The Apple Brand: Transforming

Apple Services, Apple TV+ and the state of the Apple brand

When it comes to Apple, the world’s most cash-rich company is always underrated. Seriously. Which is why we shouldn’t scoff at the Apple Services division nor Apple TV+. But more on that later.

Think about this. Upon its initial release, people wondered what purpose the iPod served. The iPhone transformed the world, but was considered superfluous on its release. The iPad was just a bigger phone, and so on.

Even our fearless leader at Stealing Share, an Apple branding loyalist like no other, wrote that Apple’s AirPods would fail. (Only to later offer a mea culpa.)

The lesson? Never underestimate Apple again.

Apple Services outpacing expectations

Consider these numbers. While iPhone sales are sagging a bit, CEO Tim Cook predicts the new iPhone 11 will be its best ever selling phone. The iPad is making a comeback, with sales rising 17%. And, in what proves the mea culpa was deserved, its wearable division is growing by a whopping 54% with the Apple Watch and AirPods leading the way.

Then there’s Apple Services. It includes Apple Music, Apple Care, Apple Pay and, launching just last week, Apple TV+. Third quarter sales rose 18% from July through September. It’s now a $50 billion business. As CNN said, the services division is so large it would be a Fortune 100 company on its own.

It’s with that news and the launch of Apple TV+ that maybe we need to reconsider the Apple brand. Is the company transforming from what co-founder Steve Jobs described is a company that makes great products to something else? Where does its brand promise stand today?

How does Apple TV+ fit?

Let’s consider Apple TV+ for a minute. Its launch comes with great fanfare with the unveiling of four original shows. All have received tepid to terrible reviews leading up to launch. The Morning Show, Apple’s star-studded flagship show, is a confused mess, critics say. Dickinson could be on the CW. See is ridiculous and For All Mankind (the one we were looking most forward to) is just plain boring.

Apple ServicesThe worry among some Apple Services watchers (like us) is that TV programming is a whole other ballgame from developing smart phones or services like Apple Pay and Apple Music. All of those are technology based. The success or failure of a TV show doesn’t depend on technology. Apple developing TV shows is like asking a NASA engineer to write a poem. (Apologies to any poetic NASA engineers out there.) God forbid Apple TV+ becomes Facebook Watch.

However.

Maybe we shouldn’t be so hasty. It’s only the first four of what promises to be much more programming over the next several months. Apple has deals with some of the most creative filmmakers and actors in the industry. Its upcoming slate includes at least a dozen shows we’d all be interested in watching. (Of course, we felt that way about For All Mankind.)

The Apple brand meaning, past…

Let’s back up for a moment. And consider Apple Services and Apple TV+ in light of the Apple brand. When Jobs and his team first made an impact it was with the theme of “Think Different.” It guided the company through decades of success (after some failures) and is brilliant.

It says that Apple is for people who think a little bit differently, positioning itself against the Microsofts, Sonys and IBMs of the world. Apple users aren’t afraid to dream (Sony laughed at Jobs when he pitched them iTunes) and step outside the norm.

That’s why, when new products are met with “meh” initial responses, Apple doesn’t waver. Of course, the products are initially received poorly. They are different, representing a new kind of thinking, and no one knows how to respond to them. That’s the definition of being different.

…and future

So what does the Apple brand mean now? It’s an interesting question because “Think Different” means you are not the mainstream. But Apple is the mainstream today. Few things seem more mainstream, for example, than the Apple Card. It’s a damn credit card.

Apple still stands for simplicity, life-changing technology and, one would think, little fear to dream.

With that in mind, how does Apple Services fit in that spectrum? Apple is so brand focused that, according to a recent Bloomberg report, it’s handed down an edict to Apple TV+ creatives to keep things clean. As little adult language, nudity and violence as possible.

Imagine Entertainment famously backed out of an Apple deal over those creative differences. And Imagine is co-run by Ron freaking Howard, aka Opie Taylor and Richie Cunningham, for chrissakes.

Apple is the mainstream now

It seems Apple has evolved into defining the mainstream. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But it flies in the face of Think Different.

We’d be falling into the same trap of underrating Apple by suggesting its brand meaning is confused. It’s not. It owns a distinct aesthetic and sensibility. In some ways, the triumph of Apple Services means the Apple brand today means success.

We’re not going to underestimate the offerings of Apple TV+ because we’ve learned better. (The mega-wattage of The Morning Show, for example, will probably attract subscribers.)

But we’d also like to think that Apple’s approach still reflects Think Different. It generally adopts the lesson from a story Jobs told investors once. If Henry Ford had asked consumers what they wanted back in 1908, they would’ve said a faster horse. Apple’s in the business of giving you what you never thought you needed.

Hopefully, the next iterations from Apple Services and Apple TV+ will be more forward-thinking, just like many of its products are. To truly think different, Apple must be fearless in its artistic endeavors to succeed in the increasingly competitive streaming wars.

Think Different, indeed.

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