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Apple’s remarkable ability to generate product emotion

“This Wednesday, Steven P. Jobs will step to the stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and unveil a shiny new machine that may or may not change the world.
In the magician’s world, that’s called “the reveal.”
And the most magical part? Even as the media and technology worlds have anticipated this announcement for months, Apple has said not word one about The Device. Reporting on the announcement has become crowdsourced, with thousands of tech and media journalists scrambling for the latest wisp and building on the reporting of others.
However miraculous the thingamajig turns out to be — all rumors point to some kind of tabletlike device — it can’t be more remarkable than the control that Apple and Mr. Jobs have over their audience.”

DAVID CARR, The New York Times (25 January 2010)

You would have to have been particularly isolated over the past two months to not know that Apple was about to launch a new product. Ever since the iconic company announced it was holding a special event on January 27, the media world went into overdrive.

Speculation was strong that Apple would release a new game-changing device: a tablet computer. I was amazed to see a nonstop barrage of speculation, rumour and supposition on every media outlet (it seemed) on the planet. This frenzy continued until the very morning of the event, when bookmakers were even offering odds on the name of the new device: would it be an iSlate, iTablet or iPad?

While the blogosphere and geekland were going crazy speculating about the product, no one seemed to notice the real story: the hype AROUND the product. Consider this: Apple itself never said a single word about the event. Its official invitation merely asked people to come see its latest creation. The word “tablet” was never uttered. Yet senior executives from different industries were praying out loud, hoping that the new tablet would be the saviour that would deliver books and newspapers from death.

This was utterly bizarre. Apple would not be the first to launch a tablet computer – they have been around for years, and haven’t saved anyone yet. This would not be the first e-reader: Amazon’s Kindle was launched a year ago. Microsoft launched its own new tablet earlier in January – and no one paid any attention.

But the fact is that this is Apple, and Apple has form. Its iPod player transformed the music industry forever. Its iPhone raised the bar on telephony and went on to become the world’s dominant smartphone. So the world expected, and Apple did not disappoint. CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the new iPad tablet last week, to much fanfare. And now, we have a tsunami of reviews, opinions, applause and jibes about the device – on every major media outlet on the planet. Sky News had it as its major breaking news of the day. 

You can’t buy that sort of publicity. So the real story is: how does Apple do it?  Why does every journalist, analyst and geek start panting any time Apple clears its throat? The key lesson is that Apple, unlike its major rivals, deals primarily in emotion, not products. Look at the adverts for standard PCs: you will see a me-too product with a silly number (CX-146e, etc) and a list of specifications. Apple doesn’t sell like that. It shows you a sleek, visually arresting, gorgeously designed product with a memorable name. It convinces you that this is the best thing you’ve ever seen and it will transform your life. Your emotions do the rest.

The Apple story is one of the most remarkable in modern business. Ten years ago, this company was limping out of a near-death experience. Today, every Apple product always commands the highest price in its category – but there are many people who feel they can’t face life without it.

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