For the past several years, I’ve considered Apple to be the best marketing organization on the planet. Their ability to anticipate–and, more impressively, create–consumer desires has been without parallel, as has their penchant for product design and advertising. Now, however, we’ll get a chance to see how good they are at crisis management.
As this Wall Street Journal article shows, it seems clear that Apple’s vaunted product design team–including legendary co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs–dropped the ball in developing Apple’s new iPhone 4. The otherwise well-reviewed device appears to have reception problems that result from a faulty antenna design that wasn’t subjected to adequate testing.
Surprisingly–and disappointingly–Apple’s initial reaction was to cavalierly suggest that the problem was the result of users holding the phone improperly. They then copped to a software glitch, which they inexplicably tried to minimize by suggesting that it affects their earlier-generation iPhones as well. And now both explanations are being challenged by Consumer Reports, which claims the problems are hardware-related.
Whatever the truth is–and all signs seem to support Consumer Reports’ side–Apple had better be completely forthcoming from this point forward or its credibility, and its brand equity, will take a serious hit. Apple and Mr. Jobs have been on an infallibility streak for several years, so admitting they’ve screwed up will hurt. But Apple’s fans–and prospective future consumers–will forgive imperfection much more readily than dishonesty or cowardice.
Apple has produced millions of sweet, crisp, juicy products that have thrilled millions of consumers–including me–and in the process created a company worth more than Microsoft or General Electric. But if they don’t start displaying more candor, humility and urgency in confronting this rare misstep, they run a real risk of letting this one bad Apple spoil the bunch–not to mention a bunch of brand equity.