Tuesday, November 23 2010
By A J Kimmel on Tuesday, November 23 2010, 02:46 - Consumer Behavior
Friday, July 30 2010
By A J Kimmel on Friday, July 30 2010, 02:12 - Marketing Blunders
The new iPhone's antenna problems, which resulted in mounting complaints about dropped calls and poor reception, was initially treated by CEO Steve Jobs as a non-problem. As Slate's Farhad Manjoo pointed out in his July 15th column, titled to strike a chord with dissatisfied purchasers, 'Steve Jobs Owes Us An Apology': Jobs' first instinct was to insist that the phone is perfect, and that it's the users who are crazy. "There is no reception issue." Great way to endear your company, product, and brand to consumers who have shelled out cash to purchase your offering - product great, user stupid. Citing a basic law of physics that afflicts not only Apple's app phone, but all its competitors as well, Jobs simply focused on how users weren't holding the phone correctly in their hand, and that people like to go after the top dog, which is why Apple was receiving the brunt of the criticism.
The company initially offered a single fix, the promise to improve the accuracy of the phone's signal bars. But when the independent Bible of consumer product ratings in the US, Consumer Reports, begged to differ, and advised consumers not to purchase the flawed device, Apple had to quickly turn to Plan B. (Apple apparently deleted references to the Consumer Reports' evaluation from its support forums.) Plan B as a course of action probably couldn't have been more misguided. This was the press conference in which Jobs appeared on-stage, obviously pissed that he had to descend from his lofty heights to address such a picayune problem, and offered everyone a free case, which could serve as a kind of bumper against the antenna problem. If you haven't seen the announcement, click the link below and you'll understand why Manjoo in his July 16 follow-up piece at Slate ('Here's Your Free Case, Jerk' ) referred to Jobs as 'condescending' (and I'll add, 'arrogant')
The fallout from Apple's strategy has been pretty brutal for a company that in the past could do no wrong. I think the consequences were pretty accurately summarized in a Chapatte editorial cartoon appearing July 22 in the International Herald Tribune. This is a clear example of negative publicity for Apple. The message is very clear: Apple doesn't listen. Forget about having a conversation - when Apple 'converses' it means that Apple is talking at us, not with us, which is the polar opposite of the key message of Connecting With Consumers.
Now, imagine what that message communicates about Apple's brand identity, which in the past has been all about innovation, passion, creativity, empowerment through technology, people-driven product design, and you can fill in the rest. But first have a look at how the Sydney (Australia) based firm, Marketing Minds summarizes Apple's brand personality: '. . . about being a really humanistic company with a heartfelt connection with its customers. The Apple brand is not just intimate with its customers, it's loved, and there is a real sense of community among users of its main product lines.' Ouch! It doesn't take a genius to conclude whether that characterization of what Apple stands for was written before or after the iPhone 4 snafu, and it certainly doesn't jibe with Chapatte's cartoon. Take away that heartfelt connection and intimacy with customers, as Jobs seemed to be doing with his reaction to the iPhone 4 antenna problem, and all of a sudden, Apple isn't so special anymore. Innovative? Sure, but so are many other tech companies who must now be learning, you would think, from Apple's IPhone 4 misstep.
So what should Apple have done in response to the iPhone complaints, and is it too late to make amends? Once again, I refer back to Manjoo's July 15 Slate column, where he enumerated some courses of action (this before the Jobs press conference). Manjoo correctly predicted that Apple could think small, assuming that people probably weren't going to return their phones en masse, and simply offer free 'bumpers' cases for the product that seem to reduce the antenna problem. (By the way, Apple sold 1.7 million phones the first weekend of the launch.):
- That would be the easy thing to do. Nothing major—no product recall, no apology, no admission of error. But I hope that the out-of-nowhere press conference signals a shift for Apple—a revolutionary decision to kill off the company's critics-are-always-wrong philosophy. I also hope that Apple will finally offer a credible explanation for what's wrong with the iPhone. And I hope Jobs says just one more thing: I'm sorry.
- It's time that Apple admits what has become obvious to everyone: It made a mistake. There is more than enough evidence to suggest that there is a real design flaw in the iPhone.
Manjoo's latter recommendations are what engagement is all about - admitting a mistake, perhaps going to consumers for solutions in the spirit of a collaborative relationship, and apologizing to the customers whose relationships Apple surely wants to nurture. As Manjoo correctly observed, this hasn't been Apple's modus operandi, especially in times of crisis: 'when controversy erupts, it is rarely transparent with reporters, customers, federal regulators, or anyone else. Instead, Apple prefers to create its own reality.'
And though some may argue that the damage is done, I think Apple's customers are so appreciative of the firm's constant innovation and quality products that they would quickly forgive and forget. Admit the mistake, ask for solutions, fix it, apologize, throw in some added value (the free case without the smirk, free applications, etc.), invite dissatisfied customers to return the product for an exchange or full refund.
In the meantime, Apple remains a large target for firms like Motorola (see above ad) and creative entrepreneurs, like Szymon Weglarski and Jonathan Dorfman, whose iPhone fix, the multi-colored adhesive strips known as Antenn-aids, started as a joke and quickly evolved into a phenomenon: