad are clearly designed for business markets as well as for consumers, and Apple continues to display its mastery in smoothly morphing customer experience and brand preference from one product category to another.

As we say; no one in Apple will currently admit to such ambitions, but Apple's branding strategy is clearly expanding to include business and corporate markets once again.

After Halos - Clouds

The next step in Apple's marketing strategy is the Apple iCloud, which delivers a seamless experience for using and sharing content across all your Apple devices (iPhone, iPod, iPad, or Mac). iCloud enables a common "it just works" experience for using content across all of Apple's mainstream products. iCloud positions the company for a future where customers experiences and their digtal lives transcend the hardware devices which they use, and enables Apple to extend the brand experience well beyond individual products.

Apple has invested in a 500,000 (soon to be one million) square foot Apple data center in rural North Carolina. This data centre this will be used as the core of a data repository for Apple's iCloud services, which will enable Apple to leverage it's customer franchise into an even broader market space. Apple iCloud is one of many ways in which Apple and Google are fast becoming arch rivals.

iKnow Siri?

Once Apple hand-held device users have become acustomed to this style of interactivity, presumably natural language speech interaction will also be extended to the Mac - in whatever form-factor Apple's full-function computers have evolved into by then. Perhaps longer-term, it can also be assumed that a user's Siri personal assistant will be used to embody and create a feeling of continuous experience across different devices, with Siri seemingly moving with us from device to device.

This continuity across devices will be possible because Apple is using iCloud to offer customers device-independence and multi-device synchronisation - so that whichever Apple device you move to the experience continues because the new one will "know" what you were doing on the last one and can pick up dialogues such as chat messages where you left off.

Apple's Original Apple Macintosh Marketing Strategy

Stanford University has published contemporary records and original documents of the marketing strategy for the Apple Macintosh launch in 1984, including the original Apple marketing strategy and the Apple Macintosh product introduction plan written by Regis McKenna.


It is now nearly 3 decades since the launch of the Apple Macintosh (on January 24, 1984). Having proven itself and already gained considerable popularity with the Apple II, Apple chose to announce the Apple Mac in one of the most famous-ever commercials, aired during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII on 22 January 1984.


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