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Apple, being an iconic and cult-like brand, has successfully managed to create and develop a brand promise like no other company. It stems from its strong and idiosyncratic vision statement - "Man is the creator of change in this world. As such he should be above systems and structures, and not subordinate to them." (Apple, 2009) This conscious statement communicates direction and value - not only it stretches the company's dynamic competencies and image, but also shapes the company's organizational culture. It is the very essence as to why the company exists. Another way of interpreting it would suggest that Apple's relentless dedication to change transformed its core business strategy into something bigger than the company itself. In consumer behaviour terms, this enabled the company to inherit a brand personality, 'which refers to the set of human characteristics associated with a brand.' (Aaker, 1997, p.1) In contrast to "product-related attributes," which tend to serve a utilitarian function for consumers, brand personality tends to serve a symbolic or self-expressive function (Keller, 1993). This particular view of brands carrying human traits also extends into relationship theories. 'Consumer-brand interactions, thus, extend beyond mere utilitarian benefits to what is perceived as the right thing to do in that relationship.' (Aggrarwal, 2004, p.2) The symbolic nature of Apple suggests that its consumers resemble it in terms of their attitudes, identity and social influence.
This paper will focus on three consumer behaviour topics that have been instrumental in shaping the company's interaction with its consumer segment - consumer attitudes, consumer identity and brand communities.
'An attitude is lasting because it tends to endure over time. It is general because it applies to more than a momentary event, like hearing a loud noise.' (Solomon et al. 2006, p.138) Since Apple's establishment in 1976, the company has been successful in forming and shaping consumer attitudes. 'Apple has laboured to cultivate a strong brand personality based on the ideas of nonconformity, innovation, and creativity. Advertising and marketing strategy have highlighted these associated characteristics with advertisements like the 'Think Different' campaign.' (Fitzsimons et al. 2008, p.4) For consumers, Apple having a very strong brand personality, its products are simply not serving utilitarian but value-expressive functions. 'Attitudes that perform a value-expressive function express the consumer's central values or self-concept.' (Solomon et al. 2006, p.139) Those attitudes are not solely formed on the basis of the product's objective benefits but what the product says about the particular person. 'From a brand point of view, Apple sells to the "Think Different" market irrespective of whether the particular customer works in the corporate sector, in design, in film production, or in education. Apple appeals to an attitude choice and not a market segment.' (Spense, 2002)
One way to analyze the consumer's attitudinal development is the A-B-C model. The Affect-Behaviour-Cognition model of attitudes focuses on the interdependent relationship between knowing, feeling and doing. The relative weight of each component is subjected to the level of customer involvement and motivation. When Apple introduced the iPod or iPhone, many consumers already had a vague expectation of the level of quality and meaning of those products. In order to cement the desired attitude, the brand introduced a series of advertisements that featured the product's functional and expected image qualities. For example, iPhone's print ads emphasized on the emotional aspects - the notion of Touching is believing. In addition, the TV commercials touched on the functionality behind the product and its innovativeness. These two channels helped the consumer to form a personal belief (system) about the product. Immediately after this stage, they fell in love with it. As a sign of willingness to embrace the product, consumers were ready to engage in purchase behaviour no matter the price and effort. As proof, CNET (2009) and Park (2007) posted live blog photos from the official iPhone (3G S) launch day which constituted of hundreds of people waiting in line to purchase the device - some even spent the night in front of the stores. The photos clearly show the user's love for the product and how they are willing to sacrifice their time to be among the first ones to have the gadget.
Apple's target market possesses characteristics that are easily distinguishable from other company's targets. The notion of consumer self-image has been largely discussed by many researchers in terms of its relation to brands and consumption. Levy (1959) asserted that people do not buy products just for what they do, but also for what the product means; thus, brands can be symbols whose meaning is used to create and define a consumer's self-concept. Belk (1988) and Richins (1994) also support that statement and suggest that 'people engage in consumption behaviour in part to construct their self-concepts and to create their personal identity.'
In addition to self-concept, the notion of brand connection plays a vital role in shaping the consumer's self. 'Brands become linked to the self when a brand is able to help consumers achieve goals that are motivated by the self.' (Escalas & Bettman, 2005, p.378-389) When consumers engage in brand consumption, certain brand associations emerge. Escalas and Bettman (2005) suggest that when brand associations are used to construct the self or to communicate the self-concept to others, a connection is formed with the brand. Once that relationship is established in the consumer's mind, brands enable the user to achieve goals motivated by the self. 'They can serve as tools for social integration' or 'may act as symbols of personal accomplishment, provide self-esteem, allow one to differentiate oneself and express individuality, and help people through life transitions.' (Escalas & Bettman, 2005)
With the above mentioned frameworks in mind, Mac owners exhibit the 'Big Five' personality traits. 'Although the Big Five taxonomy has not been universally accepted, there is general agreement that it serves as a useful integrative framework for thinking about individual differences at a fairly high level of abstraction.' (Baumgartner, 2002, p.2) The Big Five categories are: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Two seem to define the Apple consumer - openness and extraversion. By definition openness relates to appreciation for art, unusual ideas and imagination. The trait distinguishes imaginative people from down-to-earth, conventional people; while extraversion is the explicit interaction with the external environment. According to a Mindset Media research study, after observing 20 personality traits in 7,500 computers users, Mac users have a tendency to think they're more special than the average Joe. (Ebenkamp, 2008) From a marketing standpoint, the notion of unusual ideas and imagination beyond the status quo was best represented by Apple's 'Think Different' TV campaign initially launched in 1998. One particular TV ad, 'Crazy Ones', ideologically and visually summed what the brand and its consumers stand for. Featuring black and white footage of notable (historical) figures such as Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Edison, Mahatma Gandhi and Pablo Picasso, the spot finishes with a young girl opening her eyes, seeing countless opportunities before her. The script reads (short version): "Here's to the crazy ones. The rebels. The troublemakers. The ones who see things differently. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do." (Techpinas, 2009) That one-minute commercial possessed a highly emotional charge and function, which connected with the open-minded and assertive consumer who believed that different is good.
Apple grew quite fast under the visionary leadership of Steve Jobs. Starting with the portable iPod music player boom, the company kept providing users with more than physical products that fitted their lifestyle and ideology. Apple provides carefully crafted tools that help consumers achieve personal goals and aspirations. With Windows users dominating the computer market, Apple made another attempt to not only attract new potential Mac users but also to further remind of its innovative brand personality by introducing the 'Get a Mac' campaign. Created by Apple's partner ad agency TBWA\Chiat\Day and launched on May 2, 2006, the TV commercials seek to 'highlight the differences between the two types of computers and to convince consumers that a Mac computer is the superior choice.' (Gardner, 2009) All ads feature a 'Mac', played by actor Justin Long and 'PC', played by author and comedian John Hodgman. Also, Rhoads (2007) suggests that the actors personify the computers they represent, and they also bear a resemblance to their founding fathers-Mac looks like a youthful Steve Jobs, while PC looks like old-fashioned Bill Gates.
Let's take a look at an example from the 'Get a Mac' campaign - 'Better Results'. 'Better Results' conceptually emphasizes on Mac's creative and aesthetic powers. In this ad, both PC and Mac are discussing the easiness of making home movies by showing each other their final works. The result of Mac's efforts is Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen, dressed in an attractive summer dress. Astonished PC is about to leave, but Mac insists that he brings out his movie. The result is quite different and unappealing - a hairy chest man with a blonde wig dressed in the same dress as Gisele.
The presence and image of the stunning and highly-acclaimed Gisele Bündchen further supports and accentuates on Apple's organizational culture (different, aesthetic and trendy) and brand's consumer identity as fashionable, creative and non-conforming.
Reference Groups/Social Power
As a 'natural' extension to the consumer identity topic discussed in the previous section of this paper, the notion of brand community emerges, playing an important and support two-way role in defining Apple's marketing activities in relation to its consumers.
'A brand community is a specialized, non-geographically bound community, based on a structured set of social relationships among admirers of a brand. Like other communities, it is marked by a shared consciousness, rituals and traditions, and a sense of moral responsibility.' (Muniz & O'Guinn, 2001) The notion of shared consciousness (where organizational culture meets consumer's attitudes and identity) is key to the Apple brand. Members share what Bender (1978) describes as the 'we-ness.' Members feel an important connection to the brand, but more importantly, they feel a stronger connection and commitment toward one another. Members feel that they 'sort of know each other' at some level, even if they have never met. To further extend that notion, Gusfield (1978) refers to consciousness of kind - consciousness of kind is the intrinsic connection that members feel toward one another, and the collective sense of difference from others not in the community.
Within brand communities, specialized entities become known - reference groups with high level of social power. 'Reference groups can be a critical source of brand meanings. Consumers use others as a source of information for arriving at and evaluating one's beliefs about the world, particularly others who share beliefs and are similar on relevant dimensions.' (Escalas & Bettman, 2005) In this paper, the focus will be laid on two particular examples of groups: Worldwide Developers Conference 2009 (offline) and Macrumors.com (virtual).
In the case of Macrumors.com, an unofficial specialty website focused on Apple news and rumours, 'the site also boasts an active community focused on purchasing decisions and technical aspects of the iPhone, iPod and Macintosh platforms. With breaking news, live event coverage, discussion forums, tutorials and a buyer's guide, MacRumors.com commands the attention of individual customers and industry watchers alike.' (Macrumors.com) This virtual consumer community of Mac enthusiasts is a 'specific subgroup of virtual communities that explicitly centre upon consumption-related interests.' (Kozinets, 1999, p.3)
The interesting thing about communities of this nature is that Mac users and owners act as brand ambassadors because of their dedication, shared interest and love (not liking) for the Apple brand. The forum section of the site is where users come together and talk openly about all the latest products that the company launches. Herring (1996) and Rheingold (1993) suggest that due to the low cost of interaction with others in cyberspace, consumers can easily and more frequently share their brand feelings or experiences with others, and the feelings of belonging, trust, and obligation, as well as group symbols, culture, and rules, can be developed in the virtual community.
However, in the case of Macrumors.com, consumers take the responsibility and power to inform other consumers of what to buy and what not. The site has a special section called Buyer's Guide, where 'hardcore' Mac enthusiasts follow product lifecycles, software and hardware update release dates and rumours, and give recommendations as to whether or not to purchase or consider a given Apple product.
Another interesting aspect of this particular virtual community is the fact that most subscribers/users have unique post signatures which speak the Apple brand (examples shown below).
Mac users and owners alike are not only proud of their belonging to the Mac community but also proud of their purchases - e.g. their Mac products. These signatures serve a very important role - further reinforcing users' self-identity and act as symbols that represent 'both strong social ties and strong interest in the activity'. (Solomon et al. 2006, p.357)
Worldwide Developers Conference 2009
A recent example of how Apple connects with its target segment is the Worldwide Developers Conference held in San Francisco. 'The Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) is the premier technical event for developers and IT professionals innovating with Apple platforms.' (Developer Connection, 2009) The event is simply another way of bringing Apple fans together to extend their knowledge, form new relationships (networking) and express their love for the brand culture. This year's conference was attended by 1000 Apple Engineers and 5000 Developers. The attendance speaks for itself - Apple is building on its brand's value/personality. 'However, this year's sold-out event included a heavy load of hardware-related news tailored toward impressing consumers, demonstrating that Apple is at no loss for communicating to its fans afterchoosing to abandon the Macworld Expo trade show.' (Chen, 2009) This event serves a very specific function - it enhances the notion of self-image among the group member.
Evaluation & Recommendations
Apple has managed to establish and nurture an environment of creativity through the smart use of various media channels, simple communication strategies and minimalist intelligent message design that supports the brand's vision and understands the customer needs. In the case of their famous and controversial TV advertising campaign 'Get a Mac,' or known as 'I'm a Mac, I'm a PC', the brand adopted a very unique way of presenting their message to the public - 'Apple does not hire famous actors George Clooney - 'No Martini, No Party' Tv ads, or Andie MacDowell - L'Oreal.' (Vertygo Team) Also, witty sarcasm and irony seem to be their primary marketing weapon. In recent years, most of their efforts have been targeted to fight a very persistent rival - Microsoft. The latter has been ridiculed and all ads from the series expose the weaknesses and 'bugs' of Microsoft's Windows OS.
Apple has been quite successful in delivering the same quality message through all media channels. The brand's marketing is very simple - Apple understands people. In his 'Marketing Lessons from Apple', author Bryan Eisenberg (2008) says that 'at the heart of every successful Apple product, you'll find a deep understanding of what moves people emotionally at many different levels.' The brand connects emotionally with the consumer. It's what information architects call intentional design. Consumers are in the centre of Apple's design and marketing universe. Even the way product packaging looks and feels adds value to the consumer's identity and emotions. 'For now, Apple's brand strength is unmatched among its competitors. Because it pays attention to people's needs, people return that attention with money and emotional (sometimes illogical) devotion.' (Eisenberg, 2008)
However, some of the ads quite explicitly ironize the PC user (i.e. Better Results). Despite this level of ridicule, all commercials exhibit humanity. 'Indeed, 'Virus" is laugh-out-loud funny, because Hodgman is amazingly adept at broad physical humor - he sneezes, he freezes, he crashes. In response, Mr. Mac is not a jerk. He's almost tender about the caretaking-he wipes his friend's nose, and doesn't even back away at the PC warning about how easily transmittable these bugs are. That's because, while there are "114,000 known viruses for PCs," as the suit tells us, Macs are not affected.' (Lippert, 2006)
However, this campaign has been running for a few years now and it's time for Apple to make another move to defend its identity and customer base. Even though PC users are being humiliated in a very subtle way, the constant repetition and circulation of all commercials (especially the consistency of the message) may create a backlash from the PC (WinOS) community. Apple proved their point. But when enough is enough?
The purpose of this paper was to define and exemplify three aspects of consumer behaviour that relate to the marketing activities of Apple Inc and exhibit interdependent relationships with both the brand and consumer. Apple has managed to inspire and attract a user segment base that not only loves but also lives the brand - it almost suggests that this cult brand became a religion for many. The process of establishing this way of thinking goes through attitude and identity formation and the establishment of communities that share common views, visions and inspirations for creativity and non-conformity. Apple could serve only as an example to all companies around the world proving that when dedication, innovation and love for design meet, extraordinary results emerge.
Overall, all marketing activities follow the brand's organizational culture. In today's saturated computer market, the company manages to stand out by directly connecting to its potential and existing consumers and adhere to a consistent brand message of innovation, simplicity and design.
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