While I left Motorola earlier this year and am currently am on contract to a leading B2B/B2C brand not in the cell phone industry, I continue to be fascinated by the competitive activity in the cell phone space. Like many others, I am particularly fascinated by Apple. But for me, my fascination isn't merely because of a cool new music cell phone. My interest is due to Apple's marketing and brand strategies. Today, Reuters reports that, in the US, during its first full month for sale (July), the iPhone has outsold all smartphone models. Impressive, but not surprising.
Apple has shown brand and marketing management expertise with the iPod and the iPhone (which I consider a kind of brand extension of the iPod) from which all marketers, b2c and b2b, can learn a great deal. Apple provides an excellent example of the care and feeding needed to build and sustain a strong brand. Apple has done this by continually moving the iPod brand forward (think Nano then iPhone) and never milking the brand's success; it's part of why it is very difficult to steal the iPod's market share. Apple has also done some smart brand extensions which always maintain the integrity of the core brand (or subrands, if you prefer).
Brand loyalty for iPod is complex connected to many factors: product design, user interface, software, the coolness factor (it's the cool music player to be seen with) -- the fact that a user gets locked in with his/her music collection being in the iTunes format, etc. Of course, you can buy a competitor mp3 player with more features for less money than the iPod -- iPod commands a premium price, always.
Sustaining the Apple iPod music player brand meant moving the product forward, which inevitably led to the iPhone, the convergence of the music / media player and a cell phone. Apple knew it was where portable music players were headed and wanted to cannibalize iPod sales before someone else became first to mind in the space (of course, Apple didn't make the first cell phone that played music, however, it quickly has become first in mind when it comes to cell phones that play music).
Part of managing the brand is managing pricing, and Apple has always smartly exercised strong control over it's retail pricing that most marketers should look at with envy. It's hard to imagine a premium brand selling for $49 - $99 USD (the price range of many subsidized cell phones in the US) and I am confident that Apple is too smart to let that happen to the iPhone (I am also confident that cell phone carriers appreciate this; like any business, they want products they can sell for a nice profit). With iPhone, Apple has innovated in this area too. In the US, cell phone carriers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, etc.) have traditionally subsidized the cost of cell phones looking to service for their profit. Not with the iPhone. Reports are that Apple has ensured that AT&T is making a sizable margin on the iPhone. That's smart for both companies. After all, any business is more likely to push a brand they make a profit from rather than a loss -- it's a great differentiator and incentive for the carrier to push the product, especially when you combine that with strong consumer demand for the phone. I've always believed that cell phone makers should have been working hard to do this (i.e., offering carriers high end phones they can sell at a profit), instead of marching to the beat of what's always been done by pumping out more subsidized cell phones. It's interesting that it took a new marketing and brand savvy entrant into the cell phone market to accomplish this.
Even more, only several years ago brands didn't mean much to carriers. I remember seeing a research study a carrier had done that showed that more than 70 percent of consumers could be switched to a different brand while at the carrier's retail store. I seriously doubt this will apply to consumers coming in -- and even switching carriers -- to purchase an iPhone. I am confident those consumers are not going to be easily switched.
I'm also confident that Apple and its iPhone will change the cell phone game in many ways.
Kudos Mr. Jobs. Brilliant work. I am eagerly anticipating your next move.