Jun 24, 2005

iPods and Apple Brand Loyalty

As I've written a number of times before, I'm an ardent Apple user with a few bones to pick with Apple. I love my iBook, but hated it when the motherboard freaked out on me, twice. I think that the iPod is a brilliant little machine (and shrewd/maverick business decision), but I don't own one and can't stand how prevalent they are in the subways and on the streets of New York (and even in the not-so-hip laundromat in Brooklyn where I'm writing this, there are at least 3 4 5 people with those damn white earbuds).

I think that it has been quite a coup for the little Apple who could to make such a dent in the market, take over a relatively new genre of portable music, and make even peecee users have to tote around a piece of Apple cool. Still, it bothers me that there are so many peecee users among the Apple faithful, and they aren't clearly identifiable. If I were Steve Jobs, I would have found some way to identify which iPods are connected to Apple users. I would make it more hip to be an Apple user (either through some specific connection or option that is not available for peecee users, or some radical and lustworthy color that only Apple users could access). Why would I do this? Thanks for asking!

1) Brand loyalty should be rewarded. Apple users have been a sad, down-trodden, and sulky bunch over the years of fat, decline, and confused product lines. Many took a lot of hits as Pentium-powered boxes seemed to zoom far and away, Windows seemed to be in facelift and reengineering mode, and Apple's market share seemed less likely than a prudent Bush energy plan. The prices of Macs during the dark years didn't really justify that intangible cool factor as they did in the beginning, and in the recent history of the brand. A special Apple-only feature would be a nice thank you.

2) Apple users should be envied.
There are a lot of folks who have dished it out over the years to the aforementioned loyal user base. They should at least see that membership in this small cohort of fanatics at last has some reward. Additionally, why should everyone be recognized to have coolness equity when there are folks who may have a cooler Apple product at home?

3) Really make others want to buy Apple computers.
You are already trying to appeal to them by making the iMac G5 look like a giant iPod anyway. Go the extra distance. Through Throw in a special edition Apple-only iPod with the purchase of a Mac as a real incentive. After all, Mr. Jobs, if you're so confident about the product eventually selling itself (or at least the ability of high-end technology companies to lock folks into brand loyalty as a result of pigheadedness, the need to believe they made the right choice, and perpetual investment in proprietary peripherals)2, you should just sweeten the deal to get folks to buy the whole package. And it is also a nice way, again, to thank fans of the brand who will inevitably buy new Macs anyway (and perhaps an easier way to get them to upgrade and move forward in the world).

4) Build a community of users outside of the regular geek channels.
Okay, I admit it. I look more favorably upon Mac/Apple users than peecee users. It's just a fact. Maybe I'm secretly harboring a love-hate fascination with the white color scheme and have to check into race-envy counseling. Though white people aren't really white, and are actually peach in hue. But that's a different conversation altogether, right? Anyway, wouldn't it be great for fellow Apple users to know one another from some clear identifier in their iPod? After all, if the burden of the personal computing revolution will rest upon the shoulders of the lowly footuser1 shouldn't they be able to quickly identify and build alliances with others of like mind and consumer urges?

Of course, the only real way this could happen would be some change in the Apple user's headphones, since iPod possession is announced to the world by the ubiquitous white earbuds. How about wireless headphones/earbuds with the Apple logo clearly visible? That would be pretty cool. Dangerous, and potentially carcinogenic, but cool. While we're offering unsolicited (and unrewarded) design ideas, how about making the earbuds Bluetooth-enabled, with an efficient mechanism to switch between phone and iPod. Hell - make the damn iPod into a phone so that I can use any of my 1,000 songs that I bought in one way or another as a ringtone instead of making me fork over more money for a favorite tune. But I digress.

Or, as another idea, how about plugging in some Apple-only options for (dot)Mac subscribers? You'd probably have a lock for subscribers if you can score some content for them that is only accessible through the (dot)Mac interface (how about weekly podcasts of live shows that expire, but can be burned to disk at least once?). Reward the Apple base, converts, and true music fans. Bring the music closer to them and open up new ways of thinking about content.

Basically, I'm just thinking that it would be really cool if Apple had found some way to reward and truly grow the base of Apple computer users. It's disheartening to know how many people are so proud of their latest-model iPods but would never consider trying a Mac, and how many folks there are (myself included) who are saving their pennies and dollars to pick up a copy of Tiger.

Maybe the ideology of base-building feels out of place in a free market setting, but I think that Apple has used the rhetoric and images of revolutionary thinkers for long enough that perhaps I started to believe that there was some substance behind the sell.

[1] Using military terminology doesn't appeal to me (as my refusal to use "Ground Zero" to narrowly define the space of the WTC attests), so this is the best I can do to replace the "footsoldier" that seems to fit here.

[2] See Sony Memory Stick, the DVD wars, and miscellaneous other scams.

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