Steve Jobs-Marketing Genius?


The death of Steve Jobs brought endless attention to his legacy. Probably few can emulate his impact on our world.

But was he a marketing genius?

On one hand, he had to be. Look at any Consumer Reports computer review and see the rankings and prices of desktops and laptops. There are PC’s that rank almost as high as those sold by Apple at half the price. But there are millions of us who will buy a Mac every time. Why?

It took me a while to shake the perception of Mac owners as childless, upper income snobs who celebrated their ability to own Apple products while the rest of us chose our affordable, functional PC’s.

I felt the same way when a friend drove a Lexus while I drove a Jeep. “My Lexus is rated as one of the top cars in the world,” my friend would say. My thoughts, “Well you moron, you just paid three times as much for a vehicle that essentially does the same thing as mine.” The same analogy can be applied to the Apple/PC wars.

But now I type this on my MacBook Pro. While commuting to D.C. I listen to my iPod touch (one of the great inventions of our time) and talk to my wife on her iPhone. We both agree that our next desktop will be a Mac. We made these decisions based on the legendary reliability, simplicity and outstanding service offered by Apple.

But I teach public relations and answer PR questions and I encounter people who consider Jobs a marketing mastermind.

People make the mistake of seeing successful people or concepts and think they can and should emulate them. That’s a very big mistake.

The media has rules of engagement. They know that some politicians will stretch the truth to the breaking point (but that’s what some politicians do). Reporters don’t go for the jugular; they expect a level of opinion-based information.

People and organizations get passes by the media and rather than create a list of others who get favorable treatment, let’s just admit that Steve and Apple got favorable consideration.

But I listen to tech podcasts every day and every day up to his death, the guest and hosts bashed Steve Jobs. They celebrated his genius but lambasted his personal and public relations skills.

Steve didn’t do focus groups. In fact, one commentator recently stated that the day Apple does focus groups; Apple would cease to be Apple. Really? You don’t listen to your customers? Let’s apply that principle to our Presidents. “I know what the people want,” states President X. “Just let me decide. Hell, the people don’t know what they want anyway.”

Steve wrote really nasty e-mails back to customers with criticisms (which were read aloud during the podcasts).

Steve was so paranoid of media that he handpicked favorite mainstream reporters and barred anyone from Apple events that dared to say anything negative. He avoided tech reporters.

There were endless other negative comments that were repeated during the podcasts but the three mentioned are enough. You get the picture.

Steve Jobs “was” a design and technical whiz kid who created a company with legendary (and pricy) products and customer service.

But anyone claiming Jobs to be a marketing genius is flat-out wrong. He did a lot of things that would get just about anyone else fired or his company or agency pilloried by the press.

There are politicians who stretch the truth. There are sports and entertainment figures who can say the silliest things. All escape harsh media repercussions because, quite frankly, the expiations are low.

But when your child spends the day playing with his iPad and your husband spends his evening editing family video on a Mac and when your iPhone gets you to your destination, you as a mainstream reporter tend to give Mr. Jobs a pass.

But for the rest of us, we had dammed better listen to our customers and take the time to interact with them respectively. We better respect the press and treat all fairly. It’s professional death not to.

Steve Jobs had a huge impact on our lives and we should be endlessly grateful for his contributions.

But for those representing government and companies, the PR legacy of Steve Jobs should not be emulated.

Best, Len.

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