Thursday, August 25, 2011

Steve Jobs: Lessons for the business of branding

The withdrawal of Steve Jobs provokes a search for lessons – and editorialists are churning them out by the megabyte.

I’d like to look at the impact of Jobs from the angle of those of us who make a living as professional branders. We who are paid to help companies create, renew and express their brands have our own lessons to draw from this man who has left so many jaws drooping in awe.

Lessons from Jobs specifically for the business of branding:

Lesson 1 – “Market research be damned, full speed ahead.”

How many times have clients asked a brand consultant to produce complex and costly research “because our management team is numbers oriented”? I’m positive Steve Jobs will not be remembered for his reaction to “the top two boxes” in a consumer survey. As the Wall Street Journal reminds us, Jobs built products "that hundreds of millions didn't know they wanted until Apple created them.” His vision and instincts, not his research prowess, drove his success.

The old line from Henry Ford springs to mind: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”

Is there a role for market research in the business of creating and renewing brands? A role, yes. But not, as so many brand marketers believe, the starring role.

Lesson 2 – “Collaboration be damned. Here’s how we’ll proceed.”

We know that Steve built a talented team at Apple and did not personally design and assemble every iPad. But on good authority we know that the only car in the Apple parking lot that was maliciously keyed was Jobs’ – so unloved was he by colleagues he overrode and diminished. Respect for others’ opinions is the hallmark of some leaders. Not S. J.

Lesson 3 – “Marketing jargon be damned. Speak of machines and people.”

I doubt you’ll ever be quoting Steve Jobs on how to "build brand equity” and or to "turn employees into brand ambassadors.” He commanded the stage with authoritative conviction about what people want and how astonishing his products could be. Skipping the marketing drivel that populates slide shows and annual reports, Jobs’ language has been about the wonderful machines he envisions and the joy they create.

Lesson 4 – "Design matters – a lot – okay, more than anything."

How important is design to the creation and delivery of any brand experience? Just compare the look, feel, touch, texture, color and sound of Apple products to those of competitors. 'Nuff said.

Lesson 5 – “Compromise be damned. Never give up.”

Creating and developing brands can be tedious. In a big organization, getting ideas accepted requires consensus, often achieved via a painstaking process that can lead to improvements but just as often to dilution of excellence.

I don’t want to cast Steve Jobs as our generation’s Winston Churchill but… Wait a minute, yes I do. Starting with his storming of the computer market and moving to his spectacular rescue of Apple and then to his personal battle against dread disease, Jobs has shown the grit and guts of Churchillian caliber. As commander of one of the world’s most victorious brands, Jobs will not be remembered as one of the world’s most tactful compromisers.

Should brand builders follow these lessons of Jobs’ career knowing that we may not succeed as he has? Sure, why not! We know that if we ignore these lessons and follow conventional wisdom, our wisdom will likely turn out to be conventional.



Todd Merriman said...

Claude, the point about Jobs not being remembered for the "top two boxes" made me laugh. I've been a staunch believer in disregarding those boxes in most market research studies. Who would have thought people want their computers to be secure and easy to use?!

So useless.

justfost said...

Wonderfully written. Stirring.

But, should there be, by the way, -a "reality paragraph" at the end, explaining (if true) that to be successful and Steve Jobs requires being in a position that Jobs was in; otherwise, when consulting with companies that hire *you*, some of those very virtues that you point out and for which you praise Jobs will get you un-hired, or alienated from the company you're trying to influence. That is, you can't afford to be dictatorial, reject the input of your hirers, evince a disrespect for them, etc., but must put yourself in a position and utilize an approach where you can *convince* others, not ultimately dictate to them--again because they are not working for you, as were those who worked with/for Jobs.
Or not?

Mark said...

Lesson 6: What makes you good at what you do may get you ousted from your own company. Keep going and get better.

Anonymous said...

Jobs was able to build his brand at the intersection of practical utility and absolute joy. Apple products simply work, and have worked, while so many others require thick manuals and brain-bending complexity to get them to budge. And Apple products are, and have been, beautiful. Cool. To die for, in some cases. I hope Apple's best days are ahead of it...but there is something about Jobs that makes me think an important era is ending...

brandsinger said...

Justin - Excellent point, and thanks for supplying a very astute "reality paragraph." We are not all in a position to assert ourselves and advance our ideas as Jobs could. We must enthusiastically contribute to client organizations to the extent we can and in the roles we are assigned.

Todd - Research has so many valuable uses – but unfortunately it has become an addiction for many marketers – especially those who don't know the true purpose of their own brands.

Mark – I love your lesson 6 – perhaps seasoned by a bitter spice?

Anonymous – amen. You may have read that Guy Kawasaki commented that Apple might be as good without Jobs, and it might be worse without Jobs, but it can not be better.

Thanks, all.


Larry Ackerman said...

Show of hands...who remembers Jobs' founding mission for Apple? OK, time's up. Apple's founding mission - call it identity, purpose, vision or brand promise (or all of these) was to humanize the computer. So, what is Apple still doing today? Humanizing the computer!

Another Jobsian lesson, then - Don't try and change who you are; just continue to express who you are in different and relevant ways. In other words, change from a changeless foundation.

brandsinger said...

Great point, Larry. A single vision / purpose over time. Can't beat that for a foundation for corporate success. Same with people too!