• 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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