Steve Jobs: The man who changed everything in marketing and technology

SteveJobs_AppleIn this guest posting, Cathie McGinn of media agency Mindshare reflects on today’s passing of Apple chairman Steve Jobs.

RIP Steve Jobs. In all the years I’ve been using social networks, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single topic so quickly and absolutely swamp all media. Within seconds of Jobs’ death being announced, Twitter was dominated by tributes.

Steve Jobs changed everything in terms of marketing and technology. And changed it again. A true iconoclast, Jobs was a man possessed of vision, a commitment to making it reality and most vitally, the ability to inspire others to take the journey with him.

His approach to product development and marketing was original and uncompromising.

One of the first business leaders to truly understand that your people are your brand, Jobs has created a cult(ure) that means from CEO to the meet-and-greet kid in store, your experience is always intrinsically Apple.

Perhaps because he didn’t finish university and had no formal experience in business or technology, his methods were unconventional.

He put the user at the centre of all product and software design. Criticised by some for not providing endlessly customisable options, Jobs understood that the majority of users delighted in the simplicity and ease of use that Apple products offered.

He gave us technology that enabled us to interact with one another, not with the technology itself. And because he was focused on what this technology could do for consumers, he changed our lives.

SteveJobs_AppleThe 103-year-old great grandmother who learned how to use iPad’s gestural interface in mere moments doesn’t know or care that she’s using a revolutionary new interface design; she’s interested in talking to her grandchildren on Facebook. Jobs’ approach means technology gets out of the way and lets us get on with living richer, more connected lives.

It’s worth reminding ourselves just how extraordinary products like the iMac, the iPhone and iPod were when they launched. Apple products, broadly speaking, work straight out of the box; no time consuming downloads, driver installations and so on – using a Mac has always been like being a child receiving a Christmas gift that comes complete with batteries.

Uncomplicated design, straightforward usability and a consistent experience have created a degree of loyalty that most brands can only dream of. I can think of few products that can cause people to throw out all competitor products and get a matching set of, let’s face it, fairly extraneous luxury items. We all need computers, but the reason for Apple’s strong brand preference is that its products anticipate our needs before we do, and allows us to move seamlessly from home to street to office – products that integrate with our lives.

In my street recently I saw a scanner dumped on the verge with a note attached. It read:

“Please take. Brand new but doesn’t sync with my Mac.”

Of course this reflects the dreadful profligacy of the Eastern suburban consumer, but also illustrates the degree to which consumers identify themselves with, and aspire to, a set of values and attributes we all recognise that comprise Brand Apple.

Steve Jobs broke many of the fundamental tenets of marketing. He refused to use focus groups and external research, taking the view that the team at Apple were their own test bed, responsible for continual innovation. They weren’t designing for consumers’ current needs, but for future needs that people had yet to identify themselves.

Even during the worst of the recession, when most organisations were seeking to diversify revenue by offering greater product ranges, Apple continued to offer only a few versions – and to ensure that they were done well.

Jobs’ infamous insistence on secrecy and frequent snubbing of influential journalists and trendsetters was another maverick move that should, according to received wisdom, have backfired.

He set his own marketing timetable, shunning events like the Consumer Electronics Show, launching products when he deemed them ready, not to fit in with seasonal trends. And rather than backfire, his perseverance paid off, meaning that Apple announcing a new product becomes the defining moment of the marketing calendar (see Nokia’s homepage takeover on the SMH yesterday) and not the other way around.

Apple employees have described the Jobs’ effect as a “reality distortion field” – as one former engineer wrote “a confounding melange of a charismatic rhetorical style, an indomitable will and an eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand.” It’s an unfashionably autocratic style of management, but demonstrates Jobs’ exceptional leadership skills and extraordinary vision.

An original thinker who held doggedly to his convictions, Jobs was an extraordinary man. He leaves us with a new sense of what is possible when you continually seek to make things better, and, in his own words, “Why join the navy when you can be a pirate?

  • Cathie McGinn is strategy director at Mindshare. Follow her on Twitter @acatinatree



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