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The Apple Marketing Philosophy

Michael Robert

In the early 1980s, design was a niche profession, and "design thinking," a process that emphasized empathy with user needs, hadn't been fully articulated yet. But Mike Markkula--one of the first investors in Apple, one of the first grown-ups to work there, and another father figure to Jobs--managed to anticipate lessons that were decades away from being in common circulation. He was the one that wrote "The Apple Marketing Philosophy," a memo that you can think of as the fundamental DNA of Apple over three decades:

Markkula wrote his principles in a one-page paper titled "The Apple Marketing Philosophy" that stressed three points.

The first was empathy, an intimate connection with the feelings of the customer: "We will truly understand their needs better than any other company."

The second was focus: "In order to do a good job of those things that we decide to do, we must eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities."

The third and equally important principle, awkwardly named, was impute. It emphasized that people form an opinion about a company or product based on the signals that it conveys. "People DO judge a book by its cover," he wrote. "We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software, etc; if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; it we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities."

In the context of the time, the idea of consumer empathy is truly remarkable. Keep in mind: If you wanted to find superb consumer electronics, you mostly looked to Japan. There, the attitude that prevailed for so many decades was that devices shouldn't be designed for consumers; if they didn't get them, it was their fault. It was that idea that led to so many bloated and weird Sony and Panasonic products over the years. Another thing to remember: Markkula is talking about consumer empathy before Apple even really has consumers! This is before the Macintosh, before the graphic user interface, and before the mouse. This was during a time when the people who used computers were freakishly engaged hobbyists. Their threshold for accepting a products quirks and flaws was enormous, and most computer makers took that for granted.

Not Markkula, not Apple, and not Jobs. The idea of understanding a consumer's needs before they actually needed what Apple was making has remained a hallmark of the company throughout its history. The idea of empathizing with a consumer before a market was even developed set Apple on the path of perpetually looking forward to find how people would behave.

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