On several occasions I’ve given kudos to Apple for their innovative marketing and communication strategies. But last week they got a black eye – at least temporarily – by ignoring their best customers and dropping the iPhone price by $200. To his credit, Steve Jobs paid attention to the outrage of the Apple legions and quickly backtracked with a post on the Apple website. But the most telling thing was not just the content of the letter – which was candid, informal and apparently from the heart – but that this critical message was posted on the corporate website. As my buddy Paul Walker points out on his blog, it’s suprising that a company as cutting edge as Apple does not have any robust two-way channels to engage in dialogue with its fans and customers. There are huge pockets and networks of Apple fans online – one might call them rabid or devoted – but those groups do not appear to be fully engaged by the company. (It appears, however, that Apple monitors all those sites and considered the collective feedback in its decision to adjust pricing.) As a result of this shortcoming many Apple fans presumably learned about the iPhone decision through the media or other blogs, rather than the Apple website.  Apple’s famous command-and-control marketing style – which works well to build buzz and media coverage for launches – can backfire badly in a potential crisis situation.  

If I was to judge Apple on the key elements of a successful online strategy:

  • Providing relevant and valuable content – B+ (plenty of good stuff, usually candid and responsive but can be cagey on occasion)
  • Listening to customers – B-  (solid effort but inefficient since using diffuse range of channels rather than centralized forum…management can appear arrogant and aloof)
  • Providing forum for active, ongoing conversations – D (where can you go to talk with Apple?)
  • Being good to fans – B- (iPhone price change was a mistake but Jobs moved quickly to make amends)