Apple has done an amazing job in creating an image and what used to be a customer base of passionate brand advocates.  People who were so gung ho on the brand that they would defend everything the company did, no matter what.  Today, I think they have morphed more into a company that caters to product advocates…people who love their i-phone, their i-pod, garage band, whatever.

Job’s rock-star style of ‘shock and awe’ product releases has created a double edged sword in the sense that everybody expects Apple to turn out fabulous, sexy and useful stuff.  I am going to go on record in saying that Apple’s ID (industrial design) team is legendary.  They could make a doormat sexy.  However, if it is not useful, or user-friendly the value starts to diminish.

I see a couple cracks in the dam that indicate there is trouble brewing.

1.  Apple’s twitter feed has over 24,000 followers.  It does NOT allow for @ REPLIES or RT (re-tweets).  It simply pushes out branded content with no concern or care to who is listening or why.  Marty Collins does a good job breaking this fact down.

Form over Function

2.  Genius bar.  If you have ever used it, unless you are a power Apple user (i.e. know exactly how to work the computer, the website and the system), in which case you mostly don’t need the genius bar in the first place, this is a horrible experience for the average Mac user.  It’s noisy, crowded, difficult to get an appointment and most people end up feeling like idiots and leave disgruntled.  Mostly because the 28 year old person on the other side of the counter (which separates you from them) has a t-shirt on that essentially says, ‘hey I am smarter than you.)  Apple wants to cultivate this image.  They believe it.

Form over Function

Form over Function

But not everybody feels this is a great experience.  On more than one occasion, I have been in a store and overheard some poor customer say either to a genius or to anybody in earshot that was listening, “Are you actually trying to make me miserable?”  or here was a real gem from the Michigan Avenue (Chicago) store “Do you think that you have me so completely that you can treat me like this and I won’t care?  Or that I have no choice?’”

3.  Apple’s tools and marketing channels are devoid of any voice of the customer.  No UGC, no interactive tools, no learn from people like me, no easy and useful communities of other passionate users that’s integrated with the product. Instead, you find product, marketing content and white space.

Form over Function

In fact, I have to go to France (OK, it’s Sara France) to get to some form of consumer UCG I might find helpful.  But again, this is marketing content.  Not user content.  No way to rate or rank, share, communicate, collaborate, learn or experience.

As marketing to consumers becomes challenging, not to mention an economy that is making virtually every shopper consider what they are buying, why and what is the value, Apple is on the verge of creating a problem for themselves.  It won’t manifest quickly I think but will come to a boil over time.

I saw this first hand a long time back when Scully headed Apple.  They (and he) knew better.  They (and he) never listened.  They spoke.  The company teetered on the brink because of that.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love Apple.  I love the history, I love the overcome all odds mentality, I love the fact that they do get the product experience, every element from the packaging to the plug in.  I have many friends who are former Apple superstars.  Developers and marketers alike.

For Apple to capitalize on their still-strong fame, they need to re-think:

1.  Content only being 1 way.

2.  User Feedback and aggregation of the consumer’s content being a core strategy.

3.  Integration of the user experience into the product (think Yelp, Amazon, etc.)

4. Re-invent the store.

5.  Have a couple of marketing messages, not just bashing Microsoft.  Spotlight your customer!  Geico has a number of methods.  Sure, they are cheesy but it’s unsexy car insurance, not sexy devices.

Just a few thoughts.

Steve Hershberger

Steve Hershberger