10 January 2006

Challenge #2 - Communication

You might think that Apple needs little help in communication. But you'd be wrong. Sure MacWorld is truly unique and every other technology company would sell their soul to be the centre of such attention, but it is not enough to have the stage to yourself for a couple of days a year.

Apple has done a great job with communicating the value of the iPod, and some of it's advertising here has been excellent. But the iPod doesn't need a lot of communication. It's (currently) dominant. Word of mouth has helped hugely and the lack of credible competition. Now that Apple has such a stranglehold, it can even price aggressively. But in computers it's a different ball game completely. Apple is almost a second-tier player (certainly in volume). Not only does it have to fight on the hardware front against lots of competitors, it has to fight on the OS front against the monopoly that is Microsoft. I still believe the move to Intel was in part due to a realisation that they couldn't fight on the processor front as well - they had to simplify. And I do think that Intel has the potential to be a great partner to Apple, partly because I think Intel has been frustrated about it's influence in an MS-dominated world. Intel feels it has more to offer and is held back by a new Windows release every 5 years with features dictated entirely by Redmond. But of course, Intel cannot afford to favour Apple at the expense of its many customers - some of whom are much more important financially to them than Apple can ever be. So, Apple cannot look too much to the Intel relationship to provide great PR for it. But, I digress.

When you have 5% of a market, and you're not a price leader, you have to communicate much more effectively your value proposition. Apple has failed to do this throughout the lifetime of the Mac. Apple is conspicuously absent from billboards and tv screens when it comes to the computer side of the business. If Apple is to be long-term healthy in this business, it must find a way to get towards a 20% market share from the 5% (or so) today. It will not do that waiting for word-of-mouth to work. That 20% is more likely to come from the consumer marketplace - the barriers to wholesale acceptance in the business world are even higher (though in my opinion it is businesses that have most to gain today if they could get over their inertia). So, for Apple to get a 20% share of PC's they might need 30-50% share of the consumer market. It's not going to do that without a LOT more advertising. That advertising has to encompass the same excitement as seen in the iPod world. But it has to be more than that. iPods are primarily for fun, computers are more than that. There is a serious side to this that Apple needs to address - how easy it is moving from a PC, the benefits a user gets NOW, reducing FUD in general for example. If Apple got this right, it could have a truly amazing effect. I'm afraid I'm not sure it can get it right, and once again it will come close but not enough. Throw some resources at this Apple with your usual flair, please!

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