This Principle Turned Apple into The Most Valuable Company in the World
12 min read

This Principle Turned Apple into The Most Valuable Company in the World

Making sense of the art of customer-centricity
This Principle Turned Apple into The Most Valuable Company in the World

When we think of a moment that changed everything for Apple, the so-called tipping point, most of us tend to remember Steve Jobs’ 2007 Keynote speech, when he introduced the first iPhone.

Or maybe we remember Macworld 2008, when Steve Jobs said, “It’s the world’s thinnest notebook,” as he removed the first MacBook Air from a tiny paper office envelope.

But there’s one moment that took place a decade earlier.

It was 1997, at the Worldwide Developer Conference, and Steve Jobs had just returned to Apple as an advisor. The company he had founded 20 years prior was on the brink of bankruptcy.

At this conference, as he tried to answer a question about Apple’s decision to discontinue OpenDoc, Steve Jobs said, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.”

It was this principle that dictated Apple’s subsequent product launches, its approach towards design, its implementation of certain technologies or software, and even the packaging of its products.

All these decisions, in turn, played a big part in Apple becoming the most valuable company in the world.

The Fragile Nature of Customer-Centricity

Apple's Marketing Philosophy, 1977

Customer-centricity is a common-sense principle.

The goal is to create and sell a product or service that benefits the customer.

It’s a simple principle, but one that’s not so easy to implement.

According to a survey conducted by the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council, only 14 percent of marketers consider customer-centricity to be a hallmark of their companies.

Yet, according to a study conducted by Deloitte in 2016, “Client-centricity is the most important factor in a successful business digitalization since client-centric companies are 60% more profitable compared to companies not focused on the customer.”

The main cause of this disconnect comes down to a common misconception about the ideal customer.

Passion Versus Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm is defined as “eager enjoyment, interest, or approval.”

Though often confused as enthusiasm, passion, however, takes everything a step further. It literally comes from a Latin word that means, “to suffer.”

The passionate are willing to go the extra mile, no matter the cost. Enthusiasts, on the other hand, are not.

As opposed to the enthusiast, the passionate:

  • is motivated by the goal of becoming an expert in their field
  • focuses on acquiring the skills and resources necessary in order to create work of the highest level of quality possible
  • is patient and persistent enough to stay with a problem until solved

These crucial differences between passion and enthusiasm apply across every industry or niche, and influence both how we create and how we market products (physical or digital), services, apps, or even content.

At the same time, we must acknowledge that the ideal customer is an enthusiast. The enthusiast is a customer by necessity, but a long-term client by choice.

This is often something that, even though we are aware of, we do our best to “overlook.”

The enthusiast spends time, money, and mental energy on a product or service because they know it will add value to their lives, but also because they can derive pleasure from their using the product.

The vast majority of businesses, no matter the scale at which they operate, mistakenly try to market their products to the passionate.

A good example of this is the fact that most of Apple’s competitors in the smartphone industry focus a lot of their marketing efforts on technical specifications and benchmark results.

Apple, however, markets its smartphones to the enthusiasts, to the people who aren’t interested in going through the trouble of figuring out every single technical aspect of how a product works.

Besides a couple of clever psychological tricks that work on anyone, Apple’s marketing efforts during a product launch are focused on seducing the enthusiast, not the passionate. They are infamous for not disclosing processor speeds or the amount of RAM memory in their smartphones.

For the same reason, they also don’t make a big fuss out of their smartphone’s battery capacity. There’s nothing about mAH, and they choose to share information about stand-by time, watch hours, or a comparison with previous releases.

Image credit

One notable exception to this trend is Google, which markets its Pixel lineup of smartphones in a similar manner to Apple.

Thus, it’s no coincidence that most tech Youtubers carry both the latest Pixel smartphone and the latest iPhone as their daily drivers.

Once we become aware of the differences between the passionate and the enthusiast, we come up with a rather simple formula:

You must create and design a product that pleases the passionate but market it in a way that appeals to the enthusiasts.

Image courtesy of the author

As an example, if you are a writer, the goal would be to write a novel that your favorite author would read over and over again while doing your best to sell it to the enthusiast.

This is not always possible, and if our goal is commercial success, then we’re going to fail at least on some levels, mostly because the passionate are experts in their field, but also because we must compromise in order to attract the enthusiasts.

It’s right in the middle of the journey towards creating a product that a lot of experimentation takes place, as we try to master the balancing act between quality and ease of use.

But it is a worthy goal, indeed. Imagine being a self-help blogger, and your aspiration is to share insights that even the most popular self-help writers in the world would find valuable.

And in order to get the self-help enthusiasts to read those articles, you’d probably use a framework similar to this:

  1. Attractive headline
  2. Accessible language
  3. Optimized layout (proper formatting, paragraph breaks, subheads, and clear lists of takeaways)
  4. Word count limited to 2,000 words or less

This is a rudimentary framework, but it does prove a point, and it does show that we must be aware of the crucial differences between our ideal customer (the enthusiast) and the passionate, who while they may not be our competition yet, they’re well on their way to becoming our competition.

The Ideal Customer Is Lazy and Busy but Doesn’t Mind Paying for It

Image courtesy of the author

There’s a fascinating story by Kurt Vonnegut, called Humbugs. It focuses on the bitter rivalry between two painters, one who is commercially successful but is ignored by critics, and one who is appreciated by all the art critics but can’t sell a painting to save his life.

At one point, each convinced he’s better than the other, they decide to paint in the other’s style.

Anyone who follows their passion relentlessly until they become an expert at something will encounter this problem the moment they create a product they want to sell for money or attention: what they believe to be their best work doesn’t appeal to consumers.

There’s a mental shortcut deployed by most, and that is to degrade the enthusiasts. After all, they’re the ones who want the child, but not the labor pains.

We don’t have to like the fact that our ideal customer is both lazy and busy, we just have to adapt our content accordingly.

We should also remember that the perfectionist becomes an expert because they stick with a problem longer than the enthusiast.

Then, why not go through the trouble of adapting the solution to said problem in a way that the enthusiast can understand it?

Niklas Göke writes about Steve Jobs’ decades-long desire to give people an electronic device they could, “ learn how to use in 20 minutes.”

A steep learning curve to any product makes for a poor customer experience. It’s difficult to market a product that you have to teach others how to use.

Most businesses, whether in tech or not, focus on providing a quality product at the expense of user experience.

Quality, defined by adding as many features as possible, often makes for a frustrating user experience.

Whether we’re talking about a product or a simple article on the web, it’s always best to think of the ideal customer and how they can most benefit from what we offer them.

In the world of blogging, this means that short and concise articles are the most popular, as most readers are scanners.

In the world of tech, consumers want products that are “plug and play.” The user manual is but a leaflet.

We prefer to use certain apps because of the user experience, and not because of the features they offer, or because of their price to benefits ratio.

How many times have you given up on using a brilliant app just because the user interface was outdated and difficult to navigate around?

How many times have you given up on reading an article because it was so badly formatted that its introduction consisted of a 700-word paragraph that made your eyes hurt?

Maybe this has also happened to you. I’m enthusiastic to read a book. The topic is fascinating, and I am sure that I will benefit greatly by reading it, but after reading the first sentence, I have to go look up four different words in the dictionary.

Yet, this exact scenario takes place, over and over again, in every industry imaginable, because there’s this gap between the passionate (who creates and markets the product) and the enthusiast.

Image courtesy of the author

Granted, it’s a bit of a hassle to optimize a product like that, but here’s the thing: the ideal customer is glad to pay for it.

They like to eat, but don’t want to spend 2 hours cooking. That’s why they order food.

They want to work out, but don’t want to spend precious mental energy doing proper research about exercise and nutrition. That’s why they hire a personal trainer and a nutritionist.

The most successful bloggers are not afraid to do the research and the backbreaking work that follows it, and then condense the lessons they’ve learned and market them as “a shortcut to the shortcut.”

Keep in mind that:

  1. The ideal customer is lazy and busy at the same time. If they want to order food, it’s best not to make them have to choose between quality food and long waiting time. And they’ll gladly pay a premium if you can find the best compromise between the two.
  2. It’s silly to hold grudges because the ideal customer is like that. Think of it in these terms. If they weren’t lazy and busy, they’d no longer be your customers, but your competition.

Warning: The Ideal Customer Isn’t Stupid

In the words of David Ogilvy, whom Time magazine once called, “the most sought-after wizard in today’s advertising industry,” your customer isn’t stupid.

In fact, he phrased it as, “The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife.”

There’s a lot of bad blood, especially among those who are struggling. The ideal customer is lazy but not stupid.

They recognize quality but appreciate ease of use more.

This is something that all the experts who said the original iPhone would fail didn’t take into account.

When surveyed, people said they didn’t want a device with multiple capabilities, but when they discovered how better off they were with only one device in their pockets, they quickly reconsidered.

Image via Wikimedia

There’s no secret Steve Jobs was passionate about providing the best customer experience possible. He was willing to go through the trouble of producing a product that customers would describe as, “it just works.”

This decision to focus on ease of use changes a product significantly.

A blogger who focuses on ease of use will share valuable insights formatted in the most attractive way possible. Clarity and brevity are of utmost importance.

How to Become Customer-Centric

Of course, now that we know the importance of being customer-centric in our marketing efforts, a question begins to form,

How do I become customer-centric?

Here are a few steps you can take to ensure you are on your way towards catering to your customers' needs:

1. Focus on giving your ideal customer what they want, rather than what they need.

One key difference between the passionate and the enthusiast is that the passionate cares about what they need, while the enthusiast cares about a product they want. Something they have to have.

The downside? You have to anticipate what a customer wants. Like I said, before the launch of the original iPhone, people said they didn’t want to a multi-capable device.

To quote Henry Ford, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

This means that you can develop a product people want only through experimentation. This is something Apple have done superbly for the past couple of decades.

The changes in their design, or the changes in the user interface of their products, are often met with resistance, only for this resistance to turn into admiration after using the product first-hand.

To give people what they want, focus on ease of use and user experience.

2. Don’t underestimate the importance of design.

People judge a book by its cover, an article by its headline, and a Youtube video by its thumbnail.

To paraphrase Steve Jobs himself, design is not just how something looks, but also how it works.

When it comes to customer-centricity, it’s worth that we focus our efforts towards providing a quality experience by taking care of all the details.

I remember the criticism Apple received after it launched the iPhone X because the battery percentage couldn’t be shown on the home screen.

A minor detail that felt like an overlook on Apple’s behalf.

Once you’ve built a reputation for taking care of the customer, no matter the sacrifices, you need to take into consideration every little detail.

Imagine doing one-on-one Skype coaching with your customers, and you use a low-quality webcam and look like you haven’t slept at home for a while. No matter your expertise or the quality of your advice, you’re still going to provide your customers with a poor experience.

3. Provide fantastic customer support.

According to a Statista survey from 2017, 50% of U.S. consumers were very satisfied with Apple’s customer service, with an additional 38 percent of those surveyed saying they were rather satisfied. Only 3% of consumers reported dissatisfaction with Apple’s customer service.

No matter the product you sell, there are valuable insights to be gained by listening to the feedback you receive.

However, you only receive valuable feedback if you provide fantastic customer support.

As an example, imagine a blogger who never replies to any comments or e-mails. Long term, there will be no incentive for the readers to provide any type of feedback at all, whether positive or negative.

Providing a great customer experience is valuable in and of itself, but also provides us with the feedback we need to tinker with our products until they become something our ideal customer wants, regardless of price in some cases.

4. Your marketing efforts should be focused on catering to the enthusiast.

David Ogilvy once said, “If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language.”

A great product’s sales are often limited by the language used to advertise and sell it to its ideal customer.

It is in the customer’s favor to get rid of terms that are difficult to understand. If there’s a learning curve to the language you use to market your products, it’s best to reconsider.

“You’ve got to start with the customer experience” sounds like a simple principle, at least in theory.

In practice, however, and just as Steve Jobs often remarked, the decision to focus on providing a fantastic customer experience means making certain compromises.

Sometimes you have to compromise features, other times you have to settle for a higher price point for your product. Sometimes quality has to be compromised in the name of “ease of use.”

And sometimes you have to market your product in such a way that the customer spends as little time as possible deciding whether your product is worth it or not.

That’s why headlines are so important when it comes to blogging, and why Apple never wastes real estate on their website in order to advertise technical specifications that the average enthusiast doesn’t care about.

A few things to keep in mind:

  1. Create a product that will please the passionate and the experts
  2. Adapt this product and market it to appeal to the enthusiasts
  3. Focus on the customer experience. Sacrifice a bit of quality if you have to, but go through this extra-step because there’s less hassle with trying to educate your customer along the way.
  4. Acknowledge the fact that your ideal customer is both lazy and busy, and adjust your strategy accordingly.
  5. Keep in mind that the more you focus on providing the “easiest and simplest” solution, the more you are entitled to charge a premium while appealing to a broader category of people.
  6. Enthusiasts prioritize ease-of-use and will gladly pay a premium for a product that delivers but quality and a flawless experience

These insights will help you develop a framework that allows you to do the following:

Become more passionate — acquire more skills — invest those skills and resources — create and design a product that solves a difficult problem in a simple way.

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