Apple’s brand mission signified it is a company ‘Built to Last’

The media is peeling Apple alive. Its share of the global smartphone market has dropped from 23 per cent to 17.3 per cent year on year. Its stock plummeted from $700 (£450) per share at the turn of the year to a pitiful $400 (£260) a share last month. And experts in this very magazine have said that the brand now needs to ‘reinvent marketing as it reinvented tech’).

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It’s accepted wisdom that Apple’s brand is no longer on the cutting edge of cool. No more is it the exclusive badge of the metropolitan ‘black-collar’ worker. Indeed, I’m sure I heard the distinctive sound of the iPhone’s retro ringtone on last Sunday’s Archers Omnibus. Not the kind of associations a brand like Apple should really be aiming for.

Part of me wants to agree with the doomsayers. However, look a little harder, and the glass begins to approach the half-full mark. Interbrand reports that during 2011/12, Apple’s brand value increased by a remarkable 129 per cent, making it the fastest riser in its global brands survey, and second only to Coca-Cola.

Perhaps more tellingly, there’s a deeper story behind Samsung’s impressive progress in the smartphone market.

The digerati may have moved on from their iPhones to the impressive Galaxy S4. “iPhones are mad wack now” opines one especially incisive blogger.) But a recent survey by the Yankee group showed that only 9 per cent of Apple customers intend to switch to another smartphone, which suggests that Samsung is picking up more sales from other Android phones and new-to-category consumers than from Apple.

I have another reason for cleaving to my unwavering belief in the cult of Steve Jobs. And that comes in the form of a book I first read when it came out in the mid-90s and which will be familiar to many readers of Marketing Week.

‘Built to Last’ was written by two Stanford academics who asked themselves why certain companies consistently deliver market-beating performance over decades of business history. Their conclusion was that the winners were what they called ‘visionary companies’, organisations galvanized by a mission that goes beyond the delivery of short-term profits.

Such companies set themselves the task of achieving something the authors described as ‘BHAGs’: Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals. They listed 18 organisations which followed this principle and out-performed their peers a result. The list comprised names such as American Express, Marriott, Procter & Gamble and Ford.

Like most management theories, the argument behind Built to Last has come in for some criticism over the past couple of decades. Several of the companies supposedly built to last have been demolished by the economic and technological earthquakes of the past few decades.

However, overall the facts tell a different story. Looked at together, the Built to Last companies have delivered a total shareholder return of 206 per cent in the 20 years since the book’s publication. Compare this with the 132 per cent return for the S&P average over the same period.

I would argue that Apple is the kind of visionary company that Built to Last identified as a long-term performer. Despite the loss of its founder, it is still guided by the visionary goal of providing tools for creative people – a mission which has in the past allowed Apple to transcend the computer category and stretch itself into entertainment and communications, yet still remain true to an attitudinally defined target audience and a clearly differentiated philosophical position.

The clarity of this mission is especially stark when contrasted with that of Apple’s much-lauded nemesis Samsung. It may be cruel to say it, but the closest thing to a mission statement I could find on its corporate website is: “Dedicated to making a better world through diverse businesses that today span advanced technology, semiconductors, skyscraper and plant construction, petrochemicals, fashion, medicine, finance, hotels and more.”

Right now, the media are squeezing Apple till its pips squeak. But in this commentator’s view, Apple’s deeply engrained brand mission signifies that it is a company that is truly Built to Last.

Richard Madden is chief strategy officer at Kitcatt Nohr Digitas

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