After last week's iPad unveiling, you may or may not find yourself sucked like a Slurpee into Apple's marketing distortion field. No matter how you feel about their new tablet computer, however, most of us can agree on one thing: Apple knows how to get people talking about their products like no other company on the planet.
Consider this. Even before last Wednesday's reveal, millions of words had been written about the device — and every bit of it was rumor and speculation. Until Steve Jobs stepped out on a stage in San Francisco and unveiled the iPad, Apple had never said a word about their mystery product. Did it even exist? Nobody outside Apple and a few suppliers knew for sure.
So how did a nonexistent product get so many people worked up? The answer, without a doubt, lies in the Apple brand. Long ago, the company decided it would change the way people think about computing. And today an awful lot of people are drinking the Kool-Aid.
With a remarkable track record for delivering easy-to-use, innovative, category-busting products, Apple has amassed a following of true believers. Apple didn't invent personal computers, but they made them easy to use. They didn't invent smartphones, but they gave them broad appeal. They didn't invent MP3 players, but they made them so cool and convenient, it transformed the music industry. Is it any wonder that Apple today has an almost messianic following?
So what can ambitious professional services firms learn from Apple? Many of Apple's characteristics parallel attributes displayed by high-growth professional services firms:
- Focus on a narrow market. Apple has relinquished the low-end computing market to others. This has allowed them to monopolize the lucrative high-end of the spectrum. Today, Apple sells 91% of personal computers priced over $1,000 — that's niche domination!
- Make strategic acquisitions. Apple has a long history of strategic acquisitions. They purchased chip maker PA Semi in 2008. Last week we found out why — the iPad runs on a new, proprietary, low-power processor. Of course, the purchase of Next in 1996 allowed Apple lay the foundation for their highly successful OSX operating system.
- Differentiate yourself. Apple is all about innovation, style and simplicity. This company is a leader because they dare to be different. Unlike most of their peers, Apple has made risk-taking part of their culture. By taking risks they are able to bring remarkable new technologies to market ahead of the competition. And when others produce their own versions, they tend to add a lot of features — and complexity — that Apple intentionally left out.
Sure, there's lots about Apple's business model that doesn't translate to professional services. But I for one can't ignore one of the biggest business success stories of the last decade. And I can't wait to get my hands on a new iPad.