It seems that whenever Apple intros a new version of the iPhone or the iPad customers are prepared to camp out overnight just to be one of the first to own such a product. While I drove past the Palo Alto store yesterday and studied the line I couldn’t help but think that these lines were a marketing opportunity for someone. I could easily see an app vendor creating some stunt that gave the first 100 people in each line a free copy of their app, so that their app instantly became a hit just as the new platform comes out. I could see consumer brands such as Dr Scholls (the people who make foot care products) creating ‘Apple Line Waiting’ gift bags. I could see Starbucks offering a ‘mobile (get it?) latte service’ for the people stuck in line. Right now the only people benefiting from the lines is Apple. With lines formed in major cities across the world, surely there’s an opportunity for someone to capitalize? Come on all you creative consumer marketers, get your thinking caps on.
I spent some time in the Palo Alto Apple store yesterday. My eldest daughter was playing with a raft of different products from laptops, to ipods and iphones and of course all the various accessories. Standing in the midst of the store I became aware of just how many products Apple is now selling and the list seems destined to grow. Now imagine the store as a metaphor for what the average consumer can associate with and you can easily see that as the product range expands their ability to maintain strong associations with products diminishes. Pretty soon Apple is meant to launch some kind of tablet which will take up yet more shelf or table space.
As someone that loves the quality of the Apple products and admires the brand, I worry that this ‘growth’ mentality could be a dangerous path. Some companies are able to run large product lines because their products are designed to reach different audience segments and we understand that as consumers. But Apple’s brand has been built around the idea that we all want all of their products and they’ve actually done a pretty good job of selling that brand. I for example have an iPod, iPhone, iMac, Apple TV and a MacBook Pro. I’ve also got countless Apple accessories and chargers. At some point though the list has to stop. As a consumer I don’t want yet more products. I want fewer that span the gamut. Apple in its recent incarnation (Steve 2.0) has done an amazing job of only launching products that are really needed. Few products seem to have struggled – the Apple TV and the Mac Air seem the notable exceptions, while the iMac iPod, iPhone and iTouch have been huge successes. If Steve was 100% well I wouldn’t raise these concerns. But we all know that Steve is not devoted to Apple in the way he was before his illness and that at some point he’ll take a huge step back. When that happens I worry that Apple will miss his iron grip on the company’s product strategy and that inferior products will be launched and Apple will be right back where it was before Steve returned.
Next time you are in an Apple store, try and imagine that they’ve launched four major new products and still have all the current product range. You will quickly start to wonder how they can fit everything in without making the stores much bigger. FYI rumors are rife that Apple is going to take a much bigger space in Palo Alto and open a new flagship store (click link). Does this suggest their solution to the product proliferation problem is simply to take on more space? I sincerely hope not.
Given the media is fully engaged either by the financial market meltdown or the US election (in this country at least), it could be argued that anyone planning to launch a new product or make any other significant news announcement right now, should look at waiting until things get a little calmer. Of course that’s hard to do when you have sales teams wanting the new product to sell and or a channel doing the same. My thesis is that right now is a time when people are struggling to even pick up a newspaper or magazine given all the negative articles inside. Indeed I’d hazard a guess that at times like this circulations may well stay high but readership beyond the lead stories will be dropping like a stone. Of course this does make it a good time for companies to shovel out any bad news they have. For one it will get largely lost amongst all the other noise. It will also be measured against some of the unbelievably bad news that the banks are dishing out on a daily basis, which by default makes it not so bad. We live in interesting times.