On August 20, 2012, Apple surpassed Microsoft to become the largest public company in history. It’s a fact that makes it easy to forget that, not that long ago, Apple didn’t even exist.
What’s contributed greatly to Apple’s success is great marketing. As most people know, Steve Jobs was a big believer in great, smart, creative marketing. It’s something he believed in from the very beginning of Apple.
Back in 1976 when Apple was just starting, Steve and his two partners had some big decisions to make. One, was about marketing. Unlike other startups and small businesses who see marketing as a questionable or unaffordable expense, Steve saw it as an important investment that was absolutely necessary to get the word out and grow the business – even with limited funds.
So, just months after incorporating, Jobs hired ad agency Regis McKenna. The agency designed Apple’s logo and handled all of Apple’s early advertising, marketing, and branding. Apple took off.
A few years later, after Regis was sold to Chiat/Day, Apple continued a close relationship with Chiat to produce some of the most brilliant advertising of all time. Steve Jobs will go down as one of the greatest marketers in history. Yet he’d be the first to tell you that most of the credit belongs to the great advertising and marketing people he hired.
Because Steve was such a dynamic front man for Apple, it’s easy to think he deserves all the marketing and advertising credit. He was involved with all of it, and he had the final say, but he didn’t create it. Steve came up with the Apple name and that’s about it. The iconic “1984” and “Think Different” campaigns were created by the agency. The name “iMac” was created by the agency. All the advertising and marketing for the Mac, iMac, iPod, iPhone, including the brilliant “Mac vs PC” campaign was created by the agency.
And, what many people will find hard to believe is that some of the best marketing ideas for Apple were ones that Steve didn’t even like…at least initially.
Recently I had the opportunity to speak with adman Ken Segall who worked directly with Jobs for 12 years as his ad agency Creative Director. In Ken’s book, “Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success,” he describes an episode with Steve in 1997 when Ken’s team was given the assignment to name the innovative, new, candy-colored Mac that Apple was about to introduce.
Steve informed them that the name that he had in mind was “MacMan” and they had two weeks to come up with something better. Confident that “MacMan” would not be hard to beat, Ken scheduled a meeting with Jobs the following week. At the meeting he presented a handful of names including “iMac.”
As Ken tells it, “Steve hated them all” and informed them that they now had one week to justify their jobs and come up with something better than “MacMan.” Not the reaction that Ken was expecting.
A week later, Ken and his team presented some new names, including “iMac” again, with stronger arguments as to why it was the best name. Listening to Ken’s strong conviction Steve paused thoughtfully and said something like, “Well, I still hate it. But, I hate it a little less this week.” The rest is history.
It’s a great story because while everyone knows the names iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad, few people know how close we came to MacMan, PodMan, PhoneMan, and PadMan. It’s also an important lesson in marketing and management. Because as smart as Steve Jobs was, he was also smart enough to know the areas where others knew more than him — like creative marketing.
It takes a certain amount of guts for any business owner to trust the ideas and direction of outside marketing experts, especially when there’s no guarantee those ideas will work. Steve obviously had the guts and trust in the people he hired. So did Ryan Blair — a small business owner who followed Apple’s example by creating a great product and investing early in the best people to get the word out. Ryan’s company, ViSalus, is now valued at over $600 million.
In a recent interview, Ryan was asked about his most valuable business lesson: “Hire the best possible people that money can buy.” Like Steve, Ryan had the guts and vision to choose that path even when he was a startup with little money – and even when he had to pay some people more than he paid himself.
While I’ve never worked with Steve Jobs, I and my partners, have had the pleasure of helping other savvy business owners like him. One was an ambitious young shoe designer who left his dad’s shoe business because his old school dad didn’t believe that spending money on marketing was a good investment.
That young man was Kenneth Cole. And what started as a few attention getting ads became the foundation for what is now one of the most successful fashion brands in the world. We’re happy to continue helping other savvy small business owners who, like Steve and Kenneth, understand the value of investing in smart, creative marketing.
So, I offer this piece to the business owners who still struggle with the idea of investing in high level, creative, marketing help. Apple makes the perfect case study. As a small business owner Steve Jobs understood that regardless of how great Apple’s products were, his business would fail if the marketing didn’t connect with, and emotionally resonate with, the regular people he was trying to reach.
Apple’s marketing success is the combination of great products, a relentless desire to tell the world about them, and Steve’s ability to find the right, talented people to help do that.
Apple Logo  Photo via Shutterstock