There aren't many companies around that practice marketing the way that Apple does. I call Apple's approach to marketing "Heretical Marketing" because Apple clearly departs from accepted beliefs or practices in developing and launching new products. Here's why.
Central to marketing is the goal of identifying customer needs and wants, such as problems consumers have with existing products, and then developing solutions to satisfy those needs.
One of the problems that plagues marketing is its limited success in coming up with ideas that will result in the development of a disruptive innovation. The problem is that when we go to the market to identify customer needs and wants, people will respond in terms of the mental models they hold of the market. What this means is that when people respond to marketing research, most will do so in terms of the product attributes they are familiar with based on what they know about products currently available on the market. It is difficult, if not impossible, for respondents to suggest solutions for problems they didn't know they had or evaluate something that is beyond their comprehension.
Why then did I call Apple a bunch of "Heretical Marketers?" Because, what Apple has become well known for is first developing a solution (a new product) and then building demand for the new product by telling consumers about the needs and wants the new product solves. As Kim of Mac Rumors said when asked about the rumored Apple Tablet, "People hold out hope that Apple will surprise them and make a device they didn't even know they wanted (The Los Angeles Times, December 31, 2009)."
Other things we read about Apple simply demonstrate good practice: a strong brand we trust to deliver something reliable, exciting and innovative, an organization that manages to build hype and gets free publicity along the way, and an organization that is confident enough in its own ability that it lets the product find its own feet in the market. As Daniel Lyons wrote recently in Newsweek:
... The cool thing about technology is that no one ever knows how new ideas will evolve... The lesson we've learned since then is that even the people who created the iPhone could not have imagined what people would do with the device.
And we know that Apple has been successful not just in monetary terms but in marketing terms because as a consequence of buying the iPod or iPhone, consumer behavior has substantially altered. There aren't that many products around that can be attributed with creating categories, forming new reference points for consumers and underscoring cultural shifts.
I liked the title of Lyons' article: "The Tablet will be what we make of it" because we can't comprehend the attributes the Tablet will embody, nor do we know who will first adopt the Tablet and what these early adopters will use the Tablet for. And of course, we don't know how the Tablet will evolve once it hits the market. It will be interesting to look back in a couple of years and see just how much impact the Tablet has had on consumer behavior.
Jenny Darroch is on the faculty at the Drucker School at Claremont Graduate University. She is an expert on marketing strategies that generate growth.