When rebrands go wrong

(And how to avoid the pitfalls)

'Apple should reinvent its marketing like it transformed tech'

Apple should make noticeable adjustments to its marketing strategy rather than following the same formulaic process at every product release to push its financials back on an upward curve, technology and branding experts have told Marketing Week.

iPhone 5

The technology firm posted its first quarterly profit slip in a decade yesterday (23 April) as investing in innovation and increased competition from its Android competitors ate into margins. Apple is still the most profitable technology company in the world - and its first two quarters tend to be “quiet periods” for the company as it gears up for its annual summer hero product launch - but investors and fans fear the profit slump could indicate demand for its products has peaked.

Ken Segall, former creative director at Apple’s ad agency TBWA/Chiat/Day and one of the brains behind the iMac and Think Different ad campaigns, says Apple’s brand and product are intertwined in a way unlike many other companies, so its product line is responsible for any hits the company is currently taking. He adds it would be good for Apple to “recognise the market has matured” and prove it still has an ability to reinvent categories with something completely different, rather than another iterative iPhone or tablet release.

He says: “Apple needs to create a watch, a TV, a new iPhone family to show it is still innovating. People believe the new iPhone is the 5s, which seems to me like they’re shooting themselves in the foot; they’re broadcasting ‘this isn’t a real update’. I don’t think any other company tells their customers ‘this will be an off-year upgrade’.”

Apple

Once a new product is unveiled, Segall says Apple must increase its investment in marketing and “shake things up” creatively to compete with Samsung, which is reported to have spent $2bn on advertising last year alone.

He adds: “Samsung is openly running circles around Apple in marketing. People sometimes fail to give credit to Samsung’s budget, their ads are so perpetual and at a certain point people start believing [some of the ads’ open digs at Apple]. A budget that size feeds the hype machine [that Apple has lost its way]. Samsung were at the Superbowl, the Oscars and they’re being really creative and people are talking about it. Apple is still sticking with an ad with a screen that does a lot of different things but that’s several years old and not exciting.”

“Perfection” is hardwired into Apple’s DNA, which can make it difficult to continue building its brand in a more open world - given the rise of social media - which allows consumers to openly converse with companies, according to Ije Nwokorie, managing director at brand consultancy Wolff Olins, which has recently worked with the likes of EE, Spotify and Microsoft.

He adds: “Apple has to squeeze value out of a model of branding that is starting to run out of steam because a change would mean fundamentally rethinking what Apple does and it could jar. That said they still need to find a way to get involved in the conversation. Their showpiece product launch events [follow the same formula]: CEO on stage, big screen. They created that but that’s the bit they need to reinvent too. Less of the ageing rockers on stage telling us about cool stuff, it has to be a more human conversation, not just saying ‘look how clever we are’.”

A way to be more participative in advertising could be to attempt to repeat its famous Superbowl ad of 1984 (see below) or its “Here’s to the Crazy Ones” campaign in 1996 to signal a new direction of the company and open up a conversation around what is next in the world of technology and explain again to the world what the Apple brand stands for, Nwokorie says.

To ensure long-term growth, Apple must get back to promoting the attributes where it outperforms the competition beyond its hardware story, according to CCS Insight director of devices and software platforms Geoff Blaber.

He says: “Apple still has the advantage in the breadth and quality of third party apps, a service infrastructure that connects all its different products together in iCloud and still has by far the best content offering through iTunes, which others are still a long way off rivalling.”

When sentiment is working with Apple its formulaic marketing approach supports its position, but now perception towards the company is slipping towards the negative end of the spectrum, it is time for its marketers to adopt the mantra of one of its most famous ad campaigns and “Think Different”.

Readers' comments (6)

  • I dont think the point in reinvent market strategy is strong. Why Apple success in the past? For me, it is because of its innovation, CEO Jobs and perfection.

    Apple was a inovative and creative company in the past. Their innovation and creation help them left their competitors behind. In those old days, competitors always thought about how to catch Apple. Once their competitors figured out Apple's latest technology, Apple had already came up with the more latest tech. Competitors never really caught Apple up in old days. But now, it seems Apple admits their product is mature and stop innovating...

    Jobs was the best ads for Apple. But Cook is not. Cook may be a good manager, but not a good leader...

    Perfect appearance, if that means not change too much. Ok they may have now... Hopefully, people will never feel tired of unchanged things...

    Probably reinvent market strategy may help Apple relatively slowly lost their customer...

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  • Actually it's a myth that Apple has innovative technology it has good technology but nothing that really sets it apart from the competitors, it didn't even invent the Smartphone or the music player. What it did do was get ahead of the pack with some brilliant marketing! Yes Apple's success is down to Marketing not technology!

    Its ability to keep mass market customers feeling that they were part of an elite - brilliant! Unfortunately (for Apple) the spell can't last forever and the cracks are starting to appear. At the moment Apple really is a bit of a one trick pony compared to Samsung, which leaves it a massive problem of where to go.

    If it goes for the larger lower margin market it hits its elite appeal. it needs a new product category, and that's its problem it doesn't have one (at the moment).

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  • I think Apple have become quite arrogant in their perception of the market and competition and have rested on their laurels far too long. As Grace mentions above, it was innovation and quality which set them apart in the beginning and a marketing strategy which pitched them as a truly aspirational brand. Now, with the likes of Samsung who are producing technology arguably as good as Apple’s and a marketing investment to dwarf a small country it’s no wonder Apple’s market share and profit is being eroded.

    I don’t think marketing alone will reverse this trend, they need to refocus on being the technological innovators - they need another iPod, something to truly set the market on fire again.

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  • It amuses me that all the 'experts' come out on the bandwagon to offer their advice on how to fix Apple.

    When was the last time they created the world's most valuable (sorry, just second in the whole world) company?

    I just don't understand how so many people can advise on what's wrong, when they will never in their entire careers come anywhere close to what Apple has achieved.

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  • As our desire for communication grows, the different companies will be the ones that personalise and are able to offer unparelled user experiences. This is Apple's heartland. It is a very innovative company, but there is more choice and diversity in the market than ever before. Marketing is about discovering what the brand means to you. The more choice the better, but "disruption" in this market is key. The more choice and disruption, the better the marekting. I would say the best marekting comes from hungry companies. Watch this space.

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  • Problem: there's a logistics/supply chain guy in charge.
    Solution: put a visionary nutcase in the job, and tell him/her to wreak creative havoc

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