O Brother (Steve Jobs) where art thou?

It’s official. Tim Cook has stepped out of Steve Jobs’ shadow. That was the headline of the Times piece detailing the launch of new iPads, Apples watches, Apple TV, and of course, streaming content.

Under his watch (no pun intended), the stock price has doubled, market capitalisation has gone from ~ $300bn to $660bn, and contribution of revenues from subscription services has boomed. 

What’s not to like?  

Cook filled a big pair of shoes—and now he’s using them to walk to a destination far from Apple’s roots.

When Jobs started Apple in 1976, he wanted to build ‘insanely great products’ which lay at the intersection of technology and liberal arts. The function of technology, he said, “was to enable creativity in these disciplines. Technology should help. It should not to get in the way.” 

And this dictum guided the Apple design ethos.

In the late 90’s, after developing products for the ‘creative professions’, Jobs decided to bring creativity to the masses. Simplified versions of professional studio recording software coupled with the launch of a distribution channel (iTunes and the iPod) allowed ‘garage bands’ to record their teenage twangs. It also opened up an entirely new genre of broadcasting—the podcast.

After unleashing sound, Jobs moved to video. Anyone could be Fellini. The launch of the iPhone and the accompanying computer software meant any aspiring director could make their own local blockbuster.

All of this made Apple a magic brand with Jobs as the chief magician. The Cult of Mac was no longer niche, it was mass market. On every measure, it was superior.

I believe that Apple products tapped into a deep emotional need that is peculiarly human. We are problem-solvers. To survive and reproduce we have create to solutions to difficult problems. Thus, to have opportunities to demonstrate this capability to ourself and others is highly prized.

I believe Jobs tapped in to this emotional need, and this was key to Apple’s success. 

I also believe that Cook is taking Apple away from this position and it will impact their brand perception negatively.

Cook is replacing tools for creativity with plates for consumption.  Product development is focussed on easing content consumption, not creating it. 

As a consequence, Apple will reduce the emotional links with the consumer. 

Once, when Apple gave you a product you would ask, “What can I do with this that I couldn’t do before?”

Now it has become, “What can you, Apple, do me for me?”  

There are consequences to breaking this emotional tie.

  • I think Apple will lose some brand loyalty.
  • I think more Apple customers will do comparison shopping.
  • I think some Apple customers will start (have started) to resent being shackled to the Apple eco-system

The drift apart might be slow of course, but it has started.

So what can we take away from this?

At a minimum, those of us in B2B can learn from Apple’s early positioning.

We know we can the biggest value to our customers if our offers allow them to be superlative creators and better communicators. Especially if this allows them to be more distinctive in the eyes of their competitors.

And if our customers will also be better and different people as a result of working with us; more proficient; more successful; more confident—then we will receive our reward.

Consuming has its place. It’s essential for development.  But if your services or products can help people feel their problem-solving skills are by valued themselves and others, then you really are making a difference. 

I have found that, if your services make people more proficient, more successful, and more confident, they tend to come back for more.

For the brave, print out the triangle below. Ask your customers to locate your products and services, and ask your colleagues to do like wise.

What actions will you take?