Timeless Branding Lessons From A Young Steve Jobs

To understand how a legacy lasts, let's flash back to when Steve Jobs rebuilt his own.

"It’s a complicated and noisy world," mused a younger Steve Jobs, "and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. "

That chance to make a memory, he says, is the essence of brand marketing.

For Jobs, who looks so Jobsian—and so 1997—in his sandals, shorts, and turtleneck, that chance to make a memory presents the fundamental question of branding. The oft-mythologized executive laments that Apple's brand had fallen off, and the way to get back was not by talking about speeds or megahertz or why Apple is better than Windows.

A brand is not so much about rational arguments, Jobs argues, but the way that the company resonates with people emotionally.

Like Marc Ecko, Jobs uses Nike as a case study:

Nike sells a commodity, they sell shoes. And yet when you think of Nike you feel something different than a shoe company. In their ads, as you know, they don't ever talk about the product, they don't ever talk about their air soles, how they're better than Reebok's air soles. What's Nike do in their advertising? They honor great athletes and they honor great athletics. That is what they are about.

Branding answers the question of what are we here to do?, he says. And so, somewhat similar to Nike, Apple rediscovered that they were all about accessible aspiration. Jobs continues on, fitting self-knowledge to marketing know-how:

Our customers want to know, "Who is Apple and what is it that we stand for? Where do we fit in this world?" What we're about isn't making boxes for people to get their jobs done, though we do that well. We do that better than almost anybody in some cases. But Apple's about something more than that: Apple, at the core, its core value, is we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better. That's what we believe.

Having done that existential legwork, Jobs enthused that it was time to bring that message to the people with a marketing strategy. And while the market's changed, the company has changed, their products and distribution and all the other details have changed, the core values stay steadfast.

"The things Apple believes in at its core are the same things that Apple really stands for today," he says. "And so we wanted to find a way to communicate this."

That communication would turn into advertising history:

The ad, Jobs says, features living and dead heroes who were crazy enough to think they could change the world, who, as we know by now, decided to think different.

"The ones who aren't (alive), you know, if they ever would have used a computer, it would have been a Mac," he says.

Bottom line: As Jobs says: "Marketing is about values." So we need to know ours.

Check out Design Crazy: Good Looks, Hot Tempers, and True Genius at Apple, our captivating oral history of the company that "taught the world taste." The ebook is available through Apple, Amazon, and Byliner.

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  • Baruni Shiva

    Jobs sure was right when he said that good branding translates to a company resonating emotionally with audiences. But it is much harder to accomplish especially if you're a B2B brand. On the other hand it is fairly straightforward to get some basics right like name, logo etc. This post talks about some easy-to-achieve branding steps http://bit.ly/125GCor

  • kamonasish aayush mazumdar

    Did you just subtitle the video to make an article? Wow.
    It is no doubt a brilliant video that you used but then where is the value add?
    Wouldn't people much rather just watch the video? Think about it :)

  • Steve Kravitz

    The correct English grammar is "Think Differently."

    It looks like Apple's theme here was actually "Think Stupid(ly)."

  • Pete

    Being a stickler and a grammarian, I totally understand where you're coming from here. In Jobs' biography by Walter Isaacson, a passage explained that Jobs wanted the tagline to be read as *think 'different'*. Meaning, value difference, meditate on difference, actively choose to be different.

  • Jim

    Andy Warhol used an Amiga. Macs weren't for artists in those days (but revisionist computer history has changed that).

  • jonschlackman

    That chance to make a memory, he says, is the essence of brand marketing.    That line should be sitting above every creative's desk.

  • Rodrigo Ricco

    Awesome! This kind of insight always refresh our minds, it's a inspiration! We have to get off from the KPI's world and focus on the right things... thanks!

  • Jason W. Womack, MEd, MA

    "That chance to make a memory, he says, is the essence of brand marketing."


    This line made me sit up and ask myself (almost out loud): "What are the memories we're making?"

    I turned to my notebook and started writing. On the top of my mind, tomorrow's presentation at http://getmomentum.co/2013/08/.... My intention on writing things down was to answer the self-made question: "Where will their memories come from?"

    I came up with three answers:

    what they DO
    what they SEE
    what they HEAR

    Thanks for giving me something to read - and something to watch - that encouraged me to put pen to paper.