Posts Tagged ‘Apple’

The Times, They Are A-Changin’–for the Worse

November 22nd, 2009

I live in the Chicago area, but my wife and I subscribe to the Sunday New York Times. To me, it’s the second-best newspaper in the country, trailing only the Wall Street Journal. A Sunday without the Times–and particularly without their crossword puzzle–is like a Sunday without….well, without CBS Sunday Morning. It just isn’t Sunday!

So when my Sunday Times didn’t arrive last week, I immediately called their toll-free number to alert them to this impending catastrophe. I was assured by the automated voice at the other end of the line that our paper would be delivered by 9:30 that morning. Whew–Catastrophe averted! Or so I thought. When the paper had yet to arrive at 10:30, I called again, but this time the previously cooperative recorded voice informed me that I was out of luck: they would not be able to deliver the paper to me. I left a “firm” (“firm” being a euphemism for “irate”) voicemail message, naively hoping I would get a return phone call the following day. When that didn’t happen, I called again, and eventually succeeded in reaching a live body. The woman I spoke to was quite cordial and said she would send me a copy of the Sunday paper by second-class mail. Finally, I thought; somebody there understands the concept of customer service! The only downside to my conversation was that it took her about 15 minutes to take care of my paperwork. That should have been a clue that this heart-wrenching story was not to have a happy ending.

The good news: the paper did get delivered. The bad news: it didn’t arrive until Saturday. The worse news: we were sent two copies of the front-half of the paper, and no copies of the other half–the half that would have included my crossword puzzle. I know what you’re thinking: Oh, the humanity!!!

It’s no secret that the newspaper industry is in huge and irreversible trouble. While there are many reasons for this, one could argue that the biggest reason is that newspaper publishers simply lost touch with their readers’ needs, habits and desires. (Surely anyone who has witnessed the Chicago Tribune’s utter disregard for its readers under the insensitive and inept ownership of Sam Zell can second that motion.) In an age where I can get a phone call from Apple’s customer service team within five seconds of submitting a request for service on their website, the kind of customer service exhibited by the New York Times is as antiquated and useless as a Gutenberg printing press.

Loyal customers are hard to come by in any business, and especially in the newspaper business. Failing to make loyal customers feel appreciated is a sure and sad sign of a company whose best days are behind it. That’s clearly the case with most newspapers, and I fear it’s also the case with the New York Times.

I’m not sure that qualifies as news, but I at least hope that it’s fit to print.

Windows 7, Apple 14.

November 4th, 2009

Normally, I’m not a fan of advertising that makes fun of–or even mentions–your competition. At best such advertising usually ends up making the advertiser look whiny, petty or obnoxious; at worst, it can inadvertently boost awareness and even the image of the competition. If you do decide to go after your competition in your advertising, make sure you do so with exceptional intelligence, savvy and grace. And while you’re at it, make sure the competitor you’re taking on is bigger than you.

In other words, make sure you’re the world’s best marketer:  Apple.

Has any company in recent memory–or ever–skewered its competition with more impact or more class than Apple? Its marvelous “Mac vs. PC” campaign is relentlessly brilliant in the way it pokes fun at computers that use Microsoft’s Windows operating system.  Yet as devastating as these commercials are, they don’t make Apple look like cheap-shot artists; on the contrary, they reinforce a brand persona that is very clever, refreshing and likable. 

That is quite a testament to the outstanding writing and acting featured in this campaign. John Hodgman is hysterical as the doughy, somewhat clueless and utterly insecure PC, who looks like he might occasionally hang with–and perhaps even be related to–Bill Gates. In stark contrast stands Justin Long‘s Mac, a cool, calm and quietly confident hipster who comes across as a younger and humbler Steve Jobs. Mac or PC–whom would you rather have a drink with?

Apple’s latest ad, which tackles Microsoft’s new Windows 7 operating system, may just be their best effort yet. Rather than say anything specific about Windows 7, the ad simply reminds viewers of past problems associated with its predecessors. Given that Windows 7 appears to be getting pretty favorable reviews in the press, this tactic is a wise one; its unspoken message is, “Don’t be fooled–again–by anything you hear about the latest incarnation of Windows.”

It may be that Microsoft has in fact finally designed an operating system that is close to matching Apple’s high standards. Unfortunately for Microsoft, the quality of their marketing–while improving–is still only half as strong as Apple’s.

Which I guess means that Apple rates a 14 to Windows’ 7.

An i-Opening Experience

March 16th, 2009

My daughter’s iPhone locked up yesterday, so I went to www.apple.com to see if I could troubleshoot the problem. After a few minutes of trying to find the solution, I saw that I had the option of speaking to an Apple Expert. I provided the requested background information on the problem (which took about a minute), and clicked on “Submit”.

Miraculously enough, within 15 seconds, I was called by my Apple Expert! And no more than 2 minutes later, the iPhone was up and running, and I was a hero to my daughter.

To call this a refreshing experience would be an understatement of monumental proportions. Not only did I get to speak to a live human being, but it was within seconds of submitting the request. Oh, and the fact that the problem was solved quickly didn’t hurt, either.

According to Michael Treacy’s The Discipline of Market Leaders (one of my favorite business books), a company must excel at one of the three core strategic disciplines–Product Leadership, Operational Excellence or Customer Intimacy–and just be good at the other two. Those showoffs at Apple must have neglected to read the book, as my experience would suggest that they’ve decided to embrace all three.

To again quote from one of my other favorite business books, Andy Sernovitz’s Word of Mouth Marketing, “Marketing isn’t what you say; it’s what you do.” As if there were any doubt, Apple’s handling of my little problem reaffirms its position–in my mind, at least–as the world’s most formidable marketer.