Opinion: Marketing is Apple’s real killer app

Apple's much-hyped iPad

Apple's much-hyped iPad

Forget about the iPad; the most impressive thing on show at Apple’s recent press conference was its mastery of marketing, says Adam Maguire.

About a month ago Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took the stage at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas for the event’s opening keynote. During his speech Ballmer unveiled the Slate, a tablet computer that Microsoft was creating with manufacturer HP.

Like Apple’s newly-launched iPad it was touch-based, portable and multi-functional but nobody cared. In fact Ballmer’s keynote was panned by journalists who called it flat and disappointing.

So why did Ballmer’s Slate fail to generate the kind of buzz that Apple’s iPad is now receiving? It is arguable that the hype and reaction received matched the quality of the two products unveiled. However much of it can be fairly attributed to Apple’s mastery of marketing, something all companies could learn from.

Towards the end of last year specific rumours about an Apple-made tablet computer began to reverberate online. As is tradition the company refused to be drawn on speculation and so media outlets and tech fans alike filled the void with the aspirational and often fantastical features the device would offer.

By the time Apple CEO Steve Jobs took to the stage late last month even committed luddites knew the company was to unveil something big. Most impressively the device in question – though flawed in many ways – managed to maintain the massive hype surrounding it even after the big reveal had taken place.

Apple’s approach to marketing is simple. It is notoriously secretive and refuses to say anything about what it is doing until it decides to. For better or worse the company never has knee-jerk reactions to its rivals and takes its own route at all times.

The company also never showcases prototype or ‘beta’ technology and only brings something to the stage when it is ready to be sold. Once unveiled it selects stand-out features – rather than a long-list of hardware details – and uses them to sell the product.

Finally Apple has the enviable weapon of Steve Jobs, who is an expert speaker with evangelical and assured passion about what he is doing.

With the HP Slate Microsoft broke all of these rules by showcasing an unfinished product that would not be available for some time; all in an attempt at undermining Apple’s upcoming media event. It failed miserably.

Of course not many companies – not even Microsoft – can hope to attract the kind of attention Apple does when it has something to say. Nor could they dream of having the devoted legion of fans ready to talk up your products no matter what. However the fundamental principles of what makes an Apple event so special are applicable to companies of all sizes and services.

The core reason for the buzz that surrounds the company, however, is its ability to market a product well from inception onwards. The first impression is carefully managed and the person who delivers it – usually Steve Jobs himself – at least appears more passionate about the product than he is about its eventual sale.

As Apple knows, showing a product off too soon or in the wrong way runs the risk of leaving it dead on arrival – the sooner its rivals realise this too the better.

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