This image represents Apple's style of keeping it simple.

What Steve Jobs Can Teach Us about Marketing in 2017

Apple founder Steve Jobs left behind a legacy and part of that was a series of lessons about marketing in the new age.
Article Outline

Steve Jobs didn’t look good on paper. He wasn’t an engineer; he didn’t have an MBA. In fact, he had no college degree at all. Yet, at age 21 the brilliant and unknown inventor partnered with friend Steve Wozniak to start Apple Inc. Funds were limited, so Jobs sold his Volkswagen bus and Wozniak sold his beloved scientific calculator. They were officially in business — operating in part out of the Jobs’ family garage.

The rest is history. But along this journey, Jobs proved himself to be not only one of the great inventors, but also one of the great marketers. In fact, Guy Kawasaki, co-founder of Alltop and a well-known influencer, said, “Steve was the greatest marketer ever.” So what can you learn from Jobs and apply to your brand in the new year? Here are five marketing strategies to consider in the coming months.

Don’t market products … market dreams

The products and services that you sell have many features. Steve Jobs would likely tell you to stop selling features and start selling dreams. Maybe the dream is simplifying workflow and driving unprecedented productivity. Or perhaps it’s experiencing amazing growth and revenue. Whatever the benefit, turn it into a story to create excitement.

For example, in 1997 Apple created an ad campaign titled “Think different,” focusing on the core of the company’s brand: innovation. Jobs narrates the video as images of some of the greatest thinkers and innovators of all time (Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Pablo Picasso, etc.) flash on the screen. He says:

Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes … the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules … You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them, because they change things … They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.

Key takeaway: Tie your products and services to the dreams that customers have and design marketing that tells that story.

Keep it simple

View any Apple product and you’ll notice an interesting commonality. The product design, usability, and marketing are all simple. Steve Jobs said:

That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex; you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.

Even the earliest Apple ads include this element of simplicity. For example, this ad uses only two words and strategically selected images.Here are a few tips for making your content simpler in order to drive greater impact.

Use color. Researchers found that colored visuals increase the audience’s desire to read content by 82 percent. You’ll see this in the ad above — that Apple used color carefully and set it strategically against a black background to illuminate that color.

Harness more views. Content with good images gets 94 percent more views than content without. Use images to tell the story, and use words strategically and sparingly.

Make content skimmable. The majority of people, 81 percent, report they skim content when reading. Mark Twain famously said, “If I had more time, I’d write shorter.” Use fewer words and use bullet points and visuals to make your content easy to skim.

One example of how Jobs used simplicity to illustrate a new concept is the introduction of the MacBook Air. In the following video, Jobs gives a presentation highlighting a key feature of the computer ‒ that the new product is so thin, it easily fits into a manila envelope.

The inventor strategically connected a benefit (a thin computer) to an everyday well-known item (a manila envelope).

Key takeaway: Take a page from Jobs’ playbook and search for connections that link key benefits of your products to common everyday items that the customer instantly understands.

People don’t understand what they want (yet) … show them

The majority of marketers are taught to engage with customers to find out what they really want. The problem is that sometimes customers don’t really know what they’ll want next. Steve Jobs said, “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

He points out that Alexander Graham Bell didn’t conduct focus groups or speak with customers prior to inventing the telephone. He knew there was a need, accurately forecasted that need — and the results were astounding.

Existing product categories can be revived to show customers the product is the answer to that “next” need. For example, at the time of the iPod launch, the technology was not new. There were plenty of MP3 players on the market, but none were taking off. Then Jobs started talking about the technology differently. He helped create that need.

MP3 players were no longer about playing songs on the go — after all, people did this for years with their Walkmans and similar devices. Now, Jobs said, MP3 technology was about “1,000 songs in your pocket.” He quantified the product in a simple way that users could understand.

Key takeaway: Don’t think only about the needs of customers today. Look into the future to discover how you can talk about products to support the evolution of those needs.

Build suspense — lots of it

Apple launches are famous, and they didn’t get that way by following the status quo. The company did something different. Prior to an upcoming release, rumors would start circulating (which was not at all an accident). Then Apple would announce the new product. Oh, and by the way, the product would not come to the market for another six months.

When the company did finally debut the product, millions of units would be sold in the very first days. For example, when Apple released the iPhone 6, the company sold more than 10 million units during the very first weekend.

In fact, Jobs was notorious for saying “Just one more thing” during a press conference and then telling the audience something that would completely blow them away. He was a master at building suspense, and when you deploy this tactic, results get amplified. Not sure where to start? Here are a few tips.

  • Fuel the story. Today, influencers are very powerful. Start leaking information to targeted influencers about your marketing campaign or new product launch.
  • Tell a tale. The best way to build suspense is by telling a really great story. The best stories start by presenting unresolved mysteries and problems, then slowly revealing the solution.
  • Tweet clues. Start building suspense on Twitter by revealing hints and clues about the upcoming product, its benefits, and the impact it will make.
  • Produce teaser videos. For example, post teaser videos to Twitter or other social media channels where your target audience spends time.

Key takeaway: Creating suspense is all about timing. Strategically plan, time, and implement each move to build anticipation and drive more interest and engagement.

Focus on experience

Steve Jobs believed that you don’t need to be first to market, but you must be the best on the market. Apple was not the first to invent MP3s, smartphones, tablets, or computers, but the company looked at what others were doing, found the flaws, and then transformed those flaws into opportunities. At the heart of this type of conversion is the creation of better user experiences. Here are a few tips for getting started.

Stay relevant. Present customers with the right content at the right time. Accomplish this by developing buyer personas and understanding the customer journey with great accuracy. Once you know how customers are finding you and meet them where they’re at (during the precise moment of impact), the results will be greatly improved.

Stay consistent. Focus on the omni-channel experiences so that regardless of which channel customers use to interact, the brand messaging and experience will be the same.

Iterate constantly. Focusing on the customer experience requires maximum flexibility on the part of marketers. Be willing to make changes at a moment’s notice in order to optimize the experience.

Key takeaway: When the customer experience is one that offers absolute simplicity and taps into the power of strategic timing, customers become more engaged, excited about your products and services, and ready to purchase.

Marketing in the new year

Steve Jobs taught marketers that the product is always at the heart of the message. But it can’t be just any story about the product; it must be the story that connects best with the customer’s dream — even if they haven’t fully formed that dream yet.

Jobs said, “I want to put a ding in the universe.” As marketers, so do we. And when we deploy the strategies above, we can not only reach customers with greater impact, we can also deliver the message they are waiting to hear.

What are your marketing plans for the new year? Please share. 

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