• Rick Julian

Branding Failure

By now most observers of the  consumer technology scene have heard of the iPhone 5 launch. Consistent with most Apple launches, there was commensurate fanfare, and long lines camped outside of stores filled with fans willing to plop down the equivalent of several sub-Saharan African families’ annual income in exchange for bragging rights among their social circle. Ah, the glory of the Western Empire in full bloom.

But what caught my eye wasn’t the expected stuff because, well, it was expected. Instead, it was the pie that landed on Apple’s face within hours of people having the new device in their formerly iPhone 4s palsied hands. As seen in the images above, Apple’s replacement app for Google maps had a few problems, and reports of it were circulated across social media faster than a kitten juggling video.

This morning, Apple’s CEO, Timothy Cook, released a letter of apology to Apple customers, and on the heels of my post yesterday about how “real” brands behave, he personified one of the points I’d hoped to make: even in bad times, legitimate brands know who they are, and that self-knowledge is apparent to customers–often bringing reassurance to their purchasing decisions, and shoring up brand defection.

Here’s what he said:

“At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.” and “Everything we do at Apple is aimed at making our products the best in the world. We know that you expect that from us, and we will keep working non-stop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard.”

In this statement, he effectively asserts one of the Apple brand’s core pillars: “we make world class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers”.  Because Apple has so effectively banked brand equity based on this proposition during their best times, they’re able to draw against it now in a moment of failure. Taking ownership of the failure, and promising to address it in a way that restores the brand’s promise is a stand-up thing to do, and when they accomplish it–and odds are they will–the brand’s recovery from this fall from grace will probably add more brand equity to their coffers than it cost them.

But this is only possible because their brand–that set of rational and emotional associations that lives in the hearts and minds of their customers–had established a precisely articulated and delivered  brand proposition that their customers had internalized. Had a less reliable brand made a similar admission of failure, their customers may have replied, “doesn’t surprise me–it’s par for the course”, and a promise for restoration would have been met with a similarly dubious attitude.

Ultimately, having a legitimate brand that lives in your consumers’ hearts and minds is a line item on your balance sheet. Invest accordingly.

The future belongs to the boldest brands.

-Rick Julian

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