After watching Apple announce the less than auspicious iPhone 5S, I got to thinking. Apple,.. a brand with which I have had a long and happy relationship, has over the years given me everything I wanted. I liked being associated with “think different”. The rebel in me approved. I like their commitment to aesthetics when it came to design, hardware and software alike. I liked that they catered to the creative community and that the Apple brand always felt bleeding edge, the best of the best. I liked that and have been happy to pay a premium for it. I’m a bit of a tech junkie, and I will always be an early adopter and Apple set the world standard for innovation. Net net, the Apple brand has suited me well. And we’ve been together for some time now.
But be wary and remember that most brand relationships are predominantly emotional. Unlike human relationships, brand relationships have no long-term contract, real or implied. They are, as such, considerably more fragile. Consumers are free to be fickle at no cost to them and with no repercussions. You, “brand”, must keep delivering and importantly, never give me a reason to doubt who you are. You must be true and consistent. Or I may well leave you for one that satisfies me more. And I’ll leave you without a second thought and with no guilt.
Cut to Apple’s big event last Tuesday. With no iTV, no wearable tech, no new iPad, and an iPhone 5C with no NFC capability and fingerprint technology that was once introduced on a Dell laptop back in 2007, the event was, well, flaccid at best. What’s new? Five new colors? Seriously? Okay, the 5S is faster and has a better camera, but that differentiation won’t last long. Where’s the innovation? I felt let down, disappointed, even betrayed. And now I find questions creeping into the back of my brain. Do I still feel aligned with Apple? Am I questioning this relationship? Maybe you’re just not doing it for me anymore. Naturally, when doubt creeps in, it’s hard not compare. Is something else more right for me? Something that will give me what I might be missing? Like, say, Google?
When you look at what Google’s doing these days, it begs a lot of questions of Apple: “What have you done for me lately?” “How am I benefiting from my loyalty?” “Are you still what you always were, and therefore, the badge that defines me?” “Or have you changed?” And you “Google”, what can you do better for me? Google is rockin’. Their Android market share has cruised past Apple’s. Their LG Nexus 4 sells for half of an iPhone 5S, with a bigger screen and way higher resolution at 768×1280. Eventually, all their Chromebooks, phones and tablets will run on Chrome OS replacing Android, unifying millions of customers that were fragmented across the Android OS ecosystem. They’re ahead in wearable tech and voice recognition. They appear to be out innovating Apple. But didn’t Apple promise me they would lead in innovation?
I’ve never seen Apple back-peddle until recently. They will release iOS 7 this month introducing a flat design intended to back away from its overly skeuomorphic UI designs, after admitting it had gone to far. They will hopefully be adding back previously stripped away functionality of the overly simplified native apps, like Address Book and iCal and Mail. In some ways, they need to get back to what they were.
But I digress. Back to Apple and me. After reading all the reviews of the event, I found myself questioning whether the Apple brand is still what it always had been. Are they still delivering on their brand promise? Of course, this is where perceptions and reality get blurred, remember this is an emotional game. Are we still right for each other? Does Apple reflect me any more? Maybe we’ve been seeing each other for too long.
The lesson for brands is simple. Don’t ever stop being what you promised. Know your DNA and be true to it, always. Because if you don’t, your loyalists will start questioning the relationship. Remember that regardless of whether the change is real or perceived, it is valid. Manage your brand accordingly. Know how all your business decisions affect the truth and consistency of your brand. Do this and your customer will love you forever. Don’t, and… exactly.
So, has Apple truly lost it’s edge? I don’t know. But I know I’m questioning. And funny, after so many years of loyalty and feeling trapped in their ecosystem, how easy it will be to walk away, how painless. I feel no sense of obligation.
I may spend my days with Apple, but I’m thinking of Google.