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Leadership Now

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.