When great brands stop listening to their customers part 1: Apple

One of the existential threats a great brand faces is their own greatness, and the inability to step outside of their echo chamber.

You can feel the pressure building against Apple. The one-time king of smartphones used to set the bar for design and, more importantly, user experience. Then the copycats stopped copying and started leading. And Apple, well... they never seemed to step outside their vacuum. I’m not sure if they are so insulated they forgot to listen, or more likely they started seeing themselves as the hero.

I think Story Brands does the best job of articulating this idea that your customer is the hero-- you (the brand) simply provide them with a tool (or cape in this metaphor) to help save the day.  That means you need to pay close attention to who they are, what problems they face, and what their alternatives are to solve it.

So back to Apple. Here are three examples that lead me to believe they have stopped listening to their customer, and incorrectly put themselves as the hero:

  1. Siri is terribleAs I have written in the past, I was somewhat disappointed in Siri until I tried Alexa. Then I became deeply disappointed. How did Apple let Amazon and Google get so far ahead of them in the AI / Voice recognition race? The only reasonable explanation is they were so steeped in their "echo chamber of greatness" they failed to observe how far behind they were. And their late-to-the-game home assistant speaker, HomePod, has gotten terrible reviews for this exact reason. Even Microsoft beat them to the home speaker assistant game.
  2. The headphone debacle: When Apple once again exercised their penchant for ever-changing, proprietary connector standards by removing the headphone jack altogether and replacing it with a proprietary power plug, they created a lot of frustrated customers. They failed to recognize that 69% of their customers still have wired earbuds. Their reward for brand loyalty? Either buy some $200 wireless earbuds or several $20 adaptors (they are soooo easy to lose). And by the way, you can’t charge and listen at the same time. Smartly, Samsung seized on this as a switching point in a high visibility ad campaign. But at Apple HQ the design team lives in a futuristic echo chamber where no one has wired earbuds.
  3. Planned obsolescence: We all felt this, but it was still a surprise to see it hit the news as a real thing. Consider: is reduced battery life and slower performance is a good reward for long-term loyalty?
  4. Bonus example: Meaningless innovation. While Apple was working on face recognition, which leaves many customers with more security questions than actual utility, the competition was developing meaningful innovation like waterproof phones (Samsung was two years ahead of Apple), cordless charging (again, Apple was behind by two years), and real-time language translation (by Google-- a real benefit for those who travel abroad). Did we really need an upgrade from fingerprint security? I'm not sure everyone has even figured out how to use it. Meanwhile camera phones and design aesthetic have moved from a clear point of difference for Apple to a point of parity (and maybe even below-parity!).

I once would never have considered switching from Apple, but after 10 years of loyalty, I’m looking at the Google Pixel 2.

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