Friday, July 16, 2010

iPhone 4: Apple Gets "Antennagate" Right

What is good marketing, anyway?

Well, I've said for years that good marketing must do four things -- it must engage, inform, persuade and invite. (Of course, after all of that, the entity doing the marketing must then deliver on whatever has been promised, then delight customers, partners and other stakeholders. However, those challenges are only partly under marketing's control, and therefore beyond the purview of this blog post. But I digress.)

By my lights, then, the Apple iPhone 4 antenna kerfuffle is now officially over, after Steve Jobs got up in front of the media and punditocracy and covered all four of what I consider the critical success factors of basic marketing.

Engage: Steve engaged stakeholders and observers worldwide by immediately copping to the existence of the antenna problem.

Inform: Steve told everyone watching and listening that this problem affected smartphones other than Apple's, something easy to forget or discount given all the noise about the problem centered around the iPhone 4.

Persuade: Steve showed evidence intended to prove his point. The videos showing other smartphones dropping signals may or may not have been universally convincing. However, Steve reported that only 1 iPhone 4 buyer out of every 200 had complained to Apple, and that AT&T said iPhone 4 return rates were so far only one-third those experienced with the iPhone 3GS. Pretty persuasive little factoids.

Invite: Here's where Steve got it most right. Since the argument is that so-called "bumper" cases that wrap around the rim of the iPhone help to solve the problem, everyone who wants one gets a free bumper case from Apple through September 30. Everyone who's already bought one gets a refund. And everyone who's still cranky can just return their phone for a full refund. Problem solved. Mission accomplished. Let's move on.

Now, Apple is not known for rapid-response news conferences. The company's media events are almost always supremely well orchestrated, in part because they're planned fairly far in advance. Today's news conference was arranged rapidly and not nearly as flashy as, say, most Apple new product announcements. However, I think Apple covered its bases well and struck the right balance between culpability and resolution. In many ways, "Antennagate" and Apple's response represent a textbook example of how marketing people should respond to sudden, unexpected threats to a company's brand or reputation.

Bonus recommendation #1: You may have noticed that I referred to it as a "news conference," and not a "press conference." Similarly, I strongly prefer "news release" to "press release." Minor semantic points, to be sure. However, they keep the focus on the news -- as in, if there ain't no real news, there should be no release or event. I'm just sayin'...

Bonus recommendation #2: has some really good recent research and analysis related to Apple, the iPad and the iPhone. I particularly recommend:
+ "The Apple Roadmap: What Steve Jobs Doesn't Want Microsoft to Figure Out," a great Focus Brief by Focus Expert Colin Bhowmik; and
+ "No Flash? No Problem -- 3 Work-Arounds for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch," by yours truly.


  1. Michael always thought provoking.
    But my initial reaction was that this was typical Apple and reinforced what I don't like about them. A weak apology (sorry we aren't perfect), then excuses (smart phones are hard), then an unapology (everybody else does it (not),our (selected) data says we shouldn't even be here), then the usual pompous Apple attitude (its the press blowing things out of proportion -- and this time not the way we like it), then the minimal offer to appease the faithful(put this $3 bumper on your formerly sleek phone...though, of course, we wouldn't do this ourselves).
    Marketing or not, are they going to fix this or do they think its already fixed?
    - Greg K.

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