It's like an itch that you just can't scratch.
Something has been bothering me, lately. It's not overt. It's not obvious. But... it's there. Some will make the argument that Apple is loosing a little bit of its luster. That while the company in a post-Steve Jobs world is still churning out cutting-edge consumer electronics and digital services, that the market for that may be hitting a plateau (this is why their last quarter was seen as a disappointment to Wall Street when - in reality - it was one of the best quarters that any company has ever had). While I am an Apple consumer (and a fairly recent one), I'm hopeful that you won't misconstrued this blog post as someone who is a biased and loyal customer trying to defend a brand (Apple Fanboi!). What makes Apple such a fascinating brand, from my perspective, is how the brand is managed. This isn't just the advertising that we see in market, but the overall experience it delivers. And, lately, I find it fascinating that other brands are simply copying their older positioning, while the media is eating it up and selling it back to its audience as revolutionary or signs of a comeback for these other companies.
Examples of this are...
- The Microsoft store. My first computer was a PC. I switched to a Mac only two years ago. I have no issue or bone to pick with Microsoft. When I first came across a Microsoft store, I literally, looked at my watch to see if it was April Fool's Day. I thought that the Apple people had jokingly replaced the white, glowing apple sign with the Windows logo. From the wood paneling and white walls to the merchandising and how the staff is dressed, it was clear to me that Microsoft wanted to feel like Apple. Kudos for Microsoft... they nailed it. Their stores do look and feel like an Apple store.
- The launch of BlackBerry 10. I had the original BlackBerry. I had both the pager version and the black and white palm version that only had email on it. I was a BlackBerry advocate up until I switched to an iPhone two years ago. Had BlackBerry progressed with the times, I would probably still be a BlackBerry user. I was excited (very excited) about their launch of BlackBerry 10 the other day. What shocked me was how much the event looked and felt like an Apple event. It was in the details too. From the design of the slides to the flow of the show. It even ended with the musical guest surprise. Their c-level executives tried to pull off the whole "I'm not wearing a tie, so I am very casual," kind of vibe. The pass-offs and high-fives between speakers coupled with their on-stage banter. It was all pulled from Apple. Like a script.
- Most smartphones that aren't iPhones. I love Android. I have no opinion on Windows Mobile. The truth is that it's hard to look at any non-iPhone device and not think that it's an iPhone. While the lawsuits are being settled, the average consumer (you and I) can tell that every other smartphone didn't blaze its own trail. It took what Apple had done and rendered their own version of it. Some better. Some worse. But, at quick glance, it's hard not to think that they're all just ripping off iPhone.
Copying isn't a bad strategy.
Companies have built war chests of money by taking an idea, copying it and putting their own little spin on it. One could argue that every great song of today is simply a rip-off of some other song that came before it. The challenge is for a brand to use the muse and build upon it. I used the examples above because they act as these strange, unconscience, triggers that repel me, rather than pull me in. It's like having deja-vu (but not in a good way). I've seen this all before... but this is a weak copy instead of something that is new, interesting and captivating. It seems strained and inauthentic.
What's the lesson?
The devil is in the details. Sometimes the copying is blatantly obvious, but more often than not, it's these little subtle things. You may think that the consumer is not aware of them. You may think that they are innocuous. You would be wrong. People have amazing perception skills. Simple body language tricks can manipulate even the smartest of human beings. We're sensitive people. With sensitive awareness skills. So, as you're trying to be innovative, but all you're really doing is trying to imitate those who truly are, be aware and cautious of these decisions. In the end, it's not really Apple and what they have done, it's all about you and how you created influence and loyalty for the brands that you serve. I believe that there is a higher calling when it comes to marketing and influence. I also believe that many brands are squandering this amazing moment in time because it's easier to just assume the position of those we admire than to create our own, unique paths to individualism.
That just seems more exciting, doesn't it?