Drinking the Cider

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The buzz is palpable about Apple’s plans to announce a tablet computer later this month. I think it’s instructive as to the function and uses of conversation.

Apple is a company that has utterly shunned the social media campaigns that have displaced more old-fashioned ways to waste consumers’ time. It has no Twitter feed, provides no payola to twentysomethings so that they’ll blog about its products, and I bet it would happily ignore a request for comment from the President if asked.

It doesn’t talk. Apple does.

This fact is lost on most marketers, perhaps because the success of this approach challenges many of the failed presumptions on which marketing (and the latest blather about conversations) are based. By not talking, Apple encourages its customers (and critics) to talk instead, which is far more authentic and relevant to the brand than prompting faux conversation about, well, branding. 

Its policy of non-communication also channels the conversations to the reality of its products and services; if you contrast the buzz about the tablet with that around the launch of Microsoft’s Windows 7, you see that Apple doesn’t have any particularly smart or special control of the media, or a creative insight into content that yields better propaganda results. It doesn’t pretend to manipulate it, per se…

…it just does things worthy of conversation about which people then converse. And then it doesn’t screw it up by making wild promises, or wasting consumers’ time with marvelously creative campaigns intended to waste their time. 

As such, it "talks" all the time only through its behavior.

Social media is no more a cure-all for business challenges than buying blue pens instead of black ones for your employees will solve anything. It’s not something brands have to use, and it has no inherent value. It’s a tool, nothing more, and I think we’re going to start facing up to the reality that many of the "successes" we marketers celebrate are really just examples of the right answer getting applied to the wrong question. Apple should challenge our conventional wisdom versus move us to challenge it to drink the Kool-Aid.

It also illustrates that talking is not a substitute for selling. Every communication from Apple sells something; even its hilarious "I’m a Mac" TV spots deliver functionally-based product or service benefits (leave it to Microsoft to misunderstand this fact and riff on the pointlessly imaginary lifestyle merits of being a PC in its own commercials). 

Ultimately, Apple really isn’t in the business of talking or listening: it is in business to make and sell cool products, and there’s something very honest, refreshing, and profitable in such focus. No brand can talk its way out of a crappy offering.

I say Apple demonstrates that the challenge for brands isn’t to find new ways to talk (or to talk more often), but rather find new things to do that are worth talking about because they relate to selling stuff. 


Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kyz/3233710827/

Original Post: http://dimbulb.typepad.com/my_weblog/2010/01/drinking-the-cider.html