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What can brands learn from Apple’s "courageous" iPhone changes?

15th Sep 2016

It could be argued that Apple has experienced a ‘shock’ in recent months. iPhone sales have dropped for two quarters in a row and this is the first time in the company’s almost 10-year history that that has happened. The company is also facing increased competition from companies like Samsung and HTC.

In a bid to rekindle sales, Apple unveiled its new iPhone 7 device last week. The headlines focused on Apple’s decision to remove the headphone jack and the launch of new AirPods that Apple has created to replace headphones, which connect to the iPhone wirelessly. It was a bold move.

Courage comes from listening to your customers

Apple is making a mark by ditching a key component across numerous tech devices, and it calls the decision ‘courageous’. Apple executive Phil Schiller said during the iPhone 7's debut: "The reason to move on really comes down to one word: courage. The courage to move on and do something new that betters all of us."

It’s likely the shock of encroaching competitors and falling sales that has prompted Apple to make radical changes to its device as they seek to reengage customers. When a business embarks on an innovation process, it is often because they have been spurred into action by an external event. This ‘shock’ is the mandate for change and can be the turning point for the business, where they are spurred into making significant changes to their customer experience.

Apple has traditionally removed old tech before other tech players, claiming to know what people want before they know they want it. For example, Apple was first to remove floppy discs and CD drives from their computers. In the long run, it’s worked for them to make changes to the way we use technology and people have integrated the ‘Apple way’ into their lives. Who’d have thought we’d be mixing a music device with a telephone?

They may be marketed as courageous but all of these changes boil down to Apple trying to improve the user experience they offer. John Lewis has already reported that sales of wireless headphones have climbed 60% when the device launched. However, it remains to be seen whether people will cut the cord for good.

A change from the norm must meet the needs of customers, otherwise people will revert back to the old experience and it will have been an expensive mistake. The company is left with new products or systems that are not appealing to the customer, they don’t work well and customers look to competitors or even the legacy systems they already use that serve their needs better. Any decision to reinvent a brand needs to derive from new customer needs.

What can brands learn from Apple’s decision?

The iPhone transformation process has a lot in common with digital transformation processes being facilitated at other companies. They must take a look at the point of vulnerability in their business and build solutions to these problems, as Apple has likely tried to do. By looking at the customer experience and working out how it could be improved through digital, whether that’s as simple as creating a mobile website or connecting a number of existing websites together, that allows them to impress customers and in turn, fend off competitors.

Brands need to be ‘courageous’ in order to facilitate change and ensure that the business keeps up with its customers’ needs.

People within a business do need to be ‘courageous’ in order to facilitate change within their company and to ensure that the business keeps up with its customers’ needs. It’s not possible to sit back, it takes somebody to champion the mandate for change and publicise the shock that could disrupt the company in the future. Being able to deliver an experience that matches fast changing customer expectations is the only way to capture consumer attention and continually succeed today.

Companies with the clearest mandates will succeed. Often the customer experience echoes their CEOs vision and the way that they run the company. For example, Virgin puts service first in whatever they do; their products are built around the customers and this links back to Richard Branson’s work culture.

Equally, at The Four Seasons everything is tailored to you, and whichever hotel you’re at, they remember. Critics question whether Apple is at its peak under Tim Cook, however he’s ensured that the company remains obsessed with innovation, introducing Apple Pay and securing a deal with China Mobile, opening a huge new market. It’s crucial that there are a number of champions within a business pushing the boundaries on how to keep customers engaged.

Pre-empt ‘shocks’ and use them as a mandate for change

Ultimately, if companies wait for a ‘shock’ to disrupt their business, by the time it comes it will be too late – the damage will have already been done. It’s likely that they will be displaced by another business who did respond to the shock before it happened. For example, Apple created Apple Music after Spotify. Think what a monopoly the brand would have had on the market if it had. Equally, HMV didn’t diversify into streaming and as result its presence on the high street has weakened dramatically.

If companies wait for a ‘shock’ to disrupt their business, by the time it comes it will be too late.

In order to foresee a shock businesses should either identify a real one that is approaching or alternatively manufacture one – a reason for transforming. For instance, CEOs have manufactured their results so that they can achieve great results the following year; fake pressure can be created for threats too.

You cannot embark on a digital transformation project without a reason and this reason needs to be realised, created, or unearthed. By lifting the lid on their internal processes and seeing what each and every moving part is doing, businesses can see where they might be at risk from a disruptor and will be able to adapt and evolve before they see an impact on their profits, or customer base.

Whilst this task exposes the business, it shines a light on ineffective and unsynchronised functions, making this the real mandate for change. As competition across the mobile marketplace continues to heat up, it will be interesting to see how consumers respond to the changes Apple has made to its device and reveal whether they identified the right pain point in the user experience.  

Stephen Morgan is co-founder of Squiz

Replies (3)

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By EJohn Morris
16th Sep 2016 08:13

A few questions here, how many Android users have switched to Apple as a result of the design change? Is this the biggest test of Apples customers loyalty? And how long before a bolt on headset adapter is created?

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Replying to EJohn Morris:
By Neil Davey
16th Sep 2016 10:11

Thanks for your message, John. I think you've highlighted some questions that everyone will be asking in the coming months.

But I do wonder if the matter of dropping the headphone jack has been over-egged considering that the new iPhones will be boxed with an adapter that allows customers to still use their headphone leads.

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By Blessed25
16th Sep 2016 13:52

If the stats from iPhone 6s are anything to go on, the switch rate is pretty high and getting higher:

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