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So many people’s default example of marketing excellence is still Apple.

Whether it’s brand loyalty or organisational purpose, up bobs the same case history time after time. And plenty still reference the launch of the Macintosh in 1984 and Ridley Scott’s famous Orwellian film.

So it was interesting to watch an interview recently with Andy Cunningham. She worked with Steve Jobs on the Macintosh launch when she was at Regis McKenna, Apple’s marketing and PR consultancy.

In there was a fascinating description of how the positioning of the Macintosh was actually developed. Originally, the idea was to position it as the computer for “the rest of us in business”, with the intention of competing head-on with IBM and its PC.

The launch on January 24th 1984 at the De Anza Center, with the first showing of the ‘1984’ commercial, was, as she says, “a beautiful moment”. It was also a moment that convinced her that kind of positioning really worked.

The only thing is it didn’t. Macintosh was not a success at first. The computer was expensive, the software limited. The ambition of replacing the IBM PC quickly looked ridiculously over-ambitious.

So, along with others, Andy had another think. After a while, they discovered something interesting, that there was “a little bit of a cult personality in this computer and that certain people thought this computer was really cool.” In other words, it marked them out as being different.

It also showed a potential strategy of getting into business through the back door, through creative people.

She goes on to talk about how much Apple has changed since Steve Jobs died. “The company is really now about building products with great features”. There’s plenty of evidence of this on the Apple corporate website, where the mission statement is given as:

“Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.”

Much as I like my iMac, MacBook Pro, iPhone and iPad, as a mission staement it’s hardly inspiring, is it? Maybe the real one is hidden away in Apple Park.

What I find most interesting in all of this is not the decline in Apple’s missionary zeal. It’s not even the difficulty of maintaining a positioning built on having a different view of the world. It’s the fact that, as is often the case, the optimum strategy wasn’t formulated but discovered.

That often means having more than one go. Your first good idea isn’t necessarily going to work.

And the insight within the Macintosh rethink was discovered in the only way possible, by identifying the real target and then getting to understand their deeper motivations.

Because there is a real truth in the desire of those with an artistic bent to see themselves as different to the rest of us. If you want to annoy an artist, tell them everyone’s an artist.

So whilst it may be true that no one ever got fired for choosing IBM, no one choosing IBM ever got to hang out with the cool kids either.

One last thing. I have this fantasy that it’s back in 1983 and I get this brief from a rapidly-growing computer company on the West Coast of America with a mercurial boss. They’re developing this revolutionary new personal computer but they’re stuck on how to position it to business customers.

In this ideal world, I manage to persuade this boss with the withering look to take a need-led approach to the challenge. Research is conducted, a Need Map built and an opportunity identified in the state of Independence - the desire to know your own mind, to go your own way, to be the rebel, the maverick. To think differently.

And the tension within this need is obvious, I conclude. IBM are after world domination. They’re trying to control us. It’s like they’re Big Brother or something.

Pay me in Apple stock, Steve, that’ll be fine.

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