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The Whiteboard: A complete brand evolution: Apple goes from David to Goliath

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From a two-person business to the world's most valuable company, Apple has gone about as far as a brand can go in a relatively short period of time. But often lost in the success story is that Apple's brand has made two deliberate shifts in its strategy that helped it sustain its tremendous growth.

The entire world is familiar with the iconic apple-shaped logo, but Apple's first logo looked more like an elaborate woodcut image from the 18th century. While it did contain an apple, the more dominant part of the illustration was Sir Isaac Newton reading a book under an apple tree. The tiny apple in the logo is about to bonk Sir Isaac on the head and, presumably, inspire his great insight about the nature of gravity.

But soon after Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak began to produce commercially viable computers, they switched to the now-familiar apple shape with rainbow coloring and began crafting a brand which was clearly innovative but also renegade and anti-establishment. Their brand strategy effectively positioned IBM and what would soon be known as the "PC" world as stodgy and regimented in contrast with the fresh, young, rebellious image of Apple Computer.

The brand perhaps rang most true with the infamous "1984" commercial that appeared only once on a Super Bowl broadcast yet caused an epic marketing sensation.

Fast forward through ups and downs and the rising success of its powerful Macintosh sub-brand, and Apple found itself at another crossroads as a brand. Co-founder Steve Jobs had returned to the company with a vision of how Apple's technology could apply far beyond the world of computers.

Apple's new product concepts promised to revolutionize the world of music and communications, so in 2007, it moved its brand up another level, this time dropping the word "computer" from its name and becoming simply Apple. The brand had branched out and reinvented the world of MP3 players and mobile phones and then followed with the personal tablet. The new brand modernized the apple icon without changing its shape and moved to a much-imitated clean, white look that can be seen in Apple's packaging, advertising and now in its incredibly successful retail stores.

These stores, in fact, were a major step for the Apple brand, because they allowed it to take full control of its brand experience at the retail level. But this transition also shifted Apple away from the renegade image toward one of a hip, premium experience. Apple recognized that its brand was no longer the underdog to much larger competitors and, instead, had become the establishment in several product categories.

As a market leader, the Apple brand had deliberately evolved and grown into one with far broader appeal that matched the strategic changes the company undertook — in everything from product development to retail strategy.

One key to Apple's successful brand evolution was what I call strategic harmony. Too many companies paste together mission statements that sound something like, "To be the best-in-class provider of (what we make or do), offer our customers quality and value, and treat our employees with the utmost respect." Yet how many "best-in-class" providers can there be in one market?

Apple has always had innovation at the core of its brand concept, but it has found different ways to position it, depending on the strategy of the company. Early on, it was the upstart that figuratively threw sand in the face of its competition and, in the case of the "1984" TV commercial, literally threw a sledgehammer at the face of "Big Brother" (made to look like the founder of IBM), which was projected on a giant screen.

Now, however, Apple's business strategy has transformed from one of challenging the status quo to one that sets new standards in a number of product categories. What was once renegade is now trendsetting and keeps the competition scrambling to match or supersede Apple's latest move.

But Apple has kept its business strategy and brand strategy in harmony as it evolved, managing to achieve the dream of every new brand, which is to rise to the top of its field.

Apple failed to keep Sir Isaac Newton a part of its concept, including a second try as a product brand, the ill-fated Newton PDA. But in most other ways, Apple succeeded at matching its brand with its business and made it all the way to the top of corporate America.

David Taylor is president of Lancaster-based Taylor Brand Group, which specializes in brand development and marketing technology. Contact him via www.taylorbrandgroup.com.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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