He changed the world. It might seem overblown to say that about a man who started off building computers in a garage, but there is no denying Steve Jobs' impact if you take a careful look at his career path. Individuals and companies across the globe have borrowed from Jobs’ playbook over the years.
The following is an excerpt from the 3Q 2007 edition of Credit Union Strategy and Performance (CUSP), where we highlight how credit unions can incorporate the ideas and strategies that made Jobs an American icon. Click here for the full feature.
Differentiation – Not Everyone Wants The Same Flavor
In a world where computers could have simply become a commodity, Job’s and the Apple team veered in the other direction, developing a product that appealed to specific segments of the personal computer customer base. America was introduced to the Macintosh computer through the groundbreaking Super Bowl commercial “1984.” This new computer with a graphical user interface was easily accessible to everyone – not just those who could type code.
From the beginning, Jobs set out to create a new market and fill that market demand with Apple products. Starting back with their original graphic interface, Macs became the computer of choice for graphic designers and artists. Working to those strengths, they developed programs that appealed to those qualities.
Additionally, ease of use became a differentiator. The first iMacs, released in 1998, were designed to be taken out of the box, plugged in and ready to use in less than five minutes. Jobs and Apple continued to make this ease of use part of each new version and product released.
Sometimes, It’s The Outside That Counts
Let’s be honest: it’s difficult to tell one microchip from another. As for programming code, for many it remains as elusive as an ancient language. However, the eye can easily discern the difference between a regular PC and iMac or an MP3 player and an iPod. For many consumers, it’s not so much what’s inside the product, but the way it’s presented.
Design aesthetic is a crucial part of the Apple formula. In fact, some detractors say the sleek design and appearance are the key selling factors for many Apple products, appealing to the technocrati and fashionistas with the shallow sell first, then hooking them with innovative technology and features.
The look and feel of the Apple products practically drives consumer expectations, and Jobs and his crew continued to push the boundaries. As imitators struggled to reach the market with clickwheel clones, Apple took the next step by launching the touchpad on the iPhone and the iPod touch. And despite the fact our current iPods and cell phones still work just fine, many of us line up in order to get the new versions ... just because they look so darn cool.
The iPod and iTunes legitimized the digital music revolution. Before their product introduction, digital music was mostly illegal file sharing and MP3 players were clunky devices. With the introduction of the iPod in 2001 and iTunes in 2003, Jobs wound up doing for digital music what Apple and the Mac did for personal computer in the 1980s and 1990s.
The demand for digital music is an avalance started and maintained by Apple. Retailers like Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Rhapsody struggled for a portion of the marketplace in which they can compete, and while devices like Microsoft’s Zune failed to find a loyal fanbase. While not the first MP3 player to hit the market, Jobs’ iPod became the standard bearer by which everything else is compared.
The word "iPod" is well on it’s way to replacing the term “MP3 player" in the American lexicon, following the path of “Xerox” for photocopying and “Google” for conducting a search on the Internet. After all, they don’t call them “MP3-casts.”
The Writing On The Wall
Steve Jobs also knew when it was time for a change. After 30 years of being Apple Computer, Inc., the company officially changed its name to Apple Inc. in January 2007. This change reflected Apple’s growing presence in the broader consumer electronics marketplace. Now computers are just one facet, alongside portable media players and mobile phones, in an ever-expanding business plan.
Naysayers gleefully highlighted flaws in the iPhone. Detractors called Apple’s stock “over-valued.” Still, every year when Apple’s annual Macworld Conference and Expo drew closer, the whispers began: “What’s Steve got up his sleeve this year?”
Everyone paid attention to what Steve Jobs had to say.
Five Lessons From Jobs For Credit Unions
In a financial services marketplace dominated by banks, is there a segment looking for different products or services? How can a credit union distinguish itself to the customer/member?
Superior rates, service, and benefits are not always easy to understand. Is there an attractive “packaging” that can catch a potential member’s eye and get them in the door?
Partnerships and side ventures (like CUSOs) not only serve as networking and problem-solving opportunities, but they can also be very successful sources of revenue.
Credit unions could benefit from a new unique product/service that other financial institutions cannot offer. Current consumer struggles with mortgages and credit cards could be the opportunity to introduce a new market-defining opportunity.
While a well known brand is valuable, it’s important that your brand reflect your total identity and offerings ─ not just the original ones.