The Apple Way of Doing Business
If we are to list the most successful businesses in the world, it will come as no surprise when Apple Inc. makes its way towards the top of the list. It is easily one of the biggest and most recognizable names in the world when it comes to consumer electronics and technology products. A trailblazer and pioneer in the field of technology, Apple sure knows how to do business, and that is what we will try to look into in the succeeding discussion.
In this article, you’ll learn about 1) Apple’s product development process, 2) Apple’s marketing practices, and 3) Apple’s customer experience philosophy.
APPLE’S PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT PROCESS
We cannot talk about Apple’s business practice without getting into its product development process. After all, Apple is in the business of developing consumer electronics products, most of which have become icons and largely responsible for the succeeding trends in the field. To this day, more and more companies are cropping up, trying to come up with products that are loosely based on, or inspired by, Apple products, with the intention of competing with Apple.
Over the years, since Steve Jobs founded Apple and started churning out those Apple products, the company’s product development process has been under much speculation. It’s not that the people inside Apple were being tight-lipped or keeping everything under wraps. They just weren’t the type to discuss the process at great length when they could just spend the time in the product development room, if there is even such a thing.
Fortunately, several publications centered on Apple and its business philosophy have been released, one of which is Adam Lashinsky’s “Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired – and Secretive Company Really Works”. Through these pieces, we are able to get more than a fleeting glimpse of what it is like inside Apple.
In the book, Apple’s product development process was talked about, and it can be summed up in eight stages.
It all starts with design. Apple products have already established a reputation for having impeccable design hinged on simplicity, functionality, and a distinct look. This is mostly attributable to the inventive and innovative minds of the members of the design team.
The Industrial Design machine of Apple is where the brilliant ideas come from, and a great factor of its success is how it is kept cohesive and disciplined by a department head. This is exactly how Steve Jobs started it. He had the vision, and he steered the design team towards achieving that vision, keeping them focused and on a straight trajectory towards their design goal.
Being kept separate from other divisions or departments of the business also greatly helped. This way, the design team was pretty much left to let their creative juices flow, without having to mind other issues such as finance, costs, and the technicals. They would not even have to worry about whether the design can actually be made when placed into production; that is going to be the problem of the engineers and the folks over at manufacturing. Costs? They don’t have to worry about that, either, because there are other people who will.
Keeping the design team to a small number of people is also part of the strategy. One would think that they would have more people involved in the design process; but one downside of that is having too many ideas that could derail the direction that the design team planned to take from the start.
Having a small number of people involved in the design process also aids in keeping details about a new product shrouded in secrecy, something that Apple is known for.
2. Start-up creation
The secrecy continues. Once a new product has been designed, a team that is solely devoted on the development of that product will be formed. It is essentially building a start-up within the company. They will devote all their time and resources on the project or product, and they will be directly reporting to the big bosses. This cuts through the usual communication or bureaucracy involved, and they will be answerable to no one else but the executive management team.
What Apple does is to assign specific rooms or even entire sections within the Apple compound where the start-up will be doing their work, safe and free from outside intrusions and other disturbances. In other circumstances, the members of the team may even be explicitly prohibited from communicating with others – even within the company – with regards to the product they are currently working on.
3. ANPP Implementation
This is where the ANPP – the Apple New Product Process – comes in.
Since Apple started making the Macintosh, the company has always made it a point to have a well-documented roadmap or guide for the members of the team to follow. This was the ANPP. It is essentially a document that contains, in great detail, all the steps and phases of the development of the product. It covers everything about the development process, from the specific tasks that must be performed, the specific persons who will work on them, how long each task is expected to be completed, and the chronology or order of accomplishment of said tasks to facilitate the completion of the product.
4. Product Review
While it is true that the team works towards achieving a vision or a goal for a product, this does not mean that the process is fixed and has no room for changes or flexibility. Just like in other businesses, Apple also conducts periodic reviews for the products that are in process. In the case of Apple, these product reviews are conducted every Monday. It is a good way to track the progress of the product development team and also take note of issues or serious problems that have been encountered by the team in the process.
This is probably going to take a toll on a company that has a lot of products in the pipeline at any given time. Fortunately, Apple does not have too much of a problem with that, since it makes sure to have only a few products-in-progress, so things are kept on a more manageable level.
5. Production proper
Finally, the design will be made more concrete as the production process begins. There are two key personnel involved in this stage: the engineers and the supply personnel. You have someone in charge of the product process, who will manage the engineering aspect. He will be working with the supply manager, who is responsible for sourcing the raw materials needed in the production process.
6. Testing, tweaking, rebuilding
Just because a product has undergone the production process does not mean that it is outright completed. There is still a need to test it, so adjustments can be made and, if needed, the product will be rebuilt. Steve Jobs’ perfectionist attitude was apparent in how Apple tirelessly builds, tests and rebuilds its products, until such time that it is 100% confident in its quality and performance, and gives it the green-light to be introduced to the market.
In the past, we have seen many designs of the iPhone being leaked prior to their release, only for the final product to be markedly different from the leaked versions. This is because the leaks were often the initial versions, and the final version – the one finally released into the market – has undergone various redesigns and rebuilding, after a series of testing has been performed.
Many business are satisfied with testing only once or twice, then releasing it to the market, even if they still have issues about some aspects of the product. This is because testing and rebuilding takes a lot of time, not to mention money. Apple does not let the cost affect its decision, however, preferring to test and rebuild as many times as possible until they get it right, and they come up with a product that they are fully satisfied with.
First impressions last, and customers are initially attracted by the packaging. This is why Apple devotes a lot of attention and resources to the packaging aspect. It’s not just about having a box with the name and company logo printed on it. The packaging also takes into account the experience of the customers when unboxing the device packaging.
8. Finally, the Launch
Apple has the Rules of the Road, which is basically a product launch action plan. It details all the key points of the product development process, breaking them down into the nitty-gritty. This document is so top-secret and highly-valued, and Apple takes it seriously when working towards the launch of the new product.
APPLE’S MARKETING PRACTICES
Elaborate ad campaigns. Complex websites and sales copies. Engagement of print, broadcast and online media. Press releases. Name it, Apple’s done it. These are the usual marketing tactics and strategies often employed by businesses, and Apple also uses them.
But Apple does it slightly differently. One of Apple’s identifying marks when it comes to design is simplicity, and it also carried that principle in its marketing.
Simplicity in Marketing
To be more specific, Apple applies “decision-making simplicity” in its marketing strategy. This actually makes sense, considering how the consumer market is flooded by tons of ads and marketing messages. If they stick to the usual routes, there is a possibility of their marketing to be ignored or gone unnoticed.
Apple has veered away from complex marketing messages. In fact, if you notice how it crafts its ads, they are considerably cleaner and more straightforward. Billboard ads are just as simple, often only with an image of the product and its name, as if saying that the appearance and the name explains it all.
They even rarely use actors, voice-overs or endorsers to present the product. In one ad, they even used only a white backdrop to drive home the one point about the Apple product being better than the competition. It’s clean, it’s simple, it’s straight to the point, and it gets the message across. Any other questions can be answered by reaching out to Apple’s separate information dissemination campaigns. Or, better yet, head to the nearest Apple store and experience for yourself how the new product works.
Confidence in Marketing
Apple’s brand of marketing also shows its confidence in its products. They do not need to list down all the features of the product on the billboards, or enumerate them in their ads. They do not even have to crow about the fact that they – Apple, the giant company that starts with the letter “A” – is the one introducing a new product. They have already made themselves known before, and they are confident that just the logo, or even the appearance of the new product, will immediately gain their company instant recognition.
Again, as mentioned earlier, popular names and celebrities are not engaged to officially endorse the Apple product. Sure, influencers are tapped to aid in the marketing, but the ads themselves do not use celebrity leverage.
APPLE’S “CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE PHILOSOPHY”
There is one keyword that will encapsulate the company’s ideals about customer experience: APPLE. This basically encompasses the five steps of service that is taken and implemented by every staff member of an Apple retail store.
A – Approach customers politely and give them a warm and personalized welcome
This is one of the fundamentals of retail and customer service. Welcome your customers the moment they enter your store and they will feel more inclined to browse over your products and actually spend money before leaving your store.
Apple stressed on the welcome being “warm” and “personalized”. There is a difference between a store salesperson simply mouthing off “Welcome” from behind a desk and an Apple store clerk walking up to you the moment you walk through the door, with a ready smile and an eager expression on his or her face. It’s a small thing, but it makes a whole lot of difference to any customer looking for something worth buying.
P – Probe politely in order to understand what the customer needs
Letting the customer wander around the store is one thing; actually stepping up and asking them what they need or are looking for is another. There is a fine line between being nosy and probing politely, and the latter is what Apple tries its best to practice.
P – Present a solution that the customer can take home today
Customers are looking for immediate solutions, not something that they should come back to get on another day. They can easily tell when a store clerk knows what he or she is talking about, and whether they can get the solution they are looking for right now, or they should simply take their concerns – and money – elsewhere.
L – Listen to the customer and resolve any concerns or issues he or she may have
One of the things that customers like about going to any Apple store is because they can get a hands-on interaction with the product, playing with the latest iPhone, or going through the features of the latest version of the iPad, with a store clerk within an arm’s reach to answer any questions. This practice by Apple certainly makes it easier for its staff members to present their products better and to show or demonstrate solutions that are being sought by customers.
E – End it with an equally warm and personalized farewell, and invite the customer to come back
One mistake often committed by salespersons is not seeing their customers off properly after they have made a sale. After all, they already closed a deal and made money, so what else is left?
Just as warmly as you welcomed the customers, it is also important to say goodbye to them properly, along with an invitation that they should return to the store for more transactions in the future. Not only will you have satisfied customers, but also potential returning customers.
You will notice that all 5 steps are already nothing new when it comes to providing customer service. However, many retail stores fail to perform them. Apple retail stores go to great lengths and make extra efforts to perform all 5 steps, and that is a large part of the reason why it has the loyal customer base that it has today.
We can note two underlying principles in Apple’s Product Development Process – and its way of doing business as a whole. One is Quality above all else, and the other is Accountability.
Apple refuses to cut corners just to keep costs down. So what if it will take time, or that it will require more financial outlay? It does not even matter that they have to get in more people to work on a project or a product, as long as they get the results that they want. They also do not mind training their people – from the design team to the retail persons in the Apple stores all over the world – as long as they provide service that will contribute to the overall customer experience with Apple. In the same vein, emphasis is placed on responsibility and accountability, where all tasks are identified and clearly traceable to specific persons within the teams. This way, Apple employees will take their job more seriously, and make sure the company remains on track.
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