Everyone knows that Apple makes products that are state-of-the-art for design and ease-of-use. And ordinarily, you’d think that might be enough to make for a very successful company. But for Apple, having the ‘best’ of anything was never really enough.
Flash back, if you will, to the time before iPods and iPhones. Apple had been making computers for a good fifteen years, but they still couldn’t get anywhere near even 10% of market share. They tried everything – terrific advertising, free computers for schools, licensing the software so other companies could make computers that ran on Apple’s OS (an idea I was sorry to see go away)… but Microsoft continued to keep the lion’s share of the marketplace.
Now in this case, most companies would be comfortable to sell fantastic products, and continue to slug it out with Mr. Gates for years to come. But not Apple. They decided to get into… the music business. Something that had almost nothing to do with their core competencies. So they created the iTunes store, negotiated the licensing, and most important of all: introduced the world to the iPod. The iPod was so successful that it wasn’t long before Apple was making more money in the music business than they were in the computer business. How’s that for flexibility?
The iPod begat the iPhone. Another amazing success story. Because when Apple decides they’re going to try something new, they don’t just make a new product. Almost inevitably, they make the best product in the category. (OK, I admit that doesn’t happen 100% of the time – I prefer Firefox over Safari as one example.)
So Apple has the distinction of doing two very smart things. First, they don’t introduce a product unless it’s very, very good. Second, when they are up against the wall in a product category, they find another place to compete. Now imagine if more corporations operated this way. If the people running all kinds of companies, large and small, were open to the idea that yesterday’s product mix might not be ideal for today. And they decided to try, scary as it might be, something new. Imagine a company like GM taking that fork in the road. Or GE. Or perhaps, your company, and mine, too.
We used to primarily be an ad agency. Now we primarily offer marketing via social media. Times change. And as Mr. Dylan says, ‘You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone.’ Those words were never truer than right now.