Small Business

How did Steve Jobs build a brand that took over the world?

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As an author of numerous books, for purely selfish reasons I prefer to promote my own creations. However, every now and then, as a small business commentator and educator, I feel compelled to recommend other productions that I think are game changers for business owners and anyone who’s trying to build a personal brand as an employee, sports star, politician or whatever.

In the past I have done free PR for such books as Good to Great by Jim Collins, Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson and You, Inc. by John McGrath. The E-Myth by Michael Gerber is a must read for small business owners. And anyone wanting to be a leader of a business, family or team, has to read The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell.

Steve Jobs

A new one I added to my “must read” list is Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs. And while the author was telling us a story of a very complex high achiever, and one of the greatest business minds of all time, my preoccupation was to identify the lateral thinking — the outside of the square stuff — that helped Jobs help Apple to become one of the most valuable companies ever.

The question

From the outset of Apple, which was started in his father’s garage, Jobs was driven by a special mission or question, which was summed up this way: “[What will] set the company apart and make its products distinctive?”

The answer to that was great industrial design and it was this that gave birth to the Apple logo, the white computers, the rounded corners and the love that Apple fanatics have for their cherished products.

Steve Wozniak was the engineering brains behind Apple and was seen as a genius, but it was the genius and persistence of Jobs that drove the company to ultimately come up with the ideas that created iTunes, iPods, iPhones, iPads and even the concept of the Apple Store.

Stand out from the crowd

A few years back, Kevin Roberts, the ad guru from Saatchi and Saatchi, put out a book called Lovemarks where he identified Apple as a brand people loved and it was Jobs’ fanaticism for design and his hiring of Sir Jonathon Ive, who was only Jony Ive back then, that helped to explain Apple’s standout look.

Jobs was a handful as a person — harsh, exacting, determined, refused to suffer fools, unbelievably selfish, supportive of A-graders and bordering on the maniacal — though he had some endearing qualities which he metered out without consistency. No one would want to be him as a person but there’s so much to learn from him as a business builder.

What’s clear is that he was driven by the most important question anyone who wants to succeed can ask, “What do my customers or potential buyers want?”

The great business builder, the unique entertainer and the employee set to climb the ladder of success works out the answers to these questions better than most and that’s why they succeed.

Apple to Pixar to Apple

By the way, Jobs was an overnight success but the star did not always shine. Microsoft’s Bill Gates played a smarter game for a long time and Jobs had to play second fiddle and was muscled out of Apple in 1985. He bought Pixar and during his stewardship there created with Disney some of the greatest modern animation movies of all time, including the likes of Toy Story.

In his absence, Apple stumbled with the share price trashed. Jobs was invited back and out of his second coming in 1997 came the new era of iTunes, iPods, etc. And in an era when retail was supposedly ‘dead’ because of the internet, the Apple Store was an outstanding success.

The driving force


It was driven by Apple’s “potential to enrich” people’s lives. That was the driving force of Jobs.

And he was not ashamed to steal. He made reference to an alleged quote from Picasso: “Good artists copy but great artists steal”.

While I won’t encourage law breaking, I have always argued that you can learn a lot from those who have achieved the exceptional. Whether it’s copying or ‘stealing’, Jobs is someone you would be wise to pilfer great ideas from on servicing the customer.

He wouldn’t accept second best for his products. It had to be “insanely great” for the customer experience and he insisted, “the journey is the reward”.

Even though he did get handsomely rewarded over time, he never did it for the money. Being in the product game, he believed “products are everything”. For anyone in the service business, then “service is everything”.

Good vs. great business

This is what separates the good from the great businesses. You, in any form of endeavour, have to build crowds of customers, supporters, voters, fans or spectators, and it will rest on the quality and calibre of your product or service.

In 1997, when Jobs returned, the share price was $21.81 and it’s now around $581. If you had 1000 shares over that time, your $21,810 investment is now worth $581,000!

That effectively values the genius of Jobs, but it rested on the simple philosophy, “We can take full responsibility for the user experience”.
The most important marketing question to have the answer for is, “Why should I buy from you?”

The answer is, “I will give you the best user experience”. If you don’t strive for this, your business, your career or your achievements might be good but they will not be great!

Published on: Thursday, August 09, 2012

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