The Steve Jobs Effect
I was sixteen years old when I received my very first Apple product—from then on, it seemed as though Apple toys were the gold standard of gifts for any occasion.
While Santa was the one to gift me the iPod, as a consumer, I am inordinately grateful to the man who really made it happen: Steve Jobs.
In the two years since he died, Jobs’ name, legacy, and signature portrait have lived on--proof of his capacity to transcend both time and generation. Today, the veneration we hold for Apple’s late CEO remains strong—but as I hold my iPod (and my iPhone, and my iPad), I wonder: Is Steve Jobs still a critical force behind the Apple brand?
Our BrandAsset Valuator database has been tracking Apple’s imagery perceptions in the US since 1993. If we take a closer look at the imagery trends before and after Steve’s reign, we can pinpoint movement in brand attributes that show how much Apple has changed in the eyes of consumers since 2011.
The data indicates a decline in Apple’s Uniqueness, Reliability, Progressiveness, and Difference since 2011, the year Steve Jobs died. True, competitors like Samsung and Google have made incredible strides to keep up with the Apple brand since that time. (For proof, look at Google’s Android OS, which became the most popular smartphone OS in 2013.) Nevertheless, the decline in Apple’s brand characteristics since Jobs’ death seems to be more than coincidence.
At the same time, the data also point to the fact that Apple is perceived to be more Traditional, Helpful, and Obliging in 2013 compared to its profile in 2011. The increase in the dependency of these imagery attributes in 2013 could potentially allude to the brand’s softening over the years. Apple has recently received some criticism regarding its attempt to increase sales volume and commoditize all products, which has infuriated many professional artists dependent on the company’s Pro-line for employment. Perhaps the company’s decision to focus entirely on the mass consumer has distanced its association with perceptions of being bold, arrogant and cutting-edge.
Considering the two sets of data over time, we can hypothesize that Steve Jobs as a brand was more correlated to the Apple brand than we might have thought. Traditional, Helpful and Obliging- Steve Jobs was none of these things. These “positive” changes that are happening to the Apple brand may support the idea that the more Apple is distanced from Jobs, the more it changes. Steve was a disrupter, a rebel, and had the ability to target our unrealized desires (for instance, remember how bad the initial reaction to the iPad was? Nowadays, we can’t ride the subway without seeing a dozen on the morning commute). It was exactly this kind of attitude that attracted consumers to the Apple brand and kept them on the edge of their seats, excited about the company’s next move. Looking at the trend in the data, it is quite possible that we will be seeing the brand continuing to distance itself from imagery attributes that might have described Steve Jobs, in the near future.
What we can learn from this is that when a CEO of a company is as involved as Steve was, a brand must be conscious of the potential affect his/her absence might have on the brand equity after his/her resignation. As part of our BAV philosophy, we often tell our clients that product selling is episodic transaction, while brand building is a continuous transaction. In Apple’s case, we can certainly see that a relationship with a consumer and a brand is far more complex than annual iPhone sales figures. This phenomenon is something that all companies with iconic figures (Facebook, Microsoft, etc.) should keep in mind as they continue to build their brand over time.