The rumors and stories surrounding the health of Apple’s CEO are rife. Has he had a liver transplant? Has he already returned to work? All this shows how entwined he is with the success of the brand. The success of brands is often associated with an iconic leader. For years Bill Gates was Microsoft. Virgin is Richard Branson. And of course Ford was, well Ford. Of course companies are way bigger than one person and their success doesn’t rely on these iconic leaders, at least not on a day to day basis. These leaders are the people that do, however, set the vision, the tone and the values of the company. Jobs has set a culture of perfection. He has set out a product strategy and he has set out a vision. All of these will enable the business to be a success… for a while. If he does dial back, or even leave, it will affect the company. How quickly and to what extent remains to be seen. My guess is that Apple will do fine for a year or two without him at the helm but if his replacement cannot install his or her own brand of magic, Apple could well turn into just another consumer electronics company. That would be a sad day.
All of this uncertainty around Jobs’ health does create an opening for his rivals. Rivals could of course praise Steve and make it clear how great a job he has done at Apple and how amazing his vision is etc. They would do this to make people connect him even more with the brand, so that if he does have to step down, the loss would be seen as all the greater. I’m sure they wouldn’t do that kind of thing though. Would they?
People like to read reviews of products in magazines they trust. They are helpful when they are making even a small purchase. For many though, the ratings of other buyers on sites such as Amazon.com or Bestbuy.com are fast becoming a ‘good enough’ barometer of the quality and value of a product. Indeed an entire industry has emerged to harness the power of user generated product or service feedback – tripadvisor.com being one of the notable success stories. But the generation of these user reviews does of course rely on some people having bought the service or product. After all, if there no users, there will be no user reviews. This is where the media and now certain blogs, have an advantage. They guide the early adopters of products. A good recent example of this is the Palm Pre. Google or Bing reviews of this product and you’ll see that at this stage there are plenty of product reviews at places like C|Net or Gizmodo but you won’t (or at least I couldn’t) find any customer generated reviews on major sites. Of course that will change in time but it’s clear that only those buying the phone early in its life will just have these more traditional product reviews. Which brings me to my point – product reviews are not for the masses, they are for the early adopters. Does this change the way PR people tackle product reviews? I suspect it should. Early adopters are by definition different. They have slightly different demands to the normal users. It would be useful for communications staff to profile early adopters and look at what characteristics they have and how the product being promoted appeals (or doesn’t appeal) to those characteristics.
Twititions are Twitter petitions. You can see all the Twititions by going to Twitition.com. So far 537 Twititions have been created and they’ve received 32,374 signatures. Put another way the average Twitition gets around 60 signatures. However, Twititions just got a huge boost by the decisions of AT&T and O2 to charge people a high price to upgrade to the new Apple iPhone 3GS (see post below). An O2 twitition has attracted over 5000 signatures, whereas an AT&T Twitition with the same complaint has garnered over 13000 signatures. Put together they account for over half of the signtaures attracted to any Twitition. This shows that people on Twitter want this kind of outlet for issues they care about. Of course it also shows that you can’t simply create a Twitition as a tactic in a marketing plan. Without these two Twititions, the average Twitition has only 30 signatures…
Apple launched its much anticipated update to iPhone today, called the 3GS. It has some good new features, such as a camera that actually takes decent pictures, video and sound activation. Price? $199 plus a two year contract with AT&T. That’s the good news. The bad news is if you’re an existing iPhone user and want to upgrade the price is… (wait for it) $599. In other words if you have been a good Apple/AT&T customer and want to buy the latest product you pay $400 more than someone who has waited until now. This seems crazy to me. They can clearly afford to sell the product at one price, so why charge existing users so much more? The argument is that if you haven’t yet run down your old contract then you haven’t yet given them the chance to recoup the discount they gave you on the phone you bought. But they ignored that fact when they launched the 3G. Therefore I can only assume that they don’t really want existing users to switch. This also means that the iPhone’s actually should retail at these crazy prices and the contracts are what bring the prices down. Even with this, surely an upgrade at some lower price could be justified by someone extending their existing AT&T contract by two years. My headline says Apple must not want the business. This is probably unfair. In truth it is AT&T that control this part of the pricing. I really hope some common sense prevails though and that Apple and AT&T get together and change this policy.
Bing, the new Microsoft search engine has gone live. I have to confess I’m impressed with the way it works. It looks a lot different to Google, having the various reasons for searching shown on the left of the page. I used its travel functionality today to help out a family friend and it worked very well and certainly saved a lot of time compared to using several travel sites to book a flight. Interestingly I came across Bing because I tried to access Farecast.com and it took me in to Bing. This in itself is a clever move by Microsoft, given I searched on Farecast through Google as I wasn’t quite sure of Farecast was the right name. I’ll confess I’m now tempted to use Bing as my search engine. Being someone who has Google as a part of my toolbar will of course make that a bit harder in the short term. Of course I’ll also be stuck with Google on my iPhone until Bing is offered there. So I’m a convert… sort of.