The Secret of Steve Jobs

November 10, 2011


    Steve Jobs was a rebel who didn’t go about life or work in the normal way. He dropped out of college, was a fruitarian for a time and was often called an arrogant, obnoxious, weirdo.

    Being a rebel, however, wasn’t the secret of Steve Jobs. In our youth-obsessed culture, rebels are a dime a dozen.

    Steve Jobs was a technology genius. From an early age, he was fascinated by electronics. He tinkered at his father’s workbench and joined his high-school electronics club. Jobs was so gifted that Atari's chief technology engineer gave him a job as a game designer even though he had no formal technical training.

    But being a technology nerd wasn’t Job’s secret either. Silicon Valley is filled with brilliant technology nerds.

    Steve Jobs was a design genius.  He was obsessed with creating tools that were not just good but beautiful. And his aesthetic sense didn’t just apply to the outside of things; even the inside of things had to be beautiful. On the Apple II, for example, Jobs insisted that the circuits be redone to make the lines straighter.

    But being a design genius wasn’t the secret of Steve Jobs either. Check out your local Ikea; it is filled with wonderful designs.

    The world has many great rebels, great technology geeks and great designers. What made Steve Jobs so unique was his supremely-gifted marketing ability.

    Here are some examples of the marketing decisions made by Steve Jobs. Decisions that put Apple on the path to becoming  the world’s most valuable company.


The power of a simple brand name.

    In the 1970s and 1980s, there were hundreds of brands of personal computers on the market. Many of these brands were line extensions of existing brands: AT&T, Burroughs, Dictaphone, Digital, ITT, Memorex, Motorola, NCR, Radio Shack, Smith Corona, Siemens, Xerox and many others.

     Many of these brands were new brands with strange names: Osborne, Commodore, Micro Pro and dozens of others.

    The difference between Apple and the other brands wasn’t in the hardware. It was in the name. Apple was a simple name consumers could instantly associate with the home market. The name also allowed a simple "apple" visual which hammered the name into prospects' minds. (How would you visualize Micro Pro?)

    Furthermore, Jobs resisted the path that many entrepreneurs take. That is, giving the brand his own name. Would Jobs Corporation have become the world's most-valuable company? Or even worse, how about Jobs & Wozniak Corporation?


The power of a second brand.

    During a 1979 visit to Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, Jobs saw a prototype of a computer with a graphical user interface. Rather than typing commands, users rolled a mouse and clicked on menus. This technology fit with Jobs' philosophy of making computers that were dead simple to use. He immediately started working on replicating the technology.

    On January 24, 1984, Apple released the Macintosh. Previously, the product line included such names as Apple I, Apple II and Apple IIe. But this new computer got its own name and thereby created its own new category. Most companies would have called it the Apple III, but not Steve Jobs.


The power of an enemy.

    Sometimes the best way to position a brand is by figuring out who your enemy is and then being the opposite. Apple's obvious enemy was IBM which had about 50 percent of the PC market.

    That is exactly what Jobs did with the famous 1984 Super Bowl commercial announcing the launch of the Macintosh. What made the commercial so powerful was that almost everybody instantly recognized Big Brother, who represented "conformity," as a stand-in for IBM. He repeated the same strategy later with the Mac vs. PC guy ads.

  Pixar copy

The power of being first.

    In his career at Apple, Steve Jobs did this over and over again. Launching a new product that was the first brand in a new category.

    Pixar's Toy Story. The first feature-length animated movie done entirely on computers.

    Apple's iPod – the first hard-drive music player.

    Apple's iPhone – the first touchscreen smartphone.

    Apple's iPad – the first tablet computer.


The power of a diverging category.

    Initially we were skeptical of the iPhone. Jobs had described his new brand as a combination iPod, cellphone,  email-and-internet device, all rolled into one. A red flag went up in our head since convergence devices are typically flawed.

    The Nokia Communicator had been on the market for a number of years, it was a combination personal digital assistant and cellphone and it was a total loser. But in reality, the iPhone was not a convergence device. Jobs may not have explained it correctly initially, but no matter. The iPhone exploited the divergence phenomenon by becoming the first “touchscreen” phone.

    But it wasn’t just the touchscreen that would be the iPhone's greatest achievement. It was the way the iPhone handled the many hundreds of thousands of apps created for the new device.  What email did for BlackBerry, Apps did for iPhone. Apps made the iPhone more than a cellphone, more than a music player, more than an email device, more than a web device. iPhone was a totally new touchscreen App device.


The power of the verbal.

    When you are the first brand in a new category, consumers need extra help in understanding what you are selling. Steve Jobs had an amazing ability to simplify not just his products but his product messages as well.

    With two words, “Think Different,” Jobs communicated the essential difference between the Macintosh and every other PC.

    With five words, “1,000 songs in your pocket,” Jobs communicated the essential difference between the iPod and the other MP3 players that could only hold 30 songs.

  Ipod white

The power of the visual.

    Words can communicate a message, but visuals can reach consumers emotionally in a way that words cannot. Jobs understood the power of visuals like no other CEO on the planet and effectively used simple visuals to build his brands.

    The rainbow apple for Apple.

    The white ear buds for iPod.

    The even better white apple for Apple Inc.

    Job's presentations were also powerful visually. First was his consistency of dress. From 1998 to 2011 (the era of his return to Apple), he always wore a black turtleneck and jeans for his presentations. Even more impressive were the slides he used during his famed presentations. No text-filled PowerPoints for Steve. Nothing but a huge screen with just a single image and a few words on each slide.

    A picture is worth a thousand words.

  Apple brands

The power of multiple brands.

    Apple didn't get to be the most valuable company in the world by expanding one brand into multiple businesses.  Apple launched multiple brands.

    In the beginning, Apple Inc. made the Apple computer. But no longer. The Apple computer died along with the home-computer category.

    Today, Apple is a company name, not a brand name. And a good one at that. Apple Inc. owns the brands: Macintosh, iPod, iPhone and iPad.

  Apple top

    No CEOs make decisions and follow the principles of branding the way Steve Jobs did. He has left us an amazing legacy.

    Future leaders should study Steve Jobs and his accomplishments so that they too can build brands the way Jobs did. If you build brands like Jobs, you can build the next most valuable company in the world.