Apple finally unveiled their iPhone this week in front of 4000 fervent fans at MacWorld. The event was more like a rock concert than a computer company presentation, with CEO Steve Jobs in the role of Robbie Williams. The iPhone created a frenzy of media coverage, with the mouth-watering photo on the front pages of many newspapers and a Google search bringing back 21 000 mentions. It does look like all the fuss may be justified: this is a truly remarkable bit of industrial engineering that combines amazing looks, functionality (phone+video iPod+web browser) and ease of use.
A less reported but nonetheless important bit of news was the formal changing of the company's name from Apple Computer to simply Apple. If we needed it, here was confirmation that Apple was no longer a computer company but rather a digital entertainment, creativity and communication company. So, what brand stretching lessons we can take out of this amazing transformation?
First and foremost, Apple's success dramatises the power of the product. Apple products are so cool they freeze your fingers off. But this coolness comes not from any attempt to be a lifestyle brand or emotionally-based communication. No, the coolness comes from the drop-dead gorgeous design of the physical product and the user interface. Isn't the real genius behind Apple's success not Jobs but rather head designer Jonathan Ive? No matter how much money Sony and Microsoft spend on their MP3 players, they'll never match the iPod in the coolness stakes as their products are not in the same league.
Second, it shows that as with the human body, the more you stretch your muscles, the more supple they become. Apple may have lacked the credibility to go straight from a computer to a mobile phone. But by moving into music players first, they created new brand associations to do with portability and music that mean the iPhone is now a more achievable stretch.
Third, Apple's success shows the power of an architecture based on simple naming not the use of the dreaded "sub-brand", maintaining a very coherent brand identity. Several key elements link the Apple brand and each extension. This creates a "virtuous circle" where the extension benefits from the brand, and the brand benefits from the extension:
- Unmistakable product design using white and chrome
- Use of the "i-" prefix: iPod, iLife, iMac, iTunes etc.
- Investment in Apple stores that allow the whole range to be presented together
- Launch of the the iTunes software and on-line store to create a link between the computers and the iPod
The only bad thing about the iPhone is the 8 month wait to get one for all the Apple-aholics out there. How will we survive so long without one?!