Vertygo Team

Apple Marketing Strategy - Part 2

The reasons of the iPod success.

First, the iPod was a very practical object, a very practical Music tool.
In it you could store thousands of songs, hundreds of CD's - converted into mp3 or aac files - and bring your favorite music with you everywhere, in a small device which fit in your pocket, and listen to your music with the iPod earbuds everywhere.

The iPod was very practical for commuters, on their way from home to their workplace and back, during those boring 40-60 minutes in the subway, or in the bus or train, without having anything interesting to do.
Listening to their own favorite music with an iPod was a pleasant way to fill that time.

The iPod was appealing especiall for the young generations: those from 16 to 28, which were the majority among the early adopters.

Second, it was easy and pleasant to use and navigate among songs and albums.
The iPod menu system was intuitive and fast, the click wheel control was smart and practical, especially from the 3rd Generation onwards.
Easy, intuitive and appealing User Interface was a key factor, and Steve Jobs has always been very exacting on this aspect of Apple products,during the development stage.

Third, the iPod was a beautiful object, thanks to Jonathan Ive's sleek and attractive design.
The aestethics and the usability made that 'Cool Factor' that has been key to Apple success in the last 9 years, which has been incorporated in all the Apple products design.
We shall expand later on the Apple 'Cool Factor'.

Fourth, the sinergies between the iPod and iTunes, the music online store. Although the strength of this sinergy became important especially in later years.

Fifth - and very important - the iPod (from the second generation of 2002 onwards) was compatible not only with the restricted world of Apple computers, but also with Windows (Microsoft) based computers.
This was a key feature.
Wouldn't Apple have accomplished this, the iPod would have been remained stuck in a ghetto.
(and Apple revenues and profits would have been completely different in all the later years, up to today).

Sixth, the iPod could read not only the 'aac' files - Apple proprietary music file system - but also the much more popular mp3 files.
Most users and music lovers, infact, were ripping their own CD's, and the CD's of their friends, into mp3 files, very few were doing it using the Apple 'aac' files.
The mp3 format was also the most popular in the online peer to peer exchange platforms.

The iPod success was due especially to word of mouth, much more than to conventional advertising.
Happy iPod users were the most efficient marketing 'tools' and testimonials that Apple had to promote and increase iPod sales.
Then, the imitation factor was also essential:
"Cool!, I want to have it, too!" - has been the typical reaction phrase when happy and proud iPod owners were showing their iPods to their friends.
Still today, word of mouth and happy costumers are the most efficient marketing tools for any company.

On the other hand, in the first 3-4 years, Apple invested very little in iPod communications and advertising, especially outside the US, and this was a bottleneck factor that affected iPod sales, impeding product awareness among millions of potential costumers.
It was a serious mistake, on the side of Apple.
Why Apple invested so little in iPod communications and advertising?
This is still a mystery.

Finally, there were few iPod competitors on the market, and none of them had the aesthetic beauty, nor the appeal, nor the enticing and fast usability of the iPod.
Thus, with the iPod, Apple was playing in a virtually virgin and no competition market.
In the critical years - between 2002 and 2006 - the iPod simply ridiculed all its competitors.

The Black Factor.

Apple had always used white as the color of its products.
So it did with the iPod.
White is the color of washing machines, and of bathroom appliances.
Many Apple costumers and potential costumers simply did not like it white, for psychological or simply aesthetic reasons. Many complained with Apple, they wanted their iPod to be black.

For several years, their requests fell on deaf (Apple) ears.
Then, finally, Apple understood, and made their first black iPod.
It was a huge success.
Apple marketing executives - and Steve Jobs - understood the lesson, and both for the iPods, both later for the iPhones, they gave the option to their costumers to have their iPod and iPhones white or black.

It could seem a trivial aspect, but it is not.
Aesthetics and personal tastes have a huge role in customers' purchasing decisions.

Entering in a new realm. Music.

It needs to be remarked, with emphasis, that with the iPod, Apple had entered a completely new realm.


The iPod was not a computer.
The iPod was a Music device, a small and portable Music player.
Thus, it needed a complete change in Apple executives' mindset.
Infact, the Apple Executives had a computer/technology mindset and background.
And no experience, and poor background in Music.

None of the Apple executives had a significant Music culture.

This was reflected in the marketing and communications that Apple executives employed for the iPod.
And in the bottleneck factors which affected the iPod distribution network.
Apple executives were treating the iPod as a 'computer peripheral', not as Music device.

Apple could have made a strong marketing campaign for the iPod with a strong and widely recognized rock band, as the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin, And build on that synergy.

They didn't.

Only in 2005 Apple started to do something about it. And it was little, and too late.
But they chose U2 as their Music testimonial.
This confirms the lack of Music culture that we wrote above.
In 2005 U2 was a band in full decline, with no creative ideas left anymore, a band which had just made a few hits 20 years before, a temporary phenomenon which had rapidly faded away.
The poor U2 music tune that Apple used for the launch of its Video iPod, back in 2005, confirms it.
Infact, U2 had been a poor musical act.

They did not have the charm, the music power, and the eternal, timeless appeal of the great rock bands - as the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin - or the Beatles.

But, having a so poor Music culture, Apple executives were uncapable to even recognize this.

The lack of a strong Music culture, and the lack of a Music oriented attitude in the marketing and communications of the iPod was a key bottleneck factor in slowing the iPod sales potential
in the fiirst 3-4 years.

The Halo Effect.

Apple Executives, as well as financial analysts and marketing analysts, were expecting a significant 'halo effect' to develop. A 'halo effect' which, from the iPod + iTunes success, and their powerful reverberation on the Apple brand value, would significantly push sales of Mac's - the Apple computers.

This never happened. The 'halo effect' was marginal.

We can make the key question, now:
Where would Apple be, today, without the iPod?

without the iPod, there would be no iPhone, nor iPad.

without the iPod, Apple revenues would not be $156 billion, but $10 billion.
And its stock market capitalization would not be $500 billion, but $20 billion.

Then, the iPhone came.

In 2005, with the improving revenues and profit figures pushed by the iPod sales, financial analysts began to show an increasing interest towards Apple.
the Apple stock had started to rise, and to be suggested as a 'buy' by a number of financial analysts.

The Apple brand value perception was also growing.

In 2005-2006, the cellular telephone market was considered a mature and saturated market, with narrow margins, dominated by Nokia and Motorola.
And by the Blackberry in the high end, especially in the business and corporate world, which were needing email writing, sending and receiving capability on their cellphone, with a suitable keyboard for texting messages.

A mature and saturated market with a fiery competition, such as the cellphone market in 2005-2006, was allowing narrow margins, therefore was unanimously considered unappealing by financial and business analysts.

When rumours came out, in 2005-2006, that Apple was in the process of developing a cellular telephone, financial and business analysts were at best 'skeptical'. To be true, the consensus among financial analysts was that the 'Apple cellphone' would have been a terrible flop.
Some of them were privately saying that they were suspecting Apple executives had gone completely mad, to enter such a saturated and non-profitable market.

Very few, among the business analysts, had the more objective attitude to just 'wait and see'.

Then, the day came, and the iPhone was launched.

But Apple began with 3 huge, terrible mistakes. We expand on them onwards.

When the iPhone was launched, in June 2007, it made an impact. It impressed.
The touch user interface and the sleek and beautiful design by Jonathan Ive and his team made it a masterpiece of technology and design.
The iPhone was decidedly a superior product.
had a host of pluses against the competition (Nokia, Motorola, Blackberry) It was a highly innovative product, a different product from the other cellphones on the market at the time.

By 2013, with 500 million iPhones sold, and with Apple stock market capitalization at $500 billion, it was easy to affirm that the iPhone has been a game changer.
It surely has.

Jumping on the bandwagon is human beings' favorite sport.

But in 2005-2006, before it came out, things were different.
And the perception was different when the iPhone first came out.
No-one, in 2006, would have imagined that an 'Apple cellphone' would have sold 500 million units in 6 years.
No-one would have thought this even in June 2007, when it was launched.

It has to be noted that, to reflect its change in product lines, in 2007, after the iPod and the iPhone,
Apple modified their official societary denomination, from "Apple Computer Inc." to "Apple Inc.".

But which were the 3 serious marketing strategy mistakes that Apple made, in the launch of the iPhone?

The 3 Mistakes that Apple made when it launched the iPhone.

Mistake #1.

To purchase an iPhone, you had to sign a 24 months contract with AT&T.
You had to 'marry' AT&T.
And many potential costumers did not want this marriage.
you were locked on a 24 months contract with AT&T. An expensive contract.
In the end, if you were wanting to buy an iPhone, its real cost was more than 2000 dollars.

Why forcing your costumers to sign a contract with a service provider?
And why a single provider, not giving any other choice?
Why not letting your costumers simply buy an iPhone, and let them free to arrange a contract as they please?

Infact, there were numerous complaints by iPhone costumers and potential costumers, on this issue.

Even, a widespread hacking practice took place, significantly called "jailbreak":
on several websites appeared step by step instructions on how to hack the iPhone software to let it operate with a different service provider.

Infact, 3.3 million iPhones were sold in the US between June andl December 2007, but only 2 million contracts were signed with AT&T.
Were did the remaining 1.3 million iPhones go?

It has to be remarked that the iPhone jailbreak practice infurated Apple executives, who, instead of recognized their marketing strategy mistake, criminalized the jailbreaking behaviour, to the point of blackmailing costumers doing the jailbraking.

Mistake #2.

On June 29, 2007 the iPhone was launched in the US.
It was put on sale only in the US, and in no other nation in the world.

Only in November 2007, 5 months later, the iPhone was launched in a few other countries.
To be precise, it was launched in just 3 other countries: UK, Germany and France.

In each of these countries with the same silly formula that Apple used in the US, forcing the costumer to sign a 24 months contract with a service provider, and in each country with a different provider: O2 in the UK, T-Mobile in Germany, Orange in France.

This was a bad marketing choice by Apple.
There were millions of potential costumers all around the world who were wanting to buy an iPhone, but couldn't, because in their own country it was not on sale.
Many of them went to such length to ask to their friends in the US - or traveling to the US - to buy one for them.

Finally, only on July 11, 2008, one full year after the initial launch in the US, the iPhone was put on sale in other countries, in Europe: Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Netherlands, Belgium; and in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Brasil.
It was already the 3rd generation iPhone, the iPhone 3G and 3GS.

Why so late?

Besides, it is interesting to verify the jam and confusion of different prices, terms and monthly fees charged by the service providers in the European countries: O2 in the UK, T-Mobile in Germany, Austria and Netherlands, Orange in France, Swisscom in Switzerland, Vodafone in Italy, Telia Sonera in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland.

It was the perfect formula to confuse potential iPhone costumers and push them away.
A self-hammering marketing strategy by Apple.

In our opinion, this was a totally wrong marketing strategy by Apple.

Infact, numbers do not lie:
from July 2008 until the end of 2013, Apple sold a total of 500 million iPhones.
From June 2007 until December 2007 - when the iPhone was available only in US - only 3.3 million iPhones had been sold.

Mistake #3 - iPhone Pricing.

On June 29, 2007, when the iPhone was launched in the US, its retail price was $599.
Just 3 months after, Apple reduce the iPhone price to $399 - a 33% rebate - .
This was an unelegant way to betray and exploit the iPhone early adopters - Apple most faithful costumers.
And infact, many of them complained with Apple.

A smart and attentive company must not indulge in such serious mistakes, betraying their most faithful customer base.

Apple had other 3 better options:

  • Apple could have waited 1 year before reducing the price of the iPhone, or:
  • Apple could have delayed the iPhone launch for 3 months, or:
  • Apple could have set the iPhone retail price at $399, since the initial launch.

Besides, in July 2008, the iPhone 3G was sold at $199,
66% less than the launch price of just one year earlier.

This is not a serious pricing policy.


Each of these 3 mistakes constituted a bottleneck factor which confused costumers, and seriously hampered the iPhone sales potential in the first year and a half.

However, in the following years Apple corrected and amended these mistakes, and things went smoothly and successfully for the company.
Infact, from 2008 until 2013, Apple sold 500 million units.
in 2012 alone, Apple sold 120 million iPhones,
in 2013 Apple sold 120 million iPhones.

Ultimately, the appearance of the iPhone on the market caused the death of the Blackberry, and the loss by Nokia and Motorola of their dominant position in the cellular telephone market.

The reason is simple:
The iPhone was a clearly superior product.
Its touch control features, and its enticing user interface made it become a sort of 'cult product'.

Then, after many rumours, Apple in 2010 launched the iPad.

2010: The iPad.

Since 2001, there was a need in the market for a device which was smaller than a notebook computer, and significantly lighter than the usual 5-6 pounds, but bigger and more powerful than a cellular telephone, and still highly portable.

A sort of 'intermediate device', between a notebook computer and a cellular telephone.

This gap began to be filled by a generation of so-called "netbooks", which started to appear by the end of 2007, especially from brands like Acer, Asus, Dell and Samsung, for a cost typically between $200 and $300.

They were weighting around 1.5 pounds, and were like a sort of smaller brothers of notebooks, light enough, less powerful, but powerful enough for simple tasks and applications "on the go", and with a foldable screen, like the notebooks.
They were having a discrete success, in the years 2007-2009, and their appearance demonstrated That there was a demand in the market for devices with this kind of features.

In 2008 Apple began to study the opportunity and, while there was some skepticism even among the Apple Executives, they finally launched the iPad, in January 2010.

The iPad was similar to the netbooks for features, size and weight.
It was highly portable. But it had two features that strongly differentiated it from the netbooks:
The screen was not foldable, but embedded in the iPad body, and especially, the iPad fully exploited the enticing Touch Technology that Apple had previously developed for the iPhone.

Thus, in many respects, the iPad was a sort of bigger iPhone, without the telephone capabilities, with a touch interface, touch makeshift keyboard, a photo and video camera, wifi and mobile internet connection, no hard disk (just an embedded flash memory) and no USB connection.

Both at the launch, both before, many financial and business analysts were skeptical about the iPad, and were dubious if the market was wanting such a device.
A device with many features, but also with many limitations.

Moreover, the iPad price was considerably high - around $500-$700 - a price much higher than the netbooks.

However, after some months of perplexity and skepticism, it became clear that Apple, once more, got it right.
The iPad starting selling in the millions of units, and by 2011 it became a fashion, almost ubiquitous, both in the US, both overseas.

As we wrote above, from 2010 to 2013, Apple sold 200 million iPads.
in 2012 alone, Apple sold 60 million iPads,
in 2013 iPads sales will reach 100 million.

As a matter of fact, the appearance of the iPad eliminated the netbooks from the market, rendering them unappealable and obsolete.
The appearance of the iPad started the tablet frenzy, and several other brands jumped on the tablet bandwagon (after Apple), and started to manufacture and sell Tablet Pc's, copying many of the iPad features, and eroding just a small part of Apple iPad marketshare.

Of course, and this was inevitable, both the iPad, both the iPhone started to cannibalize the iPod sales, especially from 2011 onwards, but, given the iPhone and iPad sales, this is not of big concern to Apple, which continues to enjoy its golden years.

But, as we wrote above, without the iPod, no iPhone, no iPad would have existed, Apple would have continued to be just a computer manufacturer, and its revenues and profit numbers - and its stock market capitalization - would be much different from what it is today.

And there are more secrets of Apple to be known.

There is no doubt that Steve Jobs has been a great genius - a business genius and a marketing genius - and there is no doubt that most of what Apple is today is owed to him and his skills and foresight.
Steve Jobs was a great communicator, one of a kind, and was a man with a vision.
And he fulfilled the Vision he had in mind.

It remains to be seen if - deprived of Steve Jobs's guidance - Apple will be able, in the coming years, to continue their impressive pipeline of innovative and successful products, or if they will remain "sitting on their current success".

<< Back to Apple Marketing Strategy - Part 1

This essay on Apple Marketing Strategy has been first written in 2003, then extended and updated in 2007, in 2010 and in 2013.

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