How Apple sold out at $1 trillion

After Steve’s passing, it was obvious that things will begin to change for Apple. After all, Apple was Steve’s child of labor and he was the undisputed pastor of the company. I am not trying to sugar coat anything here either, I am perfectly aware of his iron fist rule. It was an iron fist which did wonders apparently, at least for the company and the brand overall. Steve managed to get Apple from the verge of bankruptcy, on the road to the most valuable company in the world.

Innovation, design and futuristic vision were the values which were most prominent in the Jobs era. The first iPhone was nothing short of revolutionary for the cellphone industry and if not for the tech industry overall. That single product made us feel like we are a step closer to our Star Trek future than ever before. Pair this with Steve’s insistence on design and Ive’s genius, and you got yourself a perfect recipe for success. Whether it be industrial, graphic, interface or interior, everything Apple had to be highly designed. In fact, I remember a video of Jobs discussing how important fonts were for the Mac OS back in the day. I don’t believe I’ve seen a single CEO focus on design so heavily since then.

Insistence and persistence (consistency) are keywords I want to focus on in this article because it took Jobs a long time, starting from Apple’s renewal from the year 1997 up until his death in 2011 to reinvent, build and most importantly preserve Apple’s brand. Jobs understood the value of persistence in enforcing the brand’s values and if it meant using his iron fist to do it, then so be it.

On the 2nd of August 2018, Apple was valued at $1 trillion. A valuation this high is huge news in the world of economics. This is indicative how things have changed under the new leadership though. The kind of headlines Apple makes now are more in business and less and less in the world of tech. I think all that success can still be attributed to Steve’s vision, although he’s not with us anymore.

My theory is that consumers still buy the brand out of the perception of what the brand is supposed to represent, while the products themselves have gone in another direction. Apple is burning through a lot of brand goodwill which was left by Jobs.

We can confidently say that there is not much revolutionary about Apple’s products in recent years and there isn’t anything revolutionary about them now. After all, they celebrated the 10 year anniversary of the iPhone with an awkward notch and an animated 3D poo emoji. Let’s not forget the touch bar on the MacBook Pro or the more than awkward placement of the charge port on the Magic Mouse 2. Would this have ever passed under Jobs I wonder?

What Cook does for Apple today was not possible for Jobs though and what was possible for Jobs looks like an impossible task for Cook, and I believe the latter is more important for the company’s longevity.

Cook thrives on operations and execution while Jobs thrived on vision. His vision is what basically made this company into the one we know and love, but we are steadily losing that under Cook’s rule, despite the surreal market valuations. The longer Apple stirs away from real innovation, and the more it starts to look and behave like its competitors, putting out products with only incremental improvements, the less differentiated it will have on the market. To put it mildly, there is less and less magic and wonder connected to Apple’s brand.

At the moment, the company is in the Goldilocks zone. Consumers are still loyal and acting on the company’s inherited brand goodwill and Cook’s operations and business skills. That is why the company is able to achieve today’s success. Brand goodwill is not an infinite resource though. New generations won’t be able to recall Apple values which Jobs put in place. If the company continues to stir away from producing products that capture our imaginations and melts down and that would make the brand less resilient to bad decisions or scandals like the #ThrottleGate for example.

I wonder what would happen to Apple if Jony Ive suddenly resigns from his position? Does the company have the leadership to persist in preserving their design philosophy? It brings me back to the ancient paradox and thought experiment, The Ship of Theseus stating: Will a ship that has had all of its components replaced remains fundamentally the same ship? I am increasingly uncertain this will be the case.

Apple’s brand could soon face crisis. What measures should Tim Cook take?

iPhone 6s apple.jpg
Apple’s brand and marketing need change. Source: imgur

Let’s be honest, when was the last time Apple graced the world with revolutionary innovation?

Makes you think, huh?

We keep hearing people divide Apple’s history into two distinct eras: during Jobs and after Jobs. This is not just an innocent perception. It could signify a possible seismic shift in Apple’s brand perception.

I remember that Apple’s brand in its peak (circa 2008) was about magic, innovation and cool. The touch display on the iPhone was everything anybody wanted to talk about and experience in their hands. This experience was unique, beautiful and practical and Apple developed a few other products around the same concept including the iPad and iWatch. They even re-vamped the very popular iPod with the same tech. Every mobile producer wanted to implement touch technology in their own devices. Everybody  wanted to be sleek and minimal as Apple. The company without a doubt positioned itself as the leader in premium hardware.

During the golden days, Apple’s three main ingredients for success were: innovation, design and let’s not fool ourselves – marketing.

8 years and a CEO change later, it looks like marketing is all there’s left. In the words of scholar Vivek Wadhwa: “It’s been 9 years since the launch of the iPhone and since then it’s (Apple) been giving us bigger screens, smaller screens…” Their iPen and pressure sensitive touch are not changing any industry landscapes. They even keep resurrecting old models by adding  new processors (the SE).

It is at this point when I wonder what do we really need from Apple: just another old phone with a new processor or to feel like we are holding a piece of the future in our hands?

Apple’s strategy today is laterally focused. They are reaching out into their own untapped markets. Jobs would have never allowed for an iPhone 6 Plus fablet and an “iPen” was out of the question. This is an opportunity that Cook took and he proved to us that he is not afraid to break Jobs holy commandments. For the time being it is working out for him. Although sales are looking good, what kind of brand would Apple be five years from today?

If this trend keeps up, we are going to have a bland and watered down company. Something like when a newspaper turns into pulp in water. The iPulp. Apple can drown in their own sea of screen sizes and updated processors.

Having that in mind, what measures can Tim Cook take to bring back the Apple spirit we all know and love?

Simple: Turn back to your roots.

The Apple of today has completely forgotten about the enthusiasm of creating something new and exciting out of your own moldy garage. This is what created the company in the first place and it was the force that animated  Jobs while he was still at the helm of the company. An entrepreneurial spirit with eyes locked on to the future, one which laughs in the face of odds. This is vertical strategy focus.

There are a lot of ways to reintroduce this spirit back in Apple’s culture. I am saying culture here because I believe that Apple’s brand is less about the products themselves and more about the idea the people involved with the brand share. Contrary to what Jony Ive would say, it’s not about being slick, minimal, smart and shiny. Absolutely not. It goes deeper than that. It’s about a visionary future which expands the boundaries of what we as humans are capable to do.

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels…”


Stefan Nikolovski is a freelance brand developer, manager and consultant. His philosophy is that brands are intrinsically human, and can’t ultimately be treated with classic business and marketing strategies. To have a truly successful brand companies have to understand the human brain and listen to the human heart.

Connect with Stefan here:

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