Product and marketing lessons from Apple

The Boston Globe’s Scott Kirsner recently asked marketers, techies and product developers what they’ve learned over the years from Apple and Steve Jobs.

These were my answers.

Never underestimate the power of beautiful design

We all buy Apple products as much for how they look as for what they do. Apple has taught us all that aesthetics can actually define a brand and inspire pure, raw desire.

What you leave out is as important as what you put in

Too many products overwhelm customers with feature overload simply because it’s technically feasible.  Apple’s restraint is part of what make its products so user friendly. Lots of products, from cameras, to video cameras, to wrist watches could learn this lesson.

Vision has to come from the top

Apple’s advertising and messages are clear, consistent and reinforce a vision because they start with Steve Jobs. Too many publicly held companies run by finance types have no marketing vision whatsoever. Mid-level management and advertising agencies try to fill the gap and usually fail, depending too much on market research and falling victim to either group think or compromise.

The product is the marketing

With Apple,you don’t have to make up stories that give meaning to the product.  You simply have to tell the story of the product. Think the most recent iPhone ads. More brands should learn that a great story can’t make up for a mediocre product.

The art of anticipation

Is there a company or marketer any better at building buzz, speculation and even demand in advance of a product ever appearing? That is the result of a track record, category-defining products, customers who themselves become evangelists and Apple’s own restraint. And when they leak information to friendly reporters, they don’t use email; phone call only so there’s never a trail.

The science of retailing

There’s not an analyst in the country who thought Apple would succeed at retail. Yet by turning the store into a mecca of design, a celebration of beauty, a gathering spot for the believers and a center of learning and service, Apple has re-written the rules of retail. From an outsider’s perspective it was a risky endeavor.  From Apple’s viewpoint it was anything but.

You need to know your tribe

Apple knows exactly for whom it makes products  — creators, learners, mavericks, free-thinkers, the crazy ones — and it has never strayed from focusing on that audience. They celebrate their community by how they speak to them (intelligently and with respect), portray them (I’m a Mac, you’re a PC), and inspire them (Think Different). As a result they have created the single most value asset you can ever have on your balance sheet: true customer loyalty.

Be a role model

There is not a marketer or ad agency in the world that doesn’t regularly refer to Apple when talking about the value of consistency, creativity, functionality, design, effectiveness, service, and, of course, advertising. They are the role model. Yet so few brands or marketers can actually replicate any of those qualities even once, never mind consistently.  A reminder that a brand is every single aspect of the company:  culture, people, product, design, marketing and even its community of customers.

The wisdom of one

In an age of crowdsourcing and the ease of soliciting opinions from everyone on Twitter and from a brand’s community, Apple reminds us that the wisdom of the crowd is no match for a single genius with a vision. There is no crowd, community or focus group that could design the iPhone. Find yourself a Steve Jobs, or even half of a Steve Jobs and you’re better off.

That’s what I’ve learned from Apple.  What about you?