Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pelted by Apple ™s

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Certainly after being announced a week ago, most people know about Apple's new product, the tablet computer they've named the iPad.

Now, Apple is a very well known and highly regarded company. Their ability to generate such a market pervading buzz is still astonishing. Even all the way back to their very fist ad, the famous 1984 Superbowl ad which ironically was modeled after Orwell's novel, they set a high curve for introducing their product to the general populace.

Now, the day that the iPad was announced I had just arrived home from work and had no idea that there would be any sort of rumblings on the internet of an impending tech release. Within an hour of the press release and my complete ignorance of the event, I was inundated by information about it by no less than 7 websites I frequent (Geekologie, Radnerd, ect., none of which are news sites) and three friends I keep in contact through the internet. To have gotten word out so fast and so widely encompassing, even with their household name status, is nothing short of awesome (in the original sense of the word).

The question I want to ask at this juncture is, "How did Apple manage to create this pervasive buzz of theirs?" SO, what is their secret, how have they cultivated and grown this expansive network? Especially when perhaps 12 years ago, Apple had pretty much fallen by the wayside and their largest market share was that of public school systems. Well, since I couldn't seem to find anyone who had definitively answered that question, so I suppose I'll take a crack at it...with a few inferences.

Despite not having a whole lot of notoriety during the 90's (and me being an ardent PC man), I have to admit that Apple produced very good machines from an early start. I remember using many a Mac in the school computer labs growing up, the one my mother ran in particular. The quality of the graphics even back then were great and they were quite user friendly once you got the hang of them. Apple's quality, I think, is a major part of their popularity. In fact, it's Apple that is THE TOP machine used in areas such as computer graphics.

Another large chunk of their large market share would due to the technological innovations they've produced, starting with the ipod in 2001. In fact, by looking at Apple's stock trends, the correlation between the release of their products and the success of their company is parallel. Being able to produce stylish, functional vicissitudes to the way we look at technology goes a long way with the market in not only success of the company, but also stimulates the massive amounts of "buzz" that permeates the internet to a point where even an ignorant web meanderthal such as myself knows about the newest Apple gadget within an hour of it's dissemination.

Apple's buzz can also be attributed to simple "word-of-mouth". Now, I suppose it depends upon how you might define word of mouth, being as the internet is mainly a textual medium. I think that individual references, even in when read rather than heard will be just as effective, and with the all-encompassing connectivity of the internet it's obviously very effective. The blogger jeffbullas made reference to a study from the Harvard Business Review done by Dodds and Watts in 2007 that stated,
" 'Social Epidemics' occur where recommendations for a product like Avatar can be promulgated and enhanced through conversations with friends and colleagues. They found that if three friends recommended a product or brand to a person, in most cases it had no influence but with the fourth mention in the positive that they became 'infected' and spread the gospel for that product."
This goes hand-in-hand to my previous statement. You could say all you want about your product, but if you don't capture the populace's attention, it's all for not.

Jeffbullas also makes reference to Emmanuel Rosen's book “Buzz..Real Life Lessons in Word Of Mouth Marketing” wherein Rosen explains the importance of word-of-mouth in social sites and also lists ten principles that are at work in social networking.

"1. Social Networks are Invisible...even in the age of social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace no matter how hard you try you cannot find the “strength of the tie” and this comes down to

  • the privacy of the networks
  • people don’t reveal their true network ties
  • there is a lot of noise in the data that comes from these sites

2. People Link With Other Who Are Similar To Them

An example of this is that each sport has its own social network, Golfers hang out with golfers and compare notes on things like golf clubs. This “Homophily Principle” has 2 basic implications

  • They tend to form clusters
  • The more similar your employees are to your customers the easier the communications will be

3. People Who Are Similar To Each Other Form Clusters

This can be simply shown with examples of why do Hells Angels travel in packs or girls in second grade play together. Clusters can informally adopt products together such as “Apple” fanatics.

Note: If you product becomes the standard within a cluster , it makes it difficult for competitors to uproot you from this position.

4. Buzz Spreads Through Common Nodes

This means that even though we as human beings might have only “6 degrees of separation” that transferring buzz between different structures or nodes has a high degree of friction.

5. Information Gets Trapped In Clusters

You can have different clusters in the same building or company such as Marketing and PR. Spreading buzz from one group to another is rare. It normally means that a story can be trapped within the marketers or PR.

6. Network Hubs and Connectors Create Shortcuts

There is an example of some German Birkenstock sandals that were discovered by an American Margaret Fraser on a visit to a Yoga trainer in Germany where she discovered these really comfortable sandals that on taking them back to the USA and became the master distributor that have now become a $120 Million dollar a year business. The connector enabled a quick way to get the product discovered on the other side of the world.

Note: Venture capitalists are also a good example of the role of the connector between “clusters”

7. We Talk To Those Around Us

The Internet does cross geographical boundaries but those that are in close proximity are the ones we still influence with the most ease

This highlights the following

  • Geography still matters
  • 74% of all comments are transmitted through simple face to face conversations (Keller Fay, 2007)
  • When marketing a product or service that you hope will have a national or global appeal. It is important to create a presence in every geographical location.
  • Traditional marketing based on Zip codes, database marketing and bricks and mortar locations is still important

8. Weak Ties Are Surprisingly Strong

A study in the late 1960’s by Mark Granowetter of Harvard showed

“Word of mouth through acquaintances had significantly more impact than word of mouth with close friends and relatives”

The takeaway on this – people outside of our close networks are important in bringing in fresh data – in other words diversify your connections.

9. The Net Nurtures Weak Ties

It’s easy to maintain weak ties on the Internet. The increase in weak ties on the internet can explain why information travels much faster today. The Internet creates millions of shortcuts of weak ties that bridge social clusters.

10. Networks Go Across Categories

Politicians used to be able to take one message to a core group of supporters and a different one to the general public but not now. The internet and the new social networking channels are blurring the lines among different categories. What was once a private message to the loyal followers is now public conversation within seconds and minutes."

Rosen hits many interesting points on how social networks behave and is absolutely right on principle number three with the statements, "Clusters can informally adopt products together such as “Apple” fanatics. Note: If you product becomes becomes the standard within a cluster , it makes it difficult for competitors to uproot you from this position." The act of belonging and commonalities to deiscuss can be a huge advantage to generating buzz.

Now, they say that any publicity is good publicity, but it's a heck of a lot more effective when it's positive, and sometimes negative really bites you in the end. An example of this is the "Dell Guy" incident, where as their advertisement spokesman for their "Dude, you're getting a Dell" campaign. This destroyed the spokesman's career as, well, a spokesman, and gave Dell a large bloody nose in respect to their penetration into the market for a number of years.

All-in-all, Apple is enjoying their lofty position because of their ability to read, navigate, channel, and manipulate the whole of the social network that is the internet and it's multitude of sub-nets. Given their success in years, barring major changes in how people behave on the global network, Apple will probably continue their leading position within the