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Everyone thinks content marketing is the only way to win a market.

Here's a little story that might disprove that.

I hate naming names, but there’s a company out there which just doesn’t get content marketing.

It’s a big tech company with excellent products. But it hasn’t yet figured out that people really don’t care about products.

This company has never produced a piece of content about their customers’ issues and challenges. It just churns out pictures of the hardware (boooooring) and endless lists of features and specifications (double booooooring).

Its product launches are just – blah, blah, blah – more product feature litanies, delivered by over-excited techies in love with their own engineering.

Its advertising is essentially product beauty shots. No eBooks. No white papers. No opinion pieces. Little or no blogging. No infographics. No microsites. No thought leadership. No signs of inbound marketing or lead nurturing.

Under an admittedly slick surface, it’s the kind of old school tech marketing that could have been seen any time in the last fifty years.

The result?

This laggard’s market capitalization was, last time I looked, $414bn, making it the world’s largest company. Bigger than most of its ‘thought leading’ competitors put together.

The company?

Apple.

The lesson?

There’s more than one way to win a market.

Doug Kessler

Published 21 August, 2013 by Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler is a founder and Creative Director of B2B marketing agency Velocity and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

19 more posts from this author

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Sanjit Singh Chudha

Apple's advertising works. By market capitalisation alone, it is a formidable enterprise. It has succeeded by making it's products excel at matching and shaping lifestyle choices, and in so doing 'outsources' much of the content marketing to others.

Apple's iPads, iPhones, iPods drive content production. In that sense, it doesn't really need content marketing, as you say. Rather, the content does the marketing for Apple.

It will be interesting to see how the new generation of tablets and Andriod smartphones might eat into that dominance in the near future. It's not entirely a one-horse race.

almost 3 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

I agree Sanjit -- Apple has been SO good at making products that people want, they don't need the kind of marketing a lot of other brands need.

I guess if you build a better moustrap, the world really will beat a path to your door.

almost 3 years ago

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Julio Romo, Communications Consultant and Digital Strategist at twofourseven

Doug, you raise some good points. The one thing that Apple has shown is to not rely on just one way to gain authority.

Apple finds itself in a tricky position in that if they went ahead with white papers, blogs, infographics, op-ed pieces and the like they would be labelled as being in a panic.

Fact is that Apple does have a view about standards - let's not forget Steve Job's view of Adobe Flash v. HTML5. The way that they shape the market, especially in the B2B sector is through traditional methods. And these have worked.

almost 3 years ago

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Jim Seward

Apple doesn't need to do these things...

Why?

They've managed to convince the whole world to do content marketing for them

almost 3 years ago

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Ryan Ogilvie

Some good points made here Doug but honestly I think that Apple does have a content marketing strategy. Simplicity.

Content marketing doesn't have to be words on a page and in Apple's case they are matching what their audience is looking for - the specs and pictures of their latest product.

Also your quote "This company has never produced a piece of content about their customers’ issues and challenges." Apple does have a section within their site where customers issues and challenges are answered:

https://discussions.apple.com/index.jspa

almost 3 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

@Julio - goodpoints. I wouldn't even know where I'd begin if Apple wanted to do thought leadership content (the principles of human/machine interaction might be a great sweet spot for them).

@Jim – Definitely: there's content around Apple -- they just let their fans do it.

@Ryan – I do agree that 'content' (such a wooly word) should be broad enough to include collateral and product stuff. But the content marketing religion would not include these.

For me, the Discussions page you linked to isn't content marketing really. It's customer support. And all organised by products, about products (not really issues).

(Of course, Apple is primarily a consumer company, so I'm being a bit disingenuous when I apply a B2B yardstick to them).

almost 3 years ago

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Nick Stamoulis

@Jim--fantastic point. Apple has created a network of life-long loyal fans that will happily proclaim the brilliance of their products. Add to that the fact that Apple has created a reputation for itself as an innovator and something worthy of attention...we all do their content marketing.

almost 3 years ago

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Dominic Rodgers

Some great points from everybody here, but I disagree.

Apple create amazing content. Think different. Not only do they make amazing content, they work with great people, and do things differently, cutting through the noise, and inspiring media and customers alikeity.

Their 1984 ad directed by Stanley Kubrick.

They hired Richard Dreyfuss for the voiceover for 'The Crazy Ones.'

Their WWDCs are live, performed content.

Their retail environments feature Apple geniuses who go further than talking about customer queries/ problems and help solve problems, teach new skills, and demonstrate possibilities.

Their content is so good it is invisible - perhaps they are the best content marketer in the world?

almost 3 years ago

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Sascha Stoltenow

By now, I must have read a zillion studies on Content Marketing. They all draw one conclusion: Corporations and brands need relevant content. Surprisingly none of these studies answers the questions what relevant content is, leave alone how to develop it.

My perspective, similar to Dominic, is: We need to think of the corporation (and brand) itself as content. Content is the public representation of everything companies and people interacting with them do. This explains why even corporations without an elaborate branding and communications programm can grow to a brand, their content being shape by what they do and what people expect from and say about them, think the Police.

In the case of Apple we can observe an extremely elaborate programme making communications an integral part of every product - for better or worse - to an extent that even mediocre technical details can not flaw the overall user experience. We see a perfectly integrated business and content and communications strategy (and can observe the irritation it causes when it fails). This all is the prerequisite for the overidentification of a large portion of the customer base - and it is the central risk which Apple faces.

almost 3 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

That's the problem with the word 'content'. It's pretty meaningless (content is 'that which is in a 'container').

For me, 'content marketing' is meant to deliver a new kind of content beyond advertising and sales collateral.

It's about content that packages up your expertise as a company to help your prospects do their jobs better (or live their lives better for B2C). It's about issues, not products.

By that definition, Apple does very little content marketing. Their ads are great ads. But not what I'd call content marketing. The WWDC is much closer to content marketing.

The more broadly we define content and content marketing, the more it looks like Apple (and every other company) does plenty of it.

But in the narrower definition, I don't think they do -- and yet they've been HUGELY successful without it!

almost 3 years ago

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Sascha Stoltenow

As a consultant that is exactly the question I start with: Why are companies successful DESPITE their communications ;-)

almost 3 years ago

Andrew Nicholson

Andrew Nicholson, Founder at The Guku

Here's the ironic twist at the end of the story. Apple REALLY gets content marketing, it's been doing it for years now. It's just that their content doesn't live on line. Their White papers, their how-to guides, their thought leadership, all of them sit on site and in the flesh in every single apple shop in the UK.

http://www.apple.com/uk/retail/geniusbar/

I really wish us on line marketers would get over ourselves and realise that content marketing isn't something new - it's been happening in one form or another for generations.

almost 3 years ago

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Scott Valentine, Engagement Engineer at Tugboat Group

That Apple has been such an integral and ubiquitous leader of 21st Century culture clearly demonstrates the strength of their content creation.

While content marketing is nothing new, the wants & interests of those consuming online media certainly is. Apple may or may not choose to adapt their strategy to reflect the shifting paradigm of creating more transparent and personal content for their legions of fans across the globe. They may continue to forge ahead with business as usual.

That being said, I certainly hope they do allow us a few "peaks behind the curtain" as my own love affair with Apple has waned since the passing of their fearless leader.

almost 3 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

@Andrew
I still think the Genius bar is an example of fantastic customer support rather than content marketing. But, of course, it has great ripples into marketing.

I did a post on What's So New About Content Marketing you might like:

http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2013/05/whats-new-about-content-marketing/

@Scott
I'm not sure Apple's success is testament to their content marketing prowess. To me, it proves you can succeed even without content marketing.

almost 3 years ago

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Scott Valentine, Engagement Engineer at Tugboat Group

@Doug
Apple can succeed without it as an deeply entrenched brand with a track record of cultural trailblazing and market leadership. But they were busy fortifying their market position prior to the explosion of online content consumption we are seeing now. The question to me seems to be whether or not their strategy can continue to keep consumers engaged and excited enough while other brands begins to impede on their holy territory.

It's a thought provoking article, something I will be discussing with my colleagues for the rest of the week I'm sure!

almost 3 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

@ Scott – Thanks for the excellent conversation. All great points.

A lot of people say, 'Apple doesn't need content marketing -- it's huge and successful and famous for great things.'

My main point is that they GOT this way WITHOUT content marketing. (pardon the capital shouts -- can't do HTML).

Yes, once you've arrived at fame and fortune you play by different rules than the others.

But Apple was a failing computer company and became a global juggernaut without using the tactics that many in the marketing world consider to be absolutely critical to success.

I'm a big believer in content marketing (we've build our agency on it). But I do think Apple gives us all a bit of perspective, showing that fantastic products and a fanatical focus on user experience can beat even the best content marketing in the world.

[Sidebar:]
@angelina -- your name isn't really Angelina is it?

@jason -- I'd value your kind feedback if you weren't a link-building robot, programmed to spew comment spam all across the internet. And your name isn't really Jason is it?

almost 3 years ago

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Kate

What a great article.

@Sascha love your point about the brand being the content.

I often think about Zara the fashion store in the same way. They are not active on social media yet are one of the world's largest fashion brands. Why? because they sell great clothes at affordable prices that people want to buy. It's often customers and fashion bloggers that provide their content marketing, they just focus on producing a great product.

almost 3 years ago

Andrew Nicholson

Andrew Nicholson, Founder at The Guku

Great article @Scott - and I'm very much in agreement. Looking forward to seeing how content 3.0 evolves. Suspect we'll all be waxing lyrical about AR contextual content within the next 5 - 10 years.

almost 3 years ago

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Paul Withers

Could this whole article be considered another peice of genius content marketing by Apple. The mere fact we're debating about their marketing strategy only adds fuel to the fire of their brand.

Great to read such diverse and interesting comments. Good article.

almost 3 years ago

Marcin Grodzicki

Marcin Grodzicki, Founder at BOOM

I'd like to point two matters out:

1. Apple is a consumer, impulse buy company. They didn't succeed in a big way until the iPod, which is an impulse buy, than iPhone, iPad - all things you don't need a lot of research to buy. In my opinion, content (in the content marketer's way) is not necessary here.

2. Apple uses content excessively in their marketing. Music with iPod, Apps with iPhone, again apps with iPad. Mac these days sell mostly as companion devices to the real growth drivers which are in mobile. Things like WWDC, product launches etc. only ignite the content marketing (app development, music industry) community to write about them.

almost 3 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

Great points, Marcin. Quick reply:

1. I think iPod, iPad and iPhone are only impulse buys because they were category-creating. There were no other products to research when each was launched.

I agree that they're consumer products, so the 'rules' of content marketing may not apply as strongly as in B2B. (And in fact Apple proves they're not rules at all).

2. I wouldn't call the content you refer to (music, apps, etc) content marketing. WWDC definitely is -- though in traditional clothes.

almost 3 years ago

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Justine Ragany

Everyone loves a bit of contentious copy, thank you for that Econsultancy.

When it comes to Apple, I really believe that people DO care about products. Apple has managed to turn most of us into lightweight techies and we love it.

Plus, Apple's stand-offish persona has made us want them even more particularly when coupled with its intransigent pricing policies.

The company's refusal to follow the herd in tech and in marketing terms has made them memorable, desirable and very profitable.

It can be good to be different.

almost 3 years ago

Peter Meinertzhagen

Peter Meinertzhagen, Digital Marketing Manager at Zest Digital

Apple certainly make a fascinating case study because they go against what's considered best practice and other trends in marketing and manage to be incredibly successful.

@Marcin It's interesting what you say about the lack of needing to do research about the Apple products (particularly the mobile devices). I've noticed this a lot with people looking for a tablet. People research the alternatives, but don't tend to bother with the iPad - they already know it. It's more like "what can the alternatives do compared to the iPad?", not "what can the iPad do?". They are also so unique. When looking for a PC you look at hundreds of options. With a Mac, you look at selection of 3 or 4 that differ by size. They've achieved this by designing such freaking awesome products.

Cheers Doug for raising this discussion, interesting thoughts from all.

almost 3 years ago

Clare DeTamble

Clare DeTamble, Director at Paragram Digital

Sure, Apple may not have focussed on producing online content which engages with their customers' issues and concerns. But some of their 'off page' activities, such as the Genius Bar, offer service, engagement and 'thought leadership' of a sort which other companies have consistently failed to deliver. The result? A customer base which receives good service in person, and takes the web to celebrate it. Digital marketing may be hot but Apple have clearly recognised that there's nothing like the personal touch of great face-to-face service, which, as a content marketing strategy in its own right, clearly holds a considerable amount of weight with their customers.

This being said, I'm not a MAC user and probably never will be.

Clare DeTamble

almost 3 years ago

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Robyn Seider

@Jim...I totally agree with you. Apple have a strong following and a strong product and they don't need to do much to convince people. I also agree with the above comment that if they did it would almost create panic.

Apple is such a strong universally known and recognised brand that pretty much sells itself these days.The way its packaged and marketed its become not only a status thing, but a fashion accessory too.

almost 3 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

Great piece Doug - great content marketing about content marketing ;)

Some thoughts in response:

1. I've always said that one of the biggest shifts the internet has brought about is a transparency between how good a product really is (or isn't) and the marketing around it. It used to be that good marketing could save a mediocre product. I doubt very much outstanding content marketing could rescue a poor product? So Apple's focus on product, as opposed to content marketing, makes sense.

2. I agree with various others who've chosen to interpret 'content' quite broadly as pretty much any experience, including the product itself. Apple do 'retail theatre' very well. They do 'product experience' very well (packaging etc). Arguably this is all 'content'. Though I take your point that if you take it that broadly then it isn't a very helpful term. Not wanting to ruin your business USP, or an entire content category for us, but it is possible that 'content marketing' isn't a discipline that will/should survive separately. But let's not go there for now ;)

3. Whilst product might be more fundamentally important than its associated 'content' perhaps a content focus actually has a longer 'shelf life' than product? Perhaps it's actually a less risky business strategy to go big on content rather than the product?

Think about Red Bull. The content is fantastic. The product? It's not that nice and there are loads of copies that taste pretty much the same if you want a taurine hit? Probably true for the likes of Nike too (not that they'd agree of course)? But with Apple's lack of "content" and reliance of genius products what happens when the products stop amazing us? How quickly do we turn against them?

I fear this is happening now to Apple? I have an iPhone but would now choose an Android device (because swipe hardware advantage has gone and I prefer Google-based tech ecosystem). I have an iPad at home but now barely ever use it (Kindle + phone do it for me).

And come to think of it I find iTunes hard to use (compared, say, to Spotify). And Apple's T&Cs are ridiculous. And the software bloated...

And... I seem to be bashing Apple now? How can that be? How can it become acceptable to even say anything bad about the hallowed Apple? Maybe because their product excellence is faltering and they have no 'content' based safety net?

4. By not doing 'content', and particularly the 'social' parts, does it not come across as arrogance?

We all know Steve Jobs was arrogant. But he was a genius. So you can get away with it. But what happens when chinks start to show in your genius armour and there is no content to plug the gaps?

So perhaps doing content marketing is also a brand position which is broadly about 'contributing', about 'taking part', about 'joining in the conversation', all of which are pretty fundamental to the web and society.

Obviously Apple aren't known for their 'open web' ethos. And, of all the companies that I can think of, Apple are the least generous/most secretive when it comes to sharing any insights about digital/e-commerce/marketing. I'll eat my hat if an Apple representative responds to this thread ;)

You wonder...if Apple had *ALSO* done content marketing would they have been even more successful? Would they now have had more of a 'goodwill cushion' to fall back on? Should they now do content marketing to shore up their brand perception?

almost 3 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

Thanks Ashley -- your comment is better than my post.
My response:

1. I totally agree, the best content marketing in the world won't rescue a crap product (in fact it might accelerate it's demise). And a world=beating product will overcome even the worst marketing (content or otherwise).

2. I agree all things are content (which is why I hate the word). But not all content is content marketing. I still maintain that Apple doesn't do content marketing -- it just does fantastically effective marketing (in the broadest sense of the term: finding a need and filling it profitably).

(And no, it doesn't hurt my feelings to say that Content marketing probably won't survive as a term -- it may just dissolve into marketing. Digital marketing may go this way too.)

3. Great point about investing in content for long-term brand equity. Some categories (like Red Bull) have very little scope for product differentiation -- it's sugar water with caffeine. Content is their only play.

Apple must stand and fall by their ability to innovate. They've had three category-creating winners in a row -- unheard of in business history. I wouldn't bet they could do it again and again (though I'd love it if they could).

(BTW - as a confirmed Mac user it's my duty to report you and your anti-Apple comments to the Cupertino branch of the NSA. Who am I kidding -- they already know.)

4. Another really interesting thought. I do think Apple's non-particiaption in the social/content conversation is arrogant and will bite them in the arse.

Not as badly as RyanAir's contempt for their customers will (if there's a God).

almost 3 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

@Doug

Digital marketing won't survive as a term?! What will happen to Econsultancy?! Luckily we've already reconciled ourselves to this ;) As you know the first draft our Manifesto for Modern Marketing (http://econsultancy.com/blog/62668-our-modern-marketing-manifesto-will-you-sign) had Digital in it and we took it out.

On RyanAir... funnily enough my first draft comment featured Michael O'Leary. Everyone seems to be just gagging for the day that RyanAir doesn't do as well as it clearly has to date (financially). This can't be an ideal position for a company/brand to be in?

Did you see that Channel 4 program about RyanAir which essentially portrayed them as taking risks with passengers' lives? RyanAir are suing (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-23686678).

What amazed me, for a channel like Channel 4, is that a program could be aired that was so clearly targeting a single company. Not whether low cost airlines might be taking risks but that specifically RyanAir was. I could only think that when they all sat round the table to ask 'are we really going to air this very serious attack?' the executive response must have been 'of course, everyone hates RyanAir so it serves them right'.

And it's true I've never heard anyone who has a good word to say about RyanAir (me included). Perhaps if their "content marketing" was better (less slagging off of customers by the CEO) then things would be much/even rosier for them?

almost 3 years ago

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Anna Corp

But it hasn’t yet figured out that people really don’t care about products.

But they do. People really, really care about Apple products.

almost 3 years ago

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Anna Corp

@Dominic Rodgers

The 1984 ad was directed by Ridley Scott!

almost 3 years ago

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Rossy

its designed to help manage and streamline the tactical execution of content marketing in a B2B environment....that is most helpful!!!

over 2 years ago

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James Dunford

Frankly, another article which isn't worth the page it's on (and yes, I know it's designed to spark controversy).

Define content marketing? Creating content related to your industry/product, which (at the end of the day) will increase salaes.

I'm not sure if we're talking about the same company, but as far as I'm concerned - creating several videos, having infogrpahicy-type stats, imagery and a chunk of informative text about a product is exactly what content marketing is..!

http://www.apple.com/uk/ipad-mini/features/

over 2 years ago

Peter Meinertzhagen

Peter Meinertzhagen, Digital Marketing Manager at Zest Digital

@James Dunford

"and yes, I know it's designed to spark controversy" - as is your comment!

You are right, their product pages are rich with content. But that isn't content marketing. Likewise, if a company had a blog, that in itself isn't content marketing.

The point is that outside of the content they have, Apple are not adopting many of the content marketing best practices we are seeing discussed more and more these days. It takes much more than producing some content to say you are content marketing.

over 2 years ago

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Stephen Wilson, Owner at Stephen Wilson Design Limited

Apple could send out a picture of a potato and people would click on it.

It will be interesting to see if Apple ever adopt a content marketing strategy if the rumours are true and Apple are losing favour with the buying public.

What's really frustrating is that Apple probably have an incredible amount of data on me/my buying habits yet I continue to get emails about educational discounts etc... Maybe it's all the pirated educational software I've been downloading ;-)

over 2 years ago

Anthony Leaton

Anthony Leaton, Freelance at Emarketing Manager

Sorry, but this very thought provoking subject just lead no-where. No food for thought nor insight.

over 2 years ago

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