In just a few years, the public perception of Apple has changed completely. The company that once garnered unanimous praise is now cornered against the ropes. One would expect that as a consequence of losing the control of its narrative, Apple’s PR strategy would pivot.
Instead, it has remained largely the same.
What is going on with Apple? Let us have a look at a problem that isn’t really new but rather a rehearsal of old narratives.
A Boring Apple
Apple is a boring company. Its astonishing successes under Jobs’ baton in the shape of the iPhone and iPad’s early years were unquestionable. But also lead to a sense of infallibility where the company could do no wrong.
The reality was that Jobs made all kinds of mistakes along the way. The iPod Hi-Fi. MobileMe. Fighting against the App Store in the early iPhone era. Getting in bed with Google during those same years.
They were largely ignored by the mass media, an entity that loves telling good stories to the public.
Stories like the one that Apple was starring. The company that fired its founder and was about to go bankrupt. Then, just like in the prodigal son parable, made a spectacular comeback. The biggest in corporate history. From the verge of failure to the biggest corporation in the world.
But then, just like mass media always does, they turned against the myth that they so happily helped build. Because it’s good business sweet talking a company everyone loves and then switch gears and drag it to the mud.
That’s the business they’re in. By talking positively first and then negatively you can fill your advertising space twice. Click, click, click. Or watch, watch, watch.
Of course, the turning point was Steve Job’s death. Since 2011, Apple has been unable to do anything right.
The Mac Problem
Apple’s PR strategy has a Mac problem. Users have waited over a year for a refresh, an unusual amount of time by Apple’s metrics. The unveiling of the MacBook Pro didn’t mitigate the public. It was seen as a provocation.
Despite facing significant constraints largely due to Intel’s diminishing chip prowess, Apple lost the PR battle. For all the reasonably positive innovations within the computers, its high price, old chips and lack of a variety of ports were all that pundits could see.
We can argue that Apple handled the situation poorly from a PR perspective. It could’ve explained how these new MacBook Pro represent the fight against the disruption of the Mac in the iPhone world.
Apple chose not to do that, leaving the interpretation to each of us.
And that’s what happened. You know Apple has lost control over its narrative when people start writing things like ‘macOS is becoming legacy software‘.
It would appear that Apple’s PR strategy has lost a huge battle.
Apple’s PR Strategy Has Remained Unchanged
There is a reason why Apple is losing this battle. One of Sun Tzu’s most valuable teachings focuses on choosing the right battles to fight:
You have to pick your battles wisely. Not every conflict is worth turning into a major battle. There are certain battles which simply cannot be won no matter how much effort you put into them or what strategies you use. They are simply losing causes and fighting such battles does little to help you accomplish your ultimate objectives. The wise man will not let his pride get in the way of obtaining his goals, and fighting a battle which cannot be won is a prime example of allowing your pride to cloud your thinking.
Apple isn’t very into fighting uphill battles. The company is specialized in flanking markets and enemies, avoiding direct conflict.
It did that when Apple recognized Microsoft’s supremacy in the desktop. Jobs quickly focused on the next consumer product and developed the iPod. After that, Apple released the iPhone, which has wreak havoc among the PC industry and constitutes kind of a vengeance.
Apple’s PR strategy is now fighting a battle it cannot win. Mass media, blogs and the general public are so entrenched on a negative narrative that all efforts would prove unsuccessful.
Instead, this strategy has folded back to its core: the product. Apple’s philosophy is to let the product speak for itself to the user. Let me go back to this quote from Jony Ive we saw in Apple’s Greed Knows No Limits:
We are really pleased with our revenues, but our goal isn’t to make money. It sounds a little flippant, but it’s the truth. Our goal and what makes us excited is to make great products. If we are successful, people will like them, and if we are operationally competent, we will make money – Jony Ive.
Steve Jobs was a showman and so he garnered most of the public’s attention. But Apple’s real PR tool has always been the product, not the person.
This is the reason why Apple won’t attend any awards ceremony. Or let any of its employees accessible to the press, with tight exceptions. Because that would divert attention from the product to the person.
Apple Keeps Thinking Different
Double guessing Apple’s actions has turned into a chronic disease. Instead of fighting an unwinable battle, Apple is keeping its focus where it matters: the product.
We can’t say that other companies act in the same way. By showing their vision to the public before the product is ready to ship they hope to control their fate. And apparently, this PR strategy works. Tech media loves to have a preview of an unreleased product, several months or years in advance. And readers love that, making it good business.
It doesn’t matter if the product gets devoured by a PR black hole and never mentioned again. Vital questions aren’t asked to the right companies and executives.
How many times has Google paraded its modular smartphone approach to general applause? Was there a single website two years ago doubting Pebble’s future prospects instead of positioning it as an Apple-something killer? Has anyone noticed that Apple keeps pushing several times more iPad per quarter than Surfaces?
Despite Apple’s PR strategy remaining silent on its future plans, we can say that the essence of the company has remained unchanged. Apple keeps moving its products not where we want them to go but where the company wants to take them.
With all the media and public clamoring that Apple has lost its way since Steve Jobs died, it requires a lot of strength not to fight back. Apple has chosen which battles to fight and PR isn’t one of them.
Image | Luyu Zhang.