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Helping brands and leaders be more influential
by embracing their humanity and personality.

Archive for August, 2011

Steve Jobs And The 4 Counterintuitive Business Strategies Of Apple

IMB_SteveJobsWithIpad One of the most legendary stories about Zappo's famed culture of customer service above all else is their longstanding business practice of paying people to quit. It is a perfect example of the power of counterintuition – that offering an incentive to leave will actually help you get rid of employees who would have lacked commitment and likely developed into underperforming employees in the long term. Counterintuition is like that. It takes something that initially seems crazy and illogical and flips it into a business strategy for success.

Perhaps no other company in recent memory has been quite as good at applying counterintuition to running their business as Apple. It is simultaneously a source of frustration for their competitors and confusion for business analysts why Apple is able to do business in a way that would surely be toxic for many other brands if they were to adopt the same closed approach to ecosystem, partners and social media.

Over the last week, media has iconized Steve Jobs and his impact on Apple and even humankind. Among the daily individual tributes are stories people share from their moments of meeting Steve Jobs and how Apple under his watch has become a master brand at using counterintuition to become the exception to nearly every rule in business. I have written before about the "real secret of Apple's success" … but this week I have been thinking about some of their most counterintuitive business practices and what we all might learn from them. Here are a few to consider:

  1. Control the uncontrollable. If you had to name one thing that has helped Apple get to where they are today, it is that they control more aspects of their product development, distribution, sales, marketing, usage and service than any other technology manufacturer. They have their own stores, a locked down software platform and ecosystem, no open standards, integrated product service, and exacting brand standards for how their brand is to be mentioned in any context. They rarely offer media access into the company and are notoriously guarded about anything they allow to be shared about their products or company. Elements that many other brands would consider "uncontrollable" are meticulously micromanaged and centrally controlled by Apple. As a result, they can reduce any potential for a negative customer experience because they have more control over the entire journey.
  2. Forget the low end. Apple could never be accused of acknowledging that there has been a global recession. Their products are consistently and unapologetically for the "high end" and they are widely admired for their discipline as a company in making sure they are not producing too many products or compromising on quality in any way. In one story, Nike CEO Mark Parker recalled advice Steve Jobs gave him about Nike: "Nike makes some of the best products in the world–products that you lust after, absolutely beautiful stunning products. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff, and focus on the good stuff." Apple has consistently done that, and charged a premium for it.
  3. Use partnership as a last resort. Apple is well known for controlling their communications and dictating what their partners are (and are not) allowed to say publicly about working with Apple. More than that, Apple's first thought in most situations is how they can complete an element of their product or sales and distribution internally rather than having to partner with anyone. While some other organizations see partnership as an opportunity, Apple uses it as a last resort when they have no other options.
  4. Obsess over the little things. Generally, if you ask most people in business they will describe micromanagement as a bad thing. No one wants a manager who is always looking at every little detail – yet most accounts of working with Steve Jobs describe him as the sort of leader who stresses about such trivialities as font kearning and slight shade variations of yellow. This unwavering attention to detail translates into unique well thought out products, and it offers yet another argument for why, as my fellow Ogilvy colleague Rory Sutherland suggests in his brilliant TEDx talk, every company should have a Chief Detail Officer focused on "sweating the small stuff."

 

What You Can Learn From The Failure of DVORAK

What You Can Learn From The Failure of DVORAK

In 1932 the Carnegie Foundation gave a grant to a Professor at Washington State University to develop the design for the ultimate keyboard. They had good reason to try – as study after study showed that the “QWERTY keyboard” (as it was commonly known) had a terribly inefficient design ever since it was patented back in 1878.  The QWERTY keyboard…Read More >>

7 Ways to Revamp Your Online Registration Form

7 Ways to Revamp Your Online Registration Form

A bad online registration form online has sadly become as American as apple pie. The vast majority of them collect useless information, present an annoying barrier to engagement and generally are reviled by anyone who is unlikely enough to have to fill one out online. For the amount of pain involved, you would think the benefits would be life altering. …Read More >>

The Agony Filter

The Agony Filter

There is a new travel website called Hipmunk that has an interesting philosophy about searching for the best flight deal online. Instead of showing you every flight combination that could save you an extra $12, they remove options that no normal human would choose. Sure you could save some money by taking two connections to get from DC to Boston…Read More >>

The Magic Button: Finding The Real Secret Formula For Social Media

The Magic Button: Finding The Real Secret Formula For Social Media

Let me tell you a secret I don't often share: I have a magic social media button. This button has only one special power: when I press it, I can immediately give you a million fans, followers or friends. You can choose whether you want this instant audience on Twitter or Facebook or some other site. They would have no…Read More >>

3 Ways To Fight The Small Business Inferiority Complex

3 Ways To Fight The Small Business Inferiority Complex

Let’s not pretend you don’t know what this post is going to be about. Anyone who has worked in or run a small business has felt the ugly sting of an inferiority complex to their larger rivals at some point. Sure, having your own business is liberating and rewarding and life changing. But sometimes it would be nice to get…Read More >>

How To Use The F-Word Strategically (And Why You Should)

How To Use The F-Word Strategically (And Why You Should)

I am not usually a fan of curse words. As a Dad with two young boys, I've especially become very conscious of them as I try desperately to help my oldest make it to his seventh birthday without trying it out in conversation. We're just a few weeks away. Still, for some time I've been thinking that it may have…Read More >>