Steve Jobs can work a room like a seasoned rock star.
The Jan. 7, 2002, twice-yearly love fest known as Macworld was no different for the jeans-and-turtleneck-clad chief executive of Apple Computer. He commands presence.
Where some company bigwigs might be all business, staid, indifferent or in the case of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer over-the-top cheerleaderistic, Jobs seems at home in front of 5,000 giddy admirers and 100,000 more watching on a live webcast.
Call him the Bono of Tech: Confident but not too cocky, given to bouts of hyperbole but not over the top like his Monkeyboy counterpart, repeating a catchy, familiar refrain. Jobs does just what a leader is supposed to do: Provide a vision of where the company ship is headed and make sure everyone understands it. Besides its products, Apple's vision is part of what makes the Mac faithful maintain the faith.
And at the January Macworld, Jobs unveiled Apple's latest iconic symbol: an updated iMac, the all-in-one desktop computer whose original release in 1998 helped secure Apple's future for several years, including putting several billion dollars in the bank. The new iMac features a swiveling flat-panel screen connected to a small, dome-shaped computer. Jobs is positioning the iMac as a digital hub for the expanding world of digital devices that continue to infiltrate our daily lives: cellphones, PDAs, MP3 players, digital cameras and video recorders.
The reviews for the updated iMac have mostly been glowing. Whether you are a Mac fanatic or a PC protestant, it's been hard to avoid Apple's recent unveiling. And the upshot: it's due largely to strong word of mouth and buzz. Indeed, Apple hasn't even begun to formally buy ads for the iMac.
The machine looks like a work of art, but we're more enamored with Apple's beautiful marketing strategy that had you and the rest of the world hearing about the iMac well before it even sold a single unit:
- Weeks of an online and offline whisper-and-rumor campaign leading up to the Macworld convention. Jobs & Co. have mastered this effective word-of-mouth process by making the January Macworld convention an annual launch party akin to a Hollywood movie premiere. The pre- and post-show buzz that Macworld generates is incalculable in its value.
- Jobs granted Time magazine a behind-the-scenes exclusive to the machine's creation and unveiling. The result? The cover of Time and seven - seven! - full pages inside, timed with Macworld. Now THAT'S convergence.
- An expert alignment of all marketing communications platforms with its products. As it has consistently for the past three years, Apple's website makes effective use of its front page to showcase news and product updates that create excitement, interest and information. Apple's newest products, the iMac and the iPod, are beautiful in a sort of updated "2001: A Space Odyssey" motif. Apple's marketing communication materials consistently reflect that styling.
The evangelism marketing movement fomented at Apple in the 1980s, with the launch of the original Macintosh under the guidance of Jobs and Apple's then-chief evangelist, Guy Kawasaki. It was Kawasaki who helped popularize the idea of a company evangelist by rallying the developer community to write software for the Mac.
With the launch of the Mac in 1984, Jobs and Kawasaki boldly outlined their cause: that computing shouldn't be controlled by IBM's hegemony, that computers should make room for creativity in a democratization of the desktop. Rightly or wrongly, the positioning then was, "A computer for the rest of us." The message resonated in the minds and hearts of artists, designers, publishers and students like the birth of a new religion. To this day, fruitless arguments about Apple's share of the operating system market continue (95% for Microsoft to Apple's 5%), but Apple's care and nurturing of its niche makes it a $7 billion company today with a more promising future than, say, Xerox.
When people talk about "cult brands" - companies that inspire legions of nearly unwavering fanatics who morph into a company's long-term life insurance policy, Apple is at the top of the list. It stumbled during the post-Jobs era under John Sculley and later, Gil Amelio, but did not fail, as conventional wisdom relentlessly predicted. When Jobs returned to the company in 1997, he instilled a sense of urgency into a culture that had grown arrogant yet lazy.
During his two reigns at Apple, what have been the secrets to Jobs' evangelism marketing prowess?
Create a clearly defined cause.
This is easily Jobs' strongest talent. He consistently and clearly identifies what Apple stands for and where it's headed, both to employees and customers. This is a hallmark feature of an organizational evangelist: Provide something of value for people to believe in. "Personal computers will be the digital hub of our new digital lifestyle," Jobs said at Macworld, firmly planting his company's stake in the ground.
Maintain a sense of community.
Nothing rallies people like meeting thousands of other people just like yourself who are looking for the same things. Macworld has been annual pilgrimage for tens of thousands of people every year since 1984. Strangely enough, there is no "Microsoftworld" (although there is Comdex).
Build the buzz.
That the introduction of the iMac made the local newscasts of Chicago television stations proves the power of buzz. It was almost impossible to go a day on the Internet weeks before and after the show without hearing about Apple's upcoming product launch.
Listen to customers.
In presenting the iMac, Jobs outlined the top three requests of customers and how that feedback drove the engineering of the updated iMac. (The requests were, in order of importance: 1. More flat screens. 2. Make more use of the G4 processor - in the new iMac, the G4 is standard. 3. Make more use of the Apple Superdrive, a combination CD-RW and DVD-R - now part of the high-end iMac.)
While it remains to be seen whether the updated iMac is the monster hit as important as the original iMac, which is sitting on six million desktops, it can be safely argued that Jobs hosted a launch party that has accounted for significant pre-release sales: 100,000 units as of Jan. 16, according to Apple.
From that standpoint - that marketing is all about driving sales - then Jobs has surpassed all expectations.