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Apple- The Next Chapter

May 12, 2014

Much has been written in the past week about Apple’s purchase of Beats and the ability of Mr. Iovine, so I am going to add to the collection.

Iovine is a man with a direct line to the people who have their fingers on the pulse of culture. He managed to create a brand powerful enough to supplant Apple’s white headphones, with Beats. They were supposed to be better, be technically superior and let’s face it, that wasn’t hard, while quality was the PR story; the real story was cultural cool. Beats have it because Dre and Iovine are plugged in where it matters.

Apple’s past purchases have involved getting hold of technology- like the guys who really build the iPod, but this one is different and is really a build on the hire of Angela Anhrendts from Burberry, to run Apple’s retail business.

It’s debatable whether Beats has superior technology, according to my sources there are only a couple of factories in China where most of the decent headphones come from and while you can change the settings and parameters, the technology is basically off the shelf. Beats have also spent some time with the man from Nine Inch Nails creating a new music site, called Beats Music. While this is a really smart attempt to bring taste and humanity to the world of streaming music, despite the millions of dollars invested by AT&T in promoting the new brand, it has yet to achieve real traction.

Beats finds itself at a crossroads at the same time Apple does, so the two brands need each other. Apple has the technical and software savvy and Beats has the cultural cache to make Apple relevant again.

Apple’s next big plays have to involve 3 things.

  1. Making a splash with wearables- the Smart Watch is coming and Apple is going to make something that works
  2. Launching TV- again, it’s been rumored for a while, but they have to be on the cusp of something big in this space
  3. Updating and evolving- iTunes and the iPhone

The smart watch has got to be different and better to what’s out there right now. It has to be desirable, wearable and ultimately useful. This seems the perfect space for someone like Angela Anhrents, who knows exactly how to market aspirational objects.

The TV and the updates to the iPhone and ITunes seems ripe for a brainstorm with the guys from Beats. They certainly have some ideas, if not the technology, to make these experiences better. Of course, they also have the marketing means to help make Apple culturally cool.

It’s been argued by today’s marketing experts that products have to deliver and perform in order to succeed with today’s highly informed consumers. An inferior product simply can’t succeed in the pressure-cooker environment, where one false move will generate a social media tidal wave that can deliver your marketing plan a knockout blow.

Steve Job’s Apple was all about delivering something to the market that the market hadn’t seen before. He was driven by the quest to improve and to find something better; he wanted nothing less and pushed his employees to deliver at all costs.

In the past 3 years since Jobs’ death, Apple has become an even bigger company building off the foundations that he established. However, we haven’t seen the kind of breakthroughs that we got used to seeing with Jobs. Maybe these breakthroughs are taking longer to achieve, or maybe in a world where a big competitor like Samsung has stolen Apple’s thunder, it’s just not possible.

When you look at what Anhrents and Iovine bring to Apple, it’s marketing savvy. Forget Iovine’s production work with U2 and Tom Petty, it’s not relevant to the case, but with Beats and Burberry, it’s hard to think of any other brands in the recent past, who have achieved such cultural breakthrough as these two.

What’s interesting is that while Burberry and Beats broke through culture, they did it in very different ways. Beats tapping into the cultural power of urban America and Burberry executed a single-minded brand vision and used pop culture and social media to amplify it.

In an increasingly competitive world where Apple can no longer rely on technical superiority it’s going need all the marketing help it can get. Iovine and Anhrents aren’t copywriters or art directors, but they understand that image is the thing that propels brands forward and makes them relevant. In today’s consumer culture, increasingly this is about not what you say, or what you do, but whom you are associated with and how they help you push your brand to cultural relevance.

We all remember the iconic 1984 Superbowl commercial and more recently “Mac v PC”, but this type of concept led communication is not likely to be a big part of Apple’s future. The Beats acquisition is all about Apple presenting itself as a different company; re-energizing and re-charging it’s efforts to become culturally cool once again.

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