Fighting the Fade: Brand Your Way to the Top Like Apple
Remember when having a Tamagachi, the rarest Beanie Baby, or a new Furby made you (or your child) the coolest kid in class? These products sold millions of units in the 1990s, making them among the best-selling toys of all time. Like many toys, however, these products were flashes in the pan. They experienced rapid, exponential sales growth, and retailers often sold out of the newest editions during the holiday seasons. Today, one would be lucky to get $20 for a blue elephant doll that sold for over $1,000 a decade ago. So how can businesses prevent their products from becoming fads?
While some would enjoy the dramatic boom in sales that a fad product provides, most companies would prefer that their products experience long-term, sustainable life cycles. Recent superstar products like the Apple’s iPhone and Amazon’s Kindle are experiencing record growth in sales and market shares, but don’t expect them to fade into the back of our minds any time soon. These products are sustainable not just for their inherent value and exceptional functionality, but because of the way their respective companies manage their brands with calculated precision.
Every product goes through four life-cycle stages: introduction, growth, maturity, and decline. The iPhone and Kindle, though they have been on the market for a few years, are products still in the growth stage. Sales and profits are still increasing and are not likely to peak anytime soon. This is a direct result of the mastery with which the brands of these two products have been crafted.
Apple has become more than a company that produces well-functioning products, it has become a lifestyle for thousands of individuals across the world. Apple’s brand has become a living creature, growing upon itself, capitalizing on its status as a pop-culture icon. Walk through your office park or college campus and count the number of white earbud headphones, which have become a signature symbol of Apple’s widespread reach. By creating a product that consumers perceive to express a lifestyle and personality, Apple has infiltrated the often impenetrable barrier to an individual’s methods self-expression. The affiliation and personal identification that is fostered by this implementation has made Apple one of the most influential brands on the planet.
From the sleek, modern packaging of the products to the energetic, colorful and expressive commercials, Apple has created the perception that owning an Apple product grants you access to a unique group of individuals that live ahead of the traditional culture. The company explicitly addressed this notion in their anti-PC commercials that portrayed the Mac Guy as a hip, relaxed and easy-going “dude”, while Microsoft’s PC Guy faltered as a goofy, antiquated and bumbling laggard.
It is important to recognize these actions are not done lazily, and these reactions are not simply a result of Apple’s good fortune. These actions and reactions are the result of years of research, thousands of man-hours of creative planning and carefully calculated execution of these strategies. The same concept can be applied to nearly every product or service; by constantly updating, expanding, and enhancing a brand image, products can avoid becoming fads and services can become indispensable aspects of consumers’ lives. The best products and most widely used services did not end up that way by chance, but instead enjoy their dominant status as a direct consequence of dedicated strategic maintenance and persistent product innovation.