Why does Apple command such a loyal following?


By Bryan Parsons

General
5 August 2010

What is it about Apple that means they have such a loyal customer base, it’s something every business desires, it’s hard to get and can’t be bought so how do they do it?

I’m not afraid to admit I’m a bit of a fan of Apple’s products so I’m not completely impartial but I’ll do my best!

Apple Aren’t perfect

Steve Jobs said it himself in the recent press conference called to discuss the flaws in the latest iPhone design. Yes, flaws in an Apple product! The signal problems with the iPhone 4 have been covered extensively in the media recently; here Apple is a victim of its own success. There have been plenty of other phones in the past with signal issues and calls dropping but Apple just can’t get away with it, they are too popular to slip under the radar and people expect more from Apple, when you buy an Apple product isn’t it meant to be perfect?

Apple aren’t doing great in other areas, they are behind in cloud computing, still charging £59 a year for their ‘MobileMe’ service whilst Google offers similar services on a much larger scale for free! There are rumours that Apple will make the service free later this year and perhaps enhance it at the same time but why has it taken so long?

Then there is the other bad press Apple have been getting lately about the number of suicides that have taken place at Foxconn, one of companies Apple uses to manufacturer its products. Is Apple encouraging cheap labour and poor working conditions?

So what are they doing right?

Products and design

Whenever Apple releases a product they tend to be one step ahead of the market, not just with killer features but in the design and right down to the packaging.

When you purchase an Apple product the first thing you notice is the packaging and whilst it might also go right in the bin it’s important to realise this is all part of the Apple experience, you don’t spend a small fortune on a laptop and expect to get it in a cheap paper bag, this ‘unboxing’ experience has an effect on your perception of Apple products even if you don’t realise it.

The importance of the design of Apples products cannot be under-estimated, they have to look, feel and be great, to the extent that it can result in form over function in some cases (iPhone 4 aerial). Apple were the first to turn away from the boring beige PC box which used to live under your desk with the iMac in 1997, this was a evolution in PC design which has evolved to become the frankly stunning iMac which is available today! They were the first to release unibody laptops, again a brilliant piece of design and most recently the iPad.

Customer support

If you’ve ever called Apple’s support line or sought support in one of their iconic Apple shops you’ll know they’ve got this nailed. Apple’s support often comes out top in support reviews. So when you buy an Apple product you have the assurance of after sales service and this is good for repeat business.

Apple even insist on owning the support of their iPhones, most other manufactures (Nokia, Motorola etc) hand off the fault management of their products to the network operator as they don’t see them as their customers. However Apple consider an iPhone owner as one of their customers and will provide the support leaving the network provider to do just the network providing.

Brand perception

Product placement is pretty important and Apple seem to be masters at it, Apple products have featured in many great films and TV shows, including ‘Independence Day’, ‘Fight Club’ and more recently big TV series like ‘24’ and the latest big files like ‘Toy Story 3’ and ‘The Book of Eli’. Apple get their products in the right places and often used by the right people.

Apple don’t just open shops on the high street, they build premises which can be recognised, they are normally bold iconic designs that stand out from the stores around them. Few companies do so much to build an image for themselves, this requires serious investment and as is often the case with brand development and marketing it’s difficult to quantify any return from the original investment.

Apple are notoriously secretive, they like to keep their next big thing under their hats until they decide it’s ready, this results in more hype when a new product launch is due. There are loads of rumour sites dedicated to reporting every rumour and tip off they get about Apples next product launch and even some of the media giants can’t resist reporting on rumours in the days preceding a big launch.

Paying through the nose

It’s true to say Apple products are perceived as costing more, this is partly because some of them do but when a company invests in new product technology and design they have to re-coup that money from somewhere. So when they are first to market with products like the iPad or the Unibody laptop these products will inevitable cost more.

Another reason Apple is perceived to be expensive is because they don’t do ‘budget’ products, even their cheapest laptop or desktop features great design and reasonable performance.

Some of Apples products maybe over priced, the iPhone is very expensive but people buy them so have Apple earned the right to charge more?

Summary

Apple have a loyal following because they have invested in their image, their brand and their products. They have been clever with their marketing and constantly innovate. They put design and quality at the centre of every product (yes, including the iPhone 4) and look after their customers after they buy.

Investing the amount they must have in things which they cannot quantify the return is a brave move which has paid off for Apple; you could argue that Apple have bought peoples’ loyalty contrary to what I said at the start!

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