Posts Tagged ‘Apple’

What is the brand impact of a CEO Statesman?

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

In a recent article titled “On the Stump,” the Economist positions CEOs from tech companies as the new CEO Statesman. “He is an evangelist, out to persuade theStriped_apple_logo world of the righteousness of his chosen causes.” The genesis of the article came from news about Apple CEO Tim Cook who is garnering headlines about privacy and government regulations with regard to unlocking a terrorist’s iPhone. While media-savvy executives and CEOs who seek the spotlight have been around in the tech industry for many years— think Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison—I started thinking about the impact their actions can have from a PR perspective.

“The CEO-statesman is not content with just accepting a job in the government; nor does he simply lobby behind the scenes. He is an evangelist, out to persuade the world of the righteousness of his chosen causes.”

Taking a stand on a legal or socially responsible issue, such as child labor laws, partner benefits or equal pay, is seen as a noble effort. Similarly, Mr. Cook’s issue with the government isn’t about the technology behind the iPhone. Rather, it’s about personal privacy vs. governmental need for security. He’s taking a stand on behalf of his company which, to me, is a noble gesture. Are his efforts helping or hindering sales of the iPhone? It’s hard to say. However, what he is doing definitely has an impact on Apple’s brand.

I see Mr. Cook’s efforts in a positive light. He’s doing what he believes is right, regardless of the consequences, and I applaud him for that. But, what if he was leading a charge against a hot political issue like abortion? Would I stop buying products from Apple because I disagree with his political stance?

Starbucks_Coffee_Logo.svgLook back at what Starbucks head honcho Howard Schultz did last year. At his request, baristas were asked to write “Race Together” on paper and plastic cups in an effort to get people talking openly about race relations. While the media backlash was quite negative, I thought it was an interesting move by Mr. Schultz to get people to start having an open dialogue about an important social issue.

From my perspective, the CEO Statesman can have a huge impact on a company’s brand and I applaud those CEOs who take that role seriously regardless of the impact it may have on their company. For instance, outdoor retailer REI gives employees paid days off to get outside or volunteer in the community and this makes me want to purchase their products. Part of building a brand is about what the company stands for and if I know that a CEO is willing to stick his or her neck out, as well as their company’s stock price, I am inclined to support them and their company.

What do you think about having a CEO Statesman for your company?

Shareholders, stakeholders and Apple

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

There’s been a long, raging debate among business school types about whether a business should optimize for shareholders or think more broadly about all of its so-called stakeholders like employees and the local community.  The argument on the shareholder side goes something like whatever is good for boosting profit is ultimately good for the business.

While there’s no doubt truth in that statement over the long term, a short-term focus on optimizing shareholder value can have negative consequences. That’s not really shocking news, but unfortunately it’s still happening.

The most recent victim of myopic, shareholder-first thinking was – of all companies! – Apple. I’d submit that most people when they look at the cute Apple logo on their spiffy iPad or iPhone want to think of Apple as a happy company, sort of like the Disney of computing.  Sure they can cost an arm and leg, but there’s a lot of value in gadgets that look cool and work like a dream.

Apple stores boom — employees not so much

But the reality of Apple is much different. Underneath that shiny veneer lurks a shareholder-centric greedy beast. This was exposed with a NY Times report that Apple works it retail employee hard while paying moderate wages at best (but reaping enormous profits from each store).  Similarly, Apple squeezes its suppliers in China so hard that factory workers face the type of conditions that have been outlawed in the US since the ’20s and ’30s. 

 What Apple is doing, of course, is perfectly legal. It might even be good business for a normal company. But this is Apple. It’s possibly the most successful and profitable company to date.  It’s also the happy company we all want to love.  It’s bad PR not to spread the wealth and fail to make the world a better place.  Especially when it could be so easy. Ironically, the shareholders might not even have noticed.

The shareholders will notice when people start thinking twice about buying Apple products, however.  After hearing a story about Apple factory workers on NPR’s This American Life, my wife was disinclined to purchase Apple products in the future, although I’m not sure workers at Samsung or Dell factories are much better off than those at Apple plants.  Most consumers probably don’t care in any case about a rotten core if the fruit is ok.

From a PR perspective – and here’s where you want to listen to outside counsel – perhaps the biggest loss for Apple was the missed opportunity.  By giving lowly store workers nice salaries and making life better for Chinese factory workers, Apple could have created a massive perception boost – one far greater than the comparatively minor incremental cost of doing the right thing. Apple isn’t completely tone deaf, and recent reports indicate that nice pay raises are due to store workers.  It’s a step in the right direction, but it never should have come to this in the first place.  We expect better Apple.

Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Pardon me if I’m a week behind the times but I was out last week. But even being away from my desk for a few days didn’t shield me from the fiasco that Apple has been enduring. For the situation to be referred to as a “Toyota-style PR crisis for Apple sure says a mouthful. By now everyone has heard about the little glitch that the iPhone 4 is suffering from. Even Consumer Reports jumped on the bandwagon and said it couldn’t recommend the iPhone 4 after giving it a positive rating initially.

Now let’s take a step back for a minute. Apple has one of the strongest brands in the world. Known for quality and innovative products, the company has always been more user-friendly than just about another other tech company. Yet somehow this killer new product has fallen on hard times (from a PR perspective, sales seem to be holding up for now) due to a technical error with the antenna. In reading the coverage it seems that more people are interested in the PR fiasco than the actual error, probably because Apple has handled the situation so poorly. As my noted colleague discussed, is the hype around the problem bigger than the problem itself? So what does this Fortune 500 company, with one of the strongest brands in the world, do to manage this crisis?

They tell customers to hold the phone differently.

What do users say? Use duct tape Not exactly rocket science here but you get the picture.

What’s most amazing to me, a PR professional that worked at Apple in the 1990’s, is how badly Apple has handled this crisis. Most of the PR experts who have weighed in on this one agree that there are some very basic principles you follow in a crisis situation like this one—acknowledge the problem, ensure consumer trust by saying the issue is being examined and addressed, craft your story and stick to it.

Many PR pros who focus on crisis management have weighed in on how poorly Apple has handled this one:

Instead of addressing the problem and offering to find a solution like Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol tampering in the early 1980s, Apple has come off more like Toyota and BP during their recent reputation-annihilating incidents. “The biggest mistake (Apple) made is they keep changing their story,” said Ira Kalb, professor of marketing at USC Marshall School of Business. CNET

After users reported problems with signal strength and dropped calls when they touched the lower-left portion of the phone, however, Apple suggested that consumers hold the phone differently or use one of many bumpers to insulate the antenna. It also said that all phones suffered from similar problems when they were cradled a certain way. These comments were widely laughed at in gadget blogs. New York Times

To say it isn’t good to be mentioned in the same breath as BP and Toyota would be an understatement.

So my question is…how could Apple have made such a big mistake in how they’ve handled this? And what impact will this have on the Apple brand? Granted, sometimes you can’t control the story the way you’d like to but Apple really blew this one. Apple has had product issues in the past yet as philosopher Edmund Burke said “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” Guess Apple didn’t study its own history. Or is Apple getting a little too big and too arrogant for its own good?

So what communication crisis have you had to manage? Any tips for readers out there?

The Power of Massive Hype

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

The Wall Street Journal today is reporting that the vast majority of Toyota accidents were the result of…driver error. Not sticky brake pedals:

The U.S. Department of Transportation has analyzed dozens of data recorders from Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles involved in accidents blamed on sudden acceleration and found that the throttles were wide open and the brakes weren’t engaged at the time of the crash, people familiar with the findings said.

The early results suggest that some drivers who said their Toyotas and Lexuses surged out of control were mistakenly flooring the accelerator when they intended to jam on the brakes.

What’s even more fascinating is how the grievance count suddenly shot up once people heard about the problem. Actually, we didn’t just hear about it, but were barraged by a non-stop, relentless news cycle involving electronic media, print and online media outlet and social media buzz.  Did the hype – not problems with Toyota – lead to the jump in complaints?  I’d say that looks like a pretty safe assumption.

toyota grievences

A similar case of hype leading to mass hysteria is the latest (albeit flawed) Apple iPhone.  While it’s a nice device, there is very little that’s truly new or groundbreaking. If you already have an iPhone or an Android device, there’s not much reason to run right out and buy one.  The rational response would be to hold off until your natural upgrade cycle comes around.

The irrational response, fueled by months of breathless expectation by media and bloggers, along with Steve Jobs’ showmanship at launch, resulted in the thousands upon thousands of people waiting in line to drop down their hard-earned money on a device virtually the same as what they already have. Say what? My take, is the hype created a form of temporary insanity on a mass level, perhaps akin to the way mobs work.

Another example is designer handbags among teenage girls. Although somewhat tempered of late by the recession, my daughter went through a phase where she simply had to have expensive purses.  Working a minimum wage job, she would save pennies to get the latest Dooney & Bourke offering. I would see her purses and just couldn’t understand why she along with many other teenage girls would pay so much for what amounted to a fancy label. Hype and peer pressure are the only explanations.

As a PR person, I’m aware of the influence of hype and therefore largely resistant to its influence.  I counseled friends to buy Toyotas when the sales crashed earlier this year, and tend to avoid overhyped, overpriced Apple products.

But I am fascinated by the incredible power of hype to shape people’s behavior.

To no small degree, this is what marketing, advertising and PR people dream about and strategize endlessly to achieve. Get enough hype, and you have just hit the lottery.  So what’s the magic formula?  Still working on that one, but I’ll let you know once I figure it out.

Why All the Fuss About Brand?

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Brand name, brand experience, brand awareness, brand recognition, brand image, brand franchise, and brand identity…just to name a few. Thanks Wikipedia. Here’s the definition of brand that I like:

The word brand has continued to evolve to encompass identity – in effect the personality of a product, company or service.

Is there a more misunderstood or overused term in marketing than “brand?” I hear the term in planning sessions and see it all over the news, but how can something that is intangible cause such a stir in the corporate world?

In a recent CNET article about the world’s strongest brands, the top tech companies recognized included industry heavyweights Google, IBM and Apple. In fact, Google was the winner for the fourth straight year. Sort of funny when you think about it since IBM and Apple have actual products you can touch whereas Google is really just an online tool, albeit one that has effectively taken over the Web.

Here is the top 10 ranking of global brands in 2010 by research firm Millward Brown Optimor in its fifth annual “BrandZ Top 100 report“.

Top 100 Global Brands

So as we talk about building brand, really, what does brand mean to you? To me Kleenex is a brand—do you ask someone for a tissue or a Kleenex when you’re about to sneeze? The name has effectively taken the place of the product line. I always have considered Sony a strong brand because it stands for quality products. I used to feel that way about Toyota but that’s another story.

A common attribute of brand in advertising that I see is the ability to identify with the product and want to emulate it on some level, like the Michael Jordan commercials with Gatorade (“Be like Mike”) or the Air Jordan shoes.

So in today’s day and age why is brand so important?

Because it’s all about building trust and strengthening brand loyalty. With so many choices available to consumers and companies, as well as so many mediums (radio, TV, social media, etc.) to reach target customers, companies are striving to keep their customers. It’s common knowledge that it costs less to maintain a customer relationship than to secure a new customer.

My feeling is that we’ve seen an uptick in the growth in usage of the term “brand” due to the rise of social media. Tools such as Facebook and MySpace not only give companies a way to reach their customers, but it creates a two-way dialogue that lets the customer engage with the company on an entirely different level. I’ve read about many smart companies that have added an element of customer service via Twitter. Sounds pretty smart to me.

So how can companies strive to instill more “personality” in their brand? What are some unique ways that companies are doing this?

Apple helps HTC build its brand – on Apple’s dime

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Over the years, Apple has done a masterful job of building its brand.  From the epic 1984 commercial that launched the Mac to the cute and effective “I’m a Mac” campaign, Apple just seems to be operating at a different level from everyone else in the tech industry.

Apple fans are everywhere, willing to pony up a significant premium for spendy Apple computers and gadgets. For the perceived design and innovation they overlook considerable product flaws like crummy battery life or Apple’s proprietary, controlling policies. The Apple brand and flashy UIs mean that much for many consumers.

Given the power and advantages afforded by this brand, why on earth is Apple throwing it away because it thinks HTC – and of greater concern, Google’s Android OS – might be stepping on some of the almost laughable patents it secured on gestures?  With Google’s backing, HTC has little to worry about.  But it stands to gain a lot of brand equity.  An obscure Taiwanese maker of smartphones, HTC must be doing something right if Apple is worried. The exposure alone has been worth a mint.

iphone paten

Apple was, somewhat bizarrely, able to get a patent for a swipe as shown from the patent app. Is there an app for that?

Meanwhile, suing little guys doesn’t do the Apple brand much good. Nobody wants to see the hip Mac dude running around slapping lawsuits on people. Doesn’t really fit with the friendly, funny persona. Evil is more like it. Steve Jobs with horns?  I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I’m pulling for HTC and Google in this one. It’s tough to feel sorry for billionaire bullies.

What I expect from Apple is a way to buy the iPhone on a better network. How about Verzion for starters? How about some different variants of the iPhone? How about cooking up ways to deliver unlimited 4G bandwidth for $10 a month? Apple should keep thinking about the needs of customers and finding ways to help the industry to put our needs first. Lawsuits?  This is not making me happy.

As ex-Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz details in what possibly might be one of the best blog posts of all time, patent wars among tech titans have been going for a long time.  Most of the time, Company A steps on Company B’s IP, but it turns out that Company B is also stepping on Company A’s IP, so they leave each other alone. Nobody wins in a nuclear war.

In this case, Apple might have the upper hand from a patent volume perspective CNN reports. But winning the courtroom battle will be a wan victory if it leaves the Apple brand bludgeoned beyond repair.

More content, less money. The iPad’s ROI.

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Tablets like what Steve Jobs and Apple just introduced have long been forecast in science fiction, so you just knew that sooner or later devices like this would become reality.

ipadFor example, in Arthur C. Clarke’s 1968 novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, Clarke describes something called a “Newspad” that Heywood Floyd, “plugs into the ship’s information circuit and scans the latest reports from Earth. One by one he would conjure up the world’s major electronic papers; he knew the codes of the more important ones by heart, and had no need to consult the list on the back of his pad. Switching to the display unit’s short-term memory, he would hold the front page while he quickly searched the headlines and noted the items that interested him.”

While there will be little need to know codes by heart, Clarke’s vision of getting electronic papers on a pad-like device is finally here.  To be sure the iPad is likely far from perfect, I fully expect that it will inevitably become more refined and in the process move us much further to full electronic delivery of premier content – much of which is currently paper-based.

Sure you can get content on either a smartphone or a laptop, but neither is ideal. The smartphone is just too small and the laptop is too clumsy. I just don’t find myself sitting at breakfast surfing news on my laptop, or trying to peer into a tiny screen on the BlackBerry.

Instead I get volumes of newspaper – big piles of it that inevitably end up being recycled.  Speaking of which, the environmental impact of all that paper is not good. Paper consumes large amounts of water and energy, levels forests, and requires many gallons of fuel to get it to my doorstep. Electronic delivery has almost zero impact in comparison.

I can, however, imagine using the iPad as my daily news feed. What’s more there’s economic justification simply on the basis of replacing paid-for printed content I currently consume.  While I expect to still pay for the electronic content, the price will go down significantly.  Note that some of the publications have yet to adopt eReader technology like what the NY Times currently offers, but publishers that expect to survive will offer similar technology. Based on my calculations, I figure I could save $652 per year, easily justifying a $499 iPad.


Beyond lowering costs, the iPad will deliver a much improved experience.  Publishers will be able to blend video and printed words. Instead of a few photos, I will be able to see the entire sequence if I so desire. I’ll also be able to look up related information, or make comments. Basically it’s everything we love about the Web, but in a nice magazine-like format.  When I’m travelling, all I’ll need to pack is my iPad and a cell phone. No longer will I need magazines, books, media player, GPS, or even a laptop. And, of course, there will be countless numbers of cool apps.

Sounds like science fiction? Not anymore.

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