Apple Study

Apple Study

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It’s interesting reading about large consumer brands and their various methodologies for consumer research as it relates to new product development. In the consumables business, P&G is the heavyweight and is the pinnacle of research with their expertise in identifying the products that resonate with consumers. They also have manufacturing and distribution dialed in which makes them the “ideal” that many manufacturing-driven organizations aspire to be like.
Then there’s Apple. Their products are generally always innovative and meet some consumer unmet need so well that people literally fall in love with their brand and products they pump out each and every year. Yes, there have been some duds (the Cube is one that comes to mind), but it doesn’t happen often.
To research or not to research?
In a recent article from Fortune, Steve Jobs is quoted:
“We do no market research. We don’t hire consultants. The only consultants I’ve ever hired in my 10 years is one firm to analyze Gateway’s retail strategy so I would not make some of the same mistakes they made [when launching Apple's retail stores]. But we never hire consultants, per se. We just want to make great products.”
I found this to be fascinating. How can one of the most popular and successful consumer brands not perform any consumer research? Then I read the following quote:
“It’s not about pop culture, and it’s not about fooling people, and it’s not about convincing people that they want something they don’t. We figure out what we want. And I think we’re pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too. That’s what we get paid to do.
So you can’t go out and ask people, you know, what the next big [thing.] There’s a great quote by Henry Ford, right? He said, ‘If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me “A faster horse.” ‘ “
Keep it simple, stupid
When one sits back and thinks about it, Apple really makes products people want. There’s no real convincing that needs to happen as to why they they need an iPhone or iPod — people just get it. The features offered on Apple’s products are such “no brainers” that it’s an obvious purchase the consumer wants…or rather, needs to make.
All Apple really needs to do with virtually any of its products is build awareness (which they are excellent at doing) and let the product do the work.

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They don’t have ads or commercials explaining why a “touch screen” iPhone is better than a standard cell phone. They simply show the sexy design, a few things that it can do, and people are hooked — they just get it.
What if you can’t keep it simple?
When your product can’t do this and you find yourself listing feature/benefit statements in every piece of marketing collateral, you know you’ve got an uphill battle ahead of you. Find that one thing that if a consumer sees it, they’ll just get it and be sold on your product.
So, let’s go out and quit doing research, right?
Apple’s product portfolio is about 30 products (which is incredible for a $30 billion company), so they can be very focused on things they are good at. Other companies do not have such luxuries and simply do not have the bandwidth to be consumer experts in every single product line.
Usability studies for your website
The same can be said for websites, too. Sometimes, while online marketers and designers have the best intentions for site design, it does need to be tested and researched outside “the four walls” of the company to get real-world feedback. As sites scale, it’s hard to keep your head wrapped around every single page, link, and graphic on the site. This is where usability studies come into play.
Usability studies are great for two reasons:
1. They expose the huge gaps or even little intricacies that you may have overseen during the development stages. Better to capture these gaps now and fix them before rolling out features on a wide scale.
2. Sometimes you need the validation from consumers about satisfaction ratings on the site — often a point that needs to be used in a supporting argument for convincing upper management or potential customers that the site design, user interface, and/or information architecture is favored by consumers.
Sometimes you need consumer insights and market research to “sell” your ideas internally
Apple has the luxury of a CEO that understands the art behind product development and views things from a consumer standpoint. But it looks like he can also squash a project in its tracks without any consumer insights — making a new product launch vulnerable to his own opinions. For the most part, Apple has been very successful with this model.
In other businesses, this is often not the case, and a website can be driven in a direction that can be misguided by upper management who may not “get” web design, navigation, and information architecture. Usability studies and consumer insights can be a powerful tool for not only consumers, but for you when “selling” the site internally.
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Parenting like a product manager
Posted in: marketing, By: E. Long, At: March 8th, 2008
In a discussion with a friend/coworker this week on our way to lunch, we were chatting about the annual review process and merit increases at our company. He had made the comment that his parents jokingly compare his salary to his sister’s salary (who evidently makes considerably more than him). I then went off on a tangent and wondered what it would be like if parents treated their kids like product managers treated their products? It made for an amusing conversation and poked fun at the day-to-day marketing world we live in:
ROI of parenting (evaluating “performance” of a son/daughter)
Like product managers, parents could look at the time they were investing in their children and begin measuring their return on investment (ROI). If their daughter was outperforming their son in grades, relationships, etc., like a product manager, the parents would focus additional efforts in their son in an effort to boost performance. At some point however, the son does risk being cast aside as a “laggard.” The daughter also risks attention and her performance could suffer due to the extra attention being paid to their son. It’s a constant balance of determining where time is maximized on your products (children)!
Correlating performance to self esteem (like correlating product sales to consumer confidence)
With the economy heading south like it has been, we begin to see more product managers correlate consumer confidence to purchases of their products to help explain a downturn in top-line sales.
What if parents measured their son or daughter’s self esteem and correlated it with their performance?

If self esteem has a direct correlation to performance, then how can you “move the needle” like a product manager “moves the needle” in a down economy? A trip to Disney World, of course (sort of like a discount or rebate on a product)! Take a look:

Other market conditions may be influencing performance
Some parents may be quick to jump to conclusions like many product managers, however. One may look at this and say “If we take more trips to Disney World, I can create consistent lift in performance regardless of self esteem conditions.” This would be the equivalent to always offering a discount on your product — the risk is the behavior of the consumer becomes one of not purchasing unless a discount is offered.
The last thing a parent wants to do is have their son or daughter get in the mindset of only performing well shortly after a Disney World vacation. Product marketing and parenting is a tricky balance of priorities and market conditions.
Sometimes we just have to sit back and laugh at ourselves and the marketing world we live in.
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