Six marketing lessons. A tribute to Steve Jobs

Six marketing lessons. A tribute to Steve Jobs


What made Steve Jobs one of the most iconic, visionary CEOs of our time? Can we learn something from the way he managed Apple? Six lessons below.

Steve Jobs played a great role in shaping how I view brands and marketing today. His return to Apple coincided with the beginning of my fascination with what I do nowadays. He was one of those people who made you think once you began observing him. Why was he successful? Why don’t others act the same way?

I originally wrote this article some years ago, when I heard Steve Jobs had resigned from his role as the CEO of Apple. At that point, he had been fighting a terminal illness for years and had a few victorious battles behind him. I’m far from sentimental, but one can’t just pass by Job’s achievements without a moment of reflection. Hence, here is my little tribute to the man, who – to some degree – helped shape me, marketing lessons, which I “picked up”, observing him through the years. Lessons, which I try to employ in my own company, despite some of them needing an iron will – a trait quite hard to copy. I hope, that what I offer will be of use to you.

Act and don’t worry about what others might think.

One of Job’s unique abilities as a manager was his courage to act without paying much attention to what others might say. People who can pull this off are called visionaries. Jobs wasn’t the first one. Henry Ford, when he launched the mass assembly of his cars, was allegedly asked if he listened to his customer’s opinions. He is said to have replied: If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’ Jobs held consumer research in similar regard. When back in 1988 he was introducing the NeXT OS computer to the market, he said:

You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new. Therefore, if you think, that you have an idea for something truly innovative, do it. 

Steve Jobs

Don’t look at others, don’t ask “can I do it?” or “what do you think?”. People who you ask, don’t know half of what you do. Show it to them and they’ll understand.

Do things to the best of your abilities, so that you can sleep soundly.

In 1985 Mac was on a roll. The first computer with a graphic interface, it sold like hot buns. It was expensive, but it owed its success to the fact, that in spite of being mass-produced, it was crafted with an almost artisan attention to details. In an interview he did for Playboy in 1985, Jobs explained his product philosophy:

When you’re a carpenter, making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night

Steve Jobs

If you run a company, you don’t have to look back at your competition. Do what you’re good at to the best of your ability. You can choose to believe it or not, but everybody expects… less of you. Hence, you’ll give them quite a surprise, giving every endeavor all that you’ve got. Especially, since “doing it the best you can”, will never be above you, right?

Real artists ship!

I have a friend who paints. She finished just a few pictures in her lifetime because… she keeps correcting them. I’m sure that she threw out more of her pieces than she has sold. Even the ones that she did sell, almost had to be taken from her by force. She paints with a sense of piety because she is a true-blue artisan, she wants her pieces to be perfect. The problem is, each day brings new things to correct. All artists are like that. Only a handful of them can muster the will to say “stop” and show their latest masterpiece to the world. Andy Hertzfeld, who worked for Apple in 1984 (the year in which the first Mac hit the shelves) describes the emotions that accompanied him during the last few days before the grand premiere. The team of programmers was convinced, that the operating system needed tweaking, hence they asked Jobs to delay the date of its release. Jobs refused. He was to say:

Real artists ship!

If I were to analyze the phenomenon of Steve Job’s success as a manager and visionary, I would bet my money on the unique blend of two key traits: an obsessive attention to details (something connected to art and craftsmanship) as well as a firm ability to cut himself off from his word and show it to the world (which, in turn, is something attributed to accountants and managers with their ever-pressing budgets and deadlines). 

A visionary surrounded by pragmatists 

Unfortunately, the combination of the aforementioned traits is incredibly rare. I don’t think even Jobs himself could truly cut away from his obsessive attention to details. He could, however, surround himself with people that were able to convince him otherwise. Simon Sinek, in his book Start With Why, tries to convince us that there are two types of managers. On one hand, you have the visionaries who inspire, not because they tell others what to do but because they can present why something has to be done.

Jobs was exactly that kind of visionary. In 1984 he was able to convince people to lock themselves in a separate building, hoisting a pirate banner above the entrance and work restlessly on the new Macintosh. But Steve Jobs would be nobody without Steve Wozniak. That’s because the other kind of managers are people who know how something has to be done. They have the technical knowledge, they navigate among budgets, deadlines, and boundaries. They aren’t visionaries, but without them, the visions would never come true. Jonathan Ive (responsible for such revolutionary products as the iMac or iPhone) and Tim Cook (a capable manager, who took over as the head of Apple after Jobs’ resignation) are examples of people who are a necessary balance for the visionary.

What about you? Which type are you? If you are more of an artist and visionary, make sure to have someone nearby who will keep your feet on the ground. Or perhaps, you prefer to forge visions into action? In that case, you need some creative counterbalance, otherwise – in solitude – your business will fall into the routine. 

A brand is a grand idea. 

Marketers worldwide for the last three decades have been reaching a conclusion which Steve Jobs sensed all the way in the ’80s. Said conclusion being, that people buy products not for their functionality (let’s be honest here, each computer will let you check your mail and each car will drive you to work) but for their emotional values, for the greater idea behind the brand. Apple’s vision was, that back in 1984… they treated the computer market as a mature market. They didn’t sell a computer – they sold an idea.

Ridley Scott’s famous commercial “1984” never even mentioned what computer it was promoting. It focused solely on why you had to have it.

Ridley Scott’s Apple 1984 commercial

The idea behind the Apple brand being a “revolution” let them expand their product offer with MP3 players, phones and tablets. All because people never bought their “products” but rather their “idea”. 

Watch the following commercial. Made back in 1997 by the TBWA/Chiat/Day agency, it comes from a time when Apple produced only computers. Nevertheless, it could easily be used to advertise the whole range of their products these days. That’s because it sells an idea.

Apple’s commercial narrated by Steve Jobs. It was never aired with his voice, they decided to change it in the last minute.

What about you? What idea does your brand sell? Why should people care about it? 

A brand is a focus. 

One last thing, and one of my favorites too. Do you know what Steve Jobs did when in 1998 he returned to Apple in order to save the company from a collapse? He got rid of most of the products in its catalog. In the ’90s, Apple sold more than just the Macintosh (which came in various models under meaningless names like the LC 550 or LC 575). It also sold the Quadra (610, 630, 650), Performa (5200, 5300, etc.), PowerBooks (190, 1400) and the Power Macintosh series (4400, 5500, 6500, 7300).

Steve Jobs Matrix
The simple product matrix that helped to save Apple

Jobs crossed out the matrix on which one axis divided the products into stationary and portable, and the second axis into professional and casual products. In those four spots, he wrote in the Power Macintosh (professional, stationary), PowerBook (professional, portable), Macintosh (casual, stationary) and… he left the fourth segment empty. Later on, the Macintosh was replaced with an iMac and the empty space was filled by the iBook. Thus, everybody knew which computer suited them the best. This was the exact same way Apple had been selling iPods (iPod Touch – offers different storage space and color), iPhones (two models per generation: regular screen or large screen, plus the standard variety of storage space) or iPads (the iPad and iPad Pro).

Your brand doesn’t have to be for everyone. The greater the discipline you follow in your focus, the more you will earn solely thanks to your loyal customers. Apple earns more by selling one phone model than Nokia ever did on all their models combined. Porsche has better a better profit from selling just a few models than Fiat or Toyota with its wide array of cars.

And since we’re on the topic of Porsche. One last Steve Jobs quote. When asked about his thoughts on the fact, that Apple had a small presence on the computer market, he said:

Apple’s market share is bigger than BMW’s, or Mercedes’s or Porsche’s in the automotive market. What’s wrong with being BMW or Mercedes?

What about you? Would you rather have your company be the Mercedes or Fiat of your market? 

Written by
Paul Skah