Apple case study: How Apple builds everything around simplicity

Our Apple case study starts with 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗱𝗮𝘆 𝗦𝘁𝗲𝘃𝗲 𝗝𝗼𝗯𝘀 𝗿𝗲𝘁𝘂𝗿𝗻𝗲𝗱 𝘁𝗼 𝗔𝗽𝗽𝗹𝗲 𝘄𝗮𝘀 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘀𝘁𝗮𝗿𝘁𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗽𝗼𝗶𝗻𝘁 𝘁𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝘁𝗿𝗮𝗻𝘀𝗳𝗼𝗿𝗺𝗲𝗱 𝗔𝗽𝗽𝗹𝗲 𝗶𝗻𝘁𝗼 𝗼𝗻𝗲 𝗼𝗳 𝘁𝗼𝗱𝗮𝘆’𝘀 𝗺𝗼𝘀𝘁 𝗮𝗱𝗺𝗶𝗿𝗲𝗱 𝗯𝗿𝗮𝗻𝗱. Steve Jobs recognized that consumers were frustrated by how all the other technology brands designed their products in a lab without any thought for the consumer. Steve Jobs made the most significant contribution to Apple in how he pushed Apple to start with the consumer experience and then work back to the technology. 

The Apple brand strategy that we see today builds everything around the brand idea of “Apple makes technology so simple that everyone can be part of the future.” Then, we witnessed the most incredible decade that any company has ever seen, with Apple launching iTunes, iPod, iMac, the MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iPhone, and the iPad. 

Our Apple case study will teach plenty of lessons for using a brand idea to inspire and steer everyone who works on the brand. At every step of the Apple brand strategy, we will provide a link to click on and learn how the process can work on your brand. 

Apple Case Study explaining the tesla brand

The fundamentals of marketing matter

The marketing fundamentals that we show in this article are part of what we use in our marketing training programs. Marketers will learn strategic thinking, brand positioning, brand plans, writing creative briefs, advertising decision-making, marketing analytics, and marketing finance

Building the Apple brand

Our Apple case study will show how to come up with Apple’s brand positioning statement, and brand plan. Then, I will show how they stretch their “simplicity” brand idea across their company. Everyone who works behind the scenes know their role in delivery simplicity.

Simplicity drives all Apple advertising. 

Even back in the 1980s, Apple started with “technology for the rest of us” when they took on IBM. And, they continued that attack with “I’m a Mac” ads that took on Microsoft. Simplicity drives Apple innovation. 

The beauty of Apple is how they take complex technology and simplify it so consumers can do more with Apple products. 

The Apple brand strategy even drives their retail stores. Their Genius bar helps answer technology questions. They allow consumers to play with their products. Apple sales people are trained to avoid “geek speak.” 

The return of Steve Jobs

After Steve Jobs came back in 1997, he shifted the focus to rebuilding around the  brand idea of “Apple makes technology so simple that everyone can be part of the future.” Jobs came in with a consumer-first approach in a market dominated by an obsession with gadgets, bits, and bytes. At the heart of our Apple case study is the use of the brand idea of simplicity, and the impact it has on the Apple brand strategy.

Apple case study, Apple brand strategy
Simplicity is a one of the values Steve Jobs held very close to his heart. He built simplicity into everything Apple did and everything it stood for. To illustrate, click on the quote to zoom in.

How Apple builds everything behind the “simplicity” brand idea

Using our brand positioning process, our Apple Case study narrows in on the brand’s potential benefit clusters of the functional and emotional benefits. Below, we show how their three functional benefit zones includes simplifies life, sensory appeal and the experience. And, their three emotional benefit zones includes optimism, feeling free and getting noticed. 

To illustrate, click to zoom in to see the Apple’s consumer benefits.

Once you have everything settled, the overall brand positioning statement focuses on simplifies technology to help you feel smarter, so you can do more with every device.

Apple case study
Apple's brand positioning focuses on using simplifying technology to help their consumers feel smarter. This helps consumers get more and do more. It's backed by thinking about the ideal consumer experience and use that to work back to how the technology delivers. To illustrate, click to zoom in.

Building Apple's brand idea

The Apple case study uses the brand idea for Apple is “making technology so simple that everyone can be part of the future.” Most importantly, Steve Jobs insisted they take a consumer-first mentality, as they transform leading technology advancements into “consumer-accessible” technology, helping fuel the perception among the mass audience that Apple is an innovative leader. 

Apple case study
Apple's 'simplicity' brand idea shines through everything they do. It shows up in their brand promise, brand story, product innovation, purchase moment, and the consumer experience. Above is our Brand Idea map for the Apple brand. To illustrate, click to zoom in.

Use Apple's brand idea as a lens to see the problems not delivering

Apple has done a great job in taking that simplicity brand idea and stretching it across their brand story through advertising, and their innovation plan (as they have entered many new technology categories). 

They have also used their brand idea to guide how they manage the purchase moment (to make sure their retail outlets are easy for consumers), and how they create happy experiences for consumers. And, when they don’t nail the ideal consumer experience, they go out of their way to help out. They also have the genius bar and on-site lessons, which help increase the knowledge of consumers.

The other beauty of having a crystal clear brand idea, is that everything that goes against that brand idea almost acts like an obvious virus. Looking below, here are four examples of where Apple is missing out on “simplicity” which puts the brand idea at risk. Above all, these should trigger action plans to build into your brand plan. In pointing out these flaws within our Apple case study, I am yet to see Apple take action.

Apple flaws
We can see what is in the way of Apple's 'simplicity' brand idea. Poorly performing phone batteries. Too many dongles. Overcrowded Apple stores gets in the way of answering consumer questions. And, the ever changing phone plugs. To illustrate, click to zoom in.

Apple brand strategy

How the five elements of smart strategic thinking sets up Apple's famous turnaround plan:

1. Set a vision of what you want

To start, their vision is to make it easy to get everyone to be part of technology in the future. The main issue was how to create brand fans then mobilize them to spread the word to the masses.

2. Invest resources in a strategic program

Next, Apple invested and aligned everything behind a brand idea defined as “Apple makes technology so simple; everyone can be part of the future.” They use this brand idea at every touchpoint, including the brand positioning, communication, innovation, purchase moment, and experience.

3. Focus on an identified opportunity

For decades, Apple consistently focused on empathizing with—and taking advantage of—the consumer’s frustration with technology. In the 1980s, they attacked IBM personal computers as being too complicated. In 2005, they used “I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC” advertising to attack Microsoft. Each time, they used its “consumer-first” mentality to transform leading-edge technology into accessible consumer technology.

4. Leverage a breakthrough market impact

Above all, the Apple brand strategy takes a fast-follower stance that takes current technology and makes it simple to use. Every platform, including desktops, laptops, phones, watches, tablets, and music streaming delivers the brand idea of simplicity. They deploy high profile launch hype to use vocal advocates to spread the word to their friends.

5. Performance result that pays back

Most importantly, Apple created a consumer bond with their brand fans to enter new categories. On top of that, it is now the most beloved consumer-driven brand, with premium prices, stronger market share, sales, and profits. The Apple brand strategy used brand love to help drive a remarkable 40x revenue growth over 10 years, skyrocketing from $5.7 billion in 2005 to $240 billion in 2015. This rapid growth helps cover the high costs of advertising and R&D, giving them very healthy operating margins, up over 35%. All this strategic effort has increased their market capitalization approaches $1 trillion.

apple strategic thinking
We can use our strategic thinking tools to map out Apple's strategic thinking. Their vision, strategic investments, focused opportunities, market impacts, and performance results. To illustrate, click on our strategic thinking flywheel to zoom in.

Apple brand plan

With the Apple case study, our strategic thinking model sets up the core elements the Apple brand plan:

Vision: Apple wants everyone in the world to be part of the future.

Goals: Continue aggressive sales growth, geographic expansion into China, launch a major new consumer-friendly technology each year.

Key issues: 1) How do we convey Mac’s superior user experience versus the traditional PC? 2) How do we enter the music industry and increase the availability of online music to support our iPod?

Strategies: 1) Apple will launch a full communications assault to challenge the PC/Microsoft Windows dominant position by finding flaws in the PC to contrast with Mac computers’ simplicity to steal significant market share by enticing frustrated PC consumers to buy a Mac. 2) Apple will launch a full assault against the entire music industry with a disruptive innovator stance to show how iTunes provides higher quality digital music on your iPod much cheaper, faster and smarter than CDs to gain an entry point into the music industry.

Tactics: TV advertising to highlight new features and challenge competitors. Launch innovation each year including phones, tablets, online music, watches and personal computers. Laugh specific products for China. Increase retail space around the world. Build out the e-commerce program.

Apple Strategic Plan
We have mapped out Apple's brand plan using our unique one-page brand plan. You can see the brand vision, analysis, key issues, strategies, goals, and marketing execution plans. To illustrate, click on the Apple Brand Plan to zoom in.

Apple advertising

Advertising has delivered “simplicity” since the 1970s

Apple’s advertising has been relatively consistent for over 40 years and incredibly connected with consumers. The early print ads of the 1970s, as Steve Jobs was launching Apple, talked about how we designed the computer, so you don’t have to worry about the details. 

Apple Case Study
Apple has delivered the 'simplicity' brand idea through their advertising for over 40 years. Their early Mac ads talked about a computer "for the rest of us." Apple's famous 1984 ad talked about the impact the personal computer would make. And, "I'm a Mac" ads showed all the complexity of PCs to set up the Mac as being the simpler choice. To illustrate, click to zoom in.

The “1984” TV ads for the Mackintosh launch spoke about the freedom from machines. Although the message was a little ahead of its time, it fit with simplicity. Above all, the brilliance of the side-by-side “I’m a Mac and I’m a  PC” TV ads epitomized the brand idea by making the PC seem overly complicated and frustrating while setting up the Mac as the simple alternative. You could build an Apple case study on the advertising alone. 

Take a look at some of "I'm a Mac" TV ads. Enjoy!

To view the ad, use the ▶️  button to play.  

Apple innovation

Building product innovation around simplicity

Apple has taken many failed technology ideas like online music, tablets, or mp3 players, and turned them into consumer-friendly platforms such as iTunes, iPads, and iPods. With each new product, Apple uses launch hype to generate excitement to spark the enthusiasm of the early adopters who spread the word. Also, Apple has successfully taken its cherished brand fans into new categories. Learn how we make innovation decisions.

Apple Case Study Innovation
Apple delivers a steady flow of product innovation across home/office, portable, mobile, entertainment, and social. To illustrate, click to zoom in.

Apple retail

Purchasing Apple products is very simple, including its own retail store experience

Apple uses simplicity to manage the purchase moment through its retail stores, making sure the experience is simple and straightforward. All staff carry a credit card machine and complete the transaction very quickly. No lines or cash registers. Simplicity shines through the store layout, with the genius bar for one-on-one tech questions and support and the training area to teach classes. The brand also puts every Apple product on display to allow consumers to take them for a test drive. 

apple case study purchase moment
Apple brings their simplicity brand idea to the purchase moment. Consumers can play with all the products on display. The genius bar helps solve problems. And many classes help consumers get more and do more with their Apple products. To illustrate, click to zoom in.

Even when Apple products are in other stores, the brand has used its power with that retailer to create a distinct store-within-a-store concept, which replicates a similar look and experience from Apple’s own retail locations.   

Apple consumer experience

Obsessing about the consumer experience

As Steve Jobs famously said, “You have to start with the customer experience and work backward to the technology.” Apple even believes opening your Apple products should be like unwrapping a gift. 

The brand wants the consumer to be able to use any Apple product right away rather than spending hours loading software or setting up your machine. Regarding product integration, Apple products work together, and they work the same way, which makes it very simple for consumers when they move from one Apple product to another.

Apple Case Study Consumer Experience
Apple brings their simplicity brand idea to the consumer experience. Steve Jobs obsessed about Macs working right out of the box. Apple makes sure all their devices work the same way. Apple Care is a great program to enhance the consumer experience. To illustrate, click to zoom in.

Apple brand loyalty

How Apple's brand love leads to increased power

As we continue our Apple case study, let’s take a look at the power and profit Apple generates through brand love. 

As they achieved an extremely tight bond with a loyal mass of followers, they use the tight consumer bond to generate brand power that they quietly wield in the market. Apple’s retail network of stores generates twice the sales per square foot of any retailer in the world, yet it is a very soft-sell environment. 

I was recently on a double-decker bus tour of New York City, and when the bus went past the 5th Avenue Apple flagship store, half the bus stood up to take a photo. And, they have such a power over the supplier network with an array of engineers following extremely tight procedures. 

Also, they have a power over the media, generating over $2 billion worth of free media each year. Moreover, Apple fans want to work at Apple, many times giving up lucrative jobs just to be part of the brand.

Smartphone loyalty scores

Below, we can see the loyalty scores of the various smartphones. Apple leads the way with over 90% loyalty, moving from one model to the next. Samsung’s loyalty is below 70%. And LG has fallen to 32%. At LG’s level, you’re constantly needing to source new consumers. That’s an extremely expensive way to manage your brand. 

Apple Case Study, brand love brand loyalty
Whoever says loyalty does not exist has not talked with Apple consumers. Apple significantly outperforms their competitors, and uses that loyalty to drive future sales. To illustrate, click to zoom in.

Apple's prices continue to increase

As Apple’s loyalty holds strong, they are able to increase their pricers with each model. Loyal consumers are less price sensitive. This translates into added profits. 

Apple Case Study explaining the Apple brand
We can see how Apple uses power over their consumers to add price each year. Their iPhones deliver 40% profit margins, 4x higher than their competitor profits. To illustrate, click to zoom in.

The power of the Apple brand

How Apple's brand power leads to increased profit

The Apple brand strategy extrapolates the power they generate into profit, with their incredible financial performance over the last 15 years. And, they generate significant price premiums, relatively lower cost of goods and moderate marketing spend ratios. Most importantly, this holds their margins at healthy levels for a technology firm. 

Furthermore, Apple has entered many new categories over the past 15 years, each time their army of loyal fans has followed, moving into laptops, phones, tablets and the music business. In each segment, they continue to gain share to drive volumes. 

Finally, the higher margins and higher volumes make for a beautiful profit statement. 

Apple profitability

Apple profit
We can use our 8 ways that a brand can drive profit to see the impact of that the magic of the Apple brand has on profits. Apple uses price, cost control, entry into new categories and driving market share in each category. To illustrate, click to zoom in.

Even though Apple gives the perception of an extremely friendly brand who is on the side of the consumer, they are now a huge mass market corporate brand, with a market capitalization of $500-600 billion, which 2-3 times the value of companies like Coke, Procter & Gamble, Pfizer, and IBM. 

So, if you invested a mere $10,000 in 2005, you would have $240,000 a decade later. The Apple case study is indeed glorious. 

Apple profits
To conclude our case study, we can see how Apple uses their brand loyalty to drive revenue and profitability each year. Their P&L is a thing of beauty. To illustrate, click to zoom in.

Apple turns their brand love into higher power and profits

Apple advertising

What you can learn from the best Apple Advertising of all time

Apple advertising has delivered “simplicity” since the 1970s. As you review the Apple brand strategy, we can show how their advertising has been relatively consistent for over 40 years and incredibly connected with consumers. We said you could build an Apple case study on the advertising alone. So we did!

Our brand case studies

If you enjoy this case study, you will love some of our other case studies including: 

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