6 Essential Brand Turnaround Lessons from Apple's Legendary Turnaround

As anxious techies wait in line for the iPhone X, one can’t help but think about Apple’s insanely successful marketing and communications.

The reinvention of Apple has to be one of the biggest corporate turnarounds in history. After Steve Jobs was forced out in the late 90’s, the brand went through several product flops, including the Newton Message Pod and the Macintosh Portable, a laptop so heavy, you couldn’t rest it on an airplane table. It became clear to both Wall Street and consumers that Jobs had been the creative force behind the company’s previous success.

Indeed, once Jobs stepped back into his role as CEO, the brand bounced back.

Communications strategist Cameron Craig spent a decade with Apple and witnessed the turnaround first hand. He believes Jobs’ approach to internal and external communications can be applied to any business looking to reignite interest in its brand.

Below are key takeaways from Job’s masterful reinvention of Apple:

Keep it simple.

Marketing and communications professionals often over complicate the message. Messages about your company need to be relatable and repeatable.

As Craig recalls, “We used short words, and short sentences that were packed with emotion. Steve liked to say, if a ‘mere mortal’ could not understand our communications, we had failed.”

Try writing your brand’s messaging like you were communicating to an 10 year-old child. To help you avoid complex words and long sentences, try free readability tests you can find on the Internet.

Another option is to use Google Translate to hear how your words sound devoid of emotion. “If a robot can say what you need to get across and it’s still interesting, you’re onto something,” said Craig.

Cultivate influencers.

Because technology journalists had been the toughest critics on any new product Apple introduced, the company took a different approach. Instead of prioritizing traditional technology media, it expanded its media outreach to include lifestyle, fashion and design editors to make the brand appear cooler than its competitors.

“Focus on a small number of influencers,” Craig advises. “Make them feel special and appreciated and your success rate will increase.”

Cherry pick your announcements.

If you constantly bother the media with trivial news, they’ll stop listening. Apple’s PR team used press releases sparingly, reserving them for only the most important news. This helped earn the media’s trust.

Reporters quickly learned that when Apple came to them with an announcement, the company had something important to say.

Get hands-on. 

“It may surprise people to learn that Steve Jobs read and approved every single press release,” Craig recalls. The best companies understand the importance of positioning, messaging, and picking the perfect time to launch.

Apple was hands-on from the CEO down. As David Packard of Hewlett-Packard famously said, “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing people.”

Get the bugs out in advance.

One important lesson Craig learned from Jobs was never to drop a pitch or launch a product and just “see how it goes.” If you’ve got a problem, solve it before it goes public. Apple’s marketing, engineering and sales department worked closely together to keep product launches under wraps.

In fact, Apple’s launch preparations were so secretive, the launches themselves became Silicon Valley folklore. The intrigue keeps people waiting in line for new versions of the iPhone to this day.

Motivate from the outside In.

Jobs had to instill a sense of belief in Apple’s employees before the company could pull off a turnaround. Apple had weathered a tough few years and workers were leaving in droves for higher paying jobs with Apple’s competitors.

One of the first projects Jobs worked on when he returned to Apple was the iconic Think Different brand campaign. While Think Different won a lot of awards and is thought of as one of the greatest ad campaigns of all time, Craig said its biggest impact is what it did inside Apple.

“The one thing Think Different didn’t feature was a product,” Craig recalls. “We didn’t have one. That would take years and lots of work. But in 46 seconds of black and white footage, with no new product or news, Steve essentially traded air for belief in Apple’s future.”

As Craig notes, “Transformative communication should always work from the outside in.” The campaign resonated with the people Jobs needed most, the dedicated employees, who would give up nights and weekends to help him rebuild Apple.

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