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By Allan Enemark
As the dust settles over the news of Steve Jobs’ passing, emerging from the clouds of buzz stands Apple, alone. But pause for a moment to reflect on that mental image. What exactly does Apple-the-company look like now?
Of course, the company will manage fine without Steve around, and assuredly it has been transitioning towards that end for some time now. Apple, in fact, has benefited greatly from the leadership of their new CEO, Tim Cook.
Yes, Apple lost a visionary founder. But, also something more subtle; its most direct emotional connection to users. Steve was the face of Apple. The marketing value of this “fifth column” embodied by Steve Jobs can be illustrated in the Remembering Steve messages posted to the Apple website. Neilkodner.com pulled together a very interesting aggregation of those messages to see if any patterns emerged. Of the more than 10,000 tributes posted, nearly 20 percent referenced an Apple product. The public adored Steve and many directly attributed their Apple products to him.
There are several other top executives, such as Oracle’s Larry Ellison or Virgin Group’s Richard Branson, who are just as successful and prominent. But while Mr. Jobs enjoyed the celebrity status of a real life Tony Stark, he maintained an aura of approachability. People could email him, or spot him at a local coffee shop. And through this relate-ability, he created a marketing channel that directly communicated his passion for Apple to its customers. A passion that could transmit Steve’s infamous “reality distortion field.”
Apple tremendously benefited from this not-so-secret marketing platform. Despite the massive growth of the company into one of the largest capitalized in the world, having Steve as the front man helped Apple keep their indie roots and personal-ability. Contrast this with another monster of a company and the difference in public perception becomes clear. For instance, many see AT&T as a massive, malevolent, and uncaring force, which is unresponsive to the individual customer and difficult to comprehend. But Apple is just Steve.
While Steve Jobs has always been well known, at some point during his growing mass appeal, he became a brand in-and-of-himself. Apple, the public, and the media in general minimized the complexities of the real man to better fit this idealized form, all the while creating a continual buzz that helped sell more product. But no more.
There can never be a replacement for Mr. Jobs and with him goes a key marketing advantage for Apple. While he left the company extremely well positioned and with incredible momentum, it is in the cross-hairs of several strong competitors. If they are to continue their market dominance for the long term, Apple will have to find another way to maintain their personal relationship with customers. This must be done before the facade Steve provided them falls and Apple devolves into just another big, impersonal company.
Allan Enemark is a practicing industrial designer & a sustainable MBA candidate of the Presidio Graduate School. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org