How Apple MacBook Air clearly defines the ‘problem’

So what’s super-unique about the Macbook Air?
It’s the ‘world’s thinnest notebook.’

And the advertisement very clearly defines the problem with a simple, arresting display.
Defining the problem needn’t be complex. If you are clear about the problem you’re solving, then it’s just a matter of props to get the message across.

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The Brain Audit Version 3.2: Releasing on July 1, 2008. Watch this space for details.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Sean

What’s very, very interesting, is not just the visuals, but the background lyrics about being a new soul in a strange world, and trying to work out what is good and what’s fake.

So the “problem” is working at two levels. The visual level, as well as the auditory level. Now that’s what I call a really smart ad.

Perry

Sean, I have to agree. I saw the full ad on Apple’s website yesterday. It had me literally drooling over it although I already have a 13″ MacBook that is already quite small and works really well for me.

The visuals are outstanding by themselves. And the spokesman (supposedly right out of an Apple Store) is totally believable.

It’s the right mixture of elements all blended to create desire. It works for me. Hopefully it will work for them too.

Sean

What’s important is the detail that’s going into creating a simplistic message. Now when you look at the Brain Audit, and how it’s core purpose is to create a powerful, enduring message–and when you look at the Apple ad, and see how the computer fits into a manila envelope, you know that someone has been thinking. And thinking hard.

Instead of stupid ads, this is an ad that literally analyses the problem, the uniqueness, and shows you the solution in a dramatic, compelling way.

This is what most companies and marketers are unable to do. Unable to get the message across in a compelling way.

With the Macbook Air the signature story is the manila envelope. With the Brain Audit it’s the conveyor belt. Simple. Effective. And very transferable as a concept.

That should be the core of all marketing and advertising.

Mackay Rippey

Apple has created a niche they can own, the world’s thinnest laptop. Brilliant! Then they go out and create a problem. Thick laptops. Thin is sexy. Always has been, always will be.

You can never be to thin, too rich or too powerful, the old saying goes and I guess that holds true for computers.

My 16 year daughter saw the ad today and also drooled over it. If a 16 year old girl is excited about it, they hit the fashion sweet spot.

Sean

Apple has created a niche they can own, the world’s thinnest laptop. Brilliant! Then they go out and create a problem. Thick laptops. Thin is sexy. Always has been, always will be.

You can never be to thin, too rich or too powerful, the old saying goes and I guess that holds true for computers.

My 16 year daughter saw the ad today and also drooled over it. If a 16 year old girl is excited about it, they hit the fashion sweet spot.

Yes, that’s what the Pentium did. It took a perfectly good 486 and made it pretty fuddy-duddy.
And now Apple is doing this to laptops. At 10+pounds, my HP PC looks like a dumbbell. 🙂

John

Another key here is that, even though Sony had a “thin” laptop, Apple has gone out on a limb with the World’s *Thinnest* Laptop.

This sort of thing only works once, but now Apple has claimed that spot in the customer’s mind with the MacBook Air.

So even if Sony comes out with another thin laptop, it will be very hard to break the association with Apple = thinnest.

But it doesn’t end there – In the keynote Jobs was able to DEMONSTRATE that the thickest part of the Air is thinner than the thinnest part of Sony’s laptop.

That’s demonstration and uniqueness all wrapped up with a bow.

Sean

But it doesn’t end there – In the keynote Jobs was able to DEMONSTRATE that the thickest part of the Air is thinner than the thinnest part of Sony’s laptop.

Didn’t know that Jobs went to that much trouble, because I didn’t see the demonstration, but I can see they’re taking their ‘thinnest’ label quite seriously.

Adrew

It’s pretty clear what Apple have done on this and why they’ve done it.

They want to get the tagline, “world’s thinnest notebook” out there.
That makes headlines everywhere.
It gets people talking.
It generates buzz.

Could we also be looking at an intentionally designed halo model?
ie. It has no target demographic, it’s just sexy as hell and designed to get people interested in the idea of a Mac.

Chuck Green

Apple’s products and its advertising are deceptively simple. They obviously wrestle with all of the same complexities their competitors do but go the extra step to boils the packaging and messages down to simple and understandable terms.

The orchestration and execution of it is, to me, is far more difficult to perfect than the normal technology marketing most of the world does. I believe that is why they have remained competitive in a market that should have gobbled them up years ago. Beautiful stuff.

Joe

Well I’m going to be the devil’s advocate here.

What’s so great about such a thin laptop? It doesn’t even have an optical drive to be able to load software and it’s performance poorer than their current models.

My slant on Apple’s marketing is they are very good at targeting, they know their customers and focus on what they want. Mainly something to make them feel good and special, a little outside the box and definitely not mainstream. It’s a Mac thing.

By the way don’t throw out you old mac book because you can share it’s optical drive with your new air. (they’ve thought of everything lol)

Oh well back to my Dell and brown coat!

Sean

Well I’m going to be the devil’s advocate here.

What’s so great about such a thin laptop? It doesn’t even have an optical drive to be able to load software and it’s performance poorer than their current models.

My slant on Apple’s marketing is they are very good at targeting, they know their customers and focus on what they want.

And that’s exactly what we’re discussing. The way they’ve targeted their customers; the way they’ve brought to life a problem that didn’t exist before (now all other laptops are fat ;)) We’re not evaluating their software or hardware here. What we’re evaluating is how they remove each bag (as described in the Brain Audit). And how they do it extremely skillfully.

Joe

I understand Sean, the ad is clever, However I find this is an example of how targeting can polarize a market.

As a whole customers are quite well informed and undertake a reasonable amount research before they purchase a high involvement product like a laptop.

Mac is a cult and Mac owners are passionate about being Mac owners and gobble their products up with a passion. I agree Apple are really good at targeting their customers.

On the other hand pragmatic types will look at the performance / value mix when making a decision and for these potential customers there are bags still left on the conveyor and won’t convert.

The points I’d like to raise are:

Can you be too narrow in targeting?
Can hiding or disguising a product’s weaknesses ultimately do more harm than good?
As marketers how would you counter the MacBook Air?

Kay

Can you hear all the teens out there begging for this product? I can. It will be a status symbol. Students everywhere will be either proud that they own one or disappointed that they don’t.

Sean D'Souza

Mac is a cult and Mac owners are passionate about being Mac owners and gobble their products up with a passion. I agree Apple are really good at targeting their customers.

Spot on target.
The question is ‘who do you sell rosaries to?’ And the answer is obvious. What Apple does is make their products extremely appealing to their very tiny customer base.

They have to, otherwise Apple would be out of business.

The Mac has always been several steps ahead of the PC, in terms of style, innovation as well as software. I am and have been a PC owner for well over 20 years, and have never owned a Mac. But I can tell you, if I were on the Mac side, despite the ‘flaws’ I’d be looking at buying new products. The lure of new products often outweighs the sensible buy.

On the other hand pragmatic types will look at the performance / value mix when making a decision and for these potential customers there are bags still left on the conveyor and won’t convert.

Yes, and no. You and I may be very pragmatic, and we know inherently when we’re buying a product that there’s going to be another product around the corner. Yet we’ll still buy. For example: I bought an SLR camera last year that cost well over $1000. I knew that in 3 months, I’d get a far superior model for the same (or lesser price), but for me, the lure to own the product ‘now’ was too great. This is the case with a lot of technology. Windows will come up with bugs in its Operating System every single time. And yet, we’ve seen the queues of people who line up to buy Windows 97, Windows XP and now Windows Vista. A lot of these folks are actually smarter than the average buyer. And far more technical. But the lure of the early buy, of being the the ‘early adopter’, far outweighs the need to wait till the best product comes along.

Sean

The points I’d like to raise are:

Can you be too narrow in targeting?

Well, that question is difficult, because there are lots of ramifications to consider. So when you say: Can you be too narrow in targeting, we have to consider the following:
1) The target size (approximately)
2) The propensity to buy product/services.
3) The goals of the company selling the product/services.
4) The positioning of the product.

1) The target size is important, because you can work with extremely small numbers. At Psychotactics.com, for instance, we generate most of our revenue from a pool of less than 300 people. Now to most marketers, less than 300 is a laughable audience. But it works exceedingly well for us, and it’s what we teach in our Website Masterclass Series (How to work with tiny numbers and generate very healthy profits). So a target size is important, but not as important as most marketers think. Target size is based on consumption. The higher the consumption rate, the less you need to have bigger audiences. (See: http://www.psychotactics.com/artconsumption.htm to read more on this topic)

2) The propensity to buy: The propensity to buy product is yet again, based on consumption. If the customer consumes the earlier product, then the chances of using the next one is far greater. For instance, I barely used my Nike-Philips mp3 player. I hated the damn thing, even though it was the coolest thing when it came out (I bought three of them, I was so smitten). But the iPod is so easy to use. Everything from the local iTunes software to the store, to the boundless number of podcasts, both audio and video, make the iPod a dream to use.

Apple specialises in simplicity. And this simplicity makes it extremely useful to not just use an Apple product, but also to consume bigger chunks (features) of the product. And as if that were not enough, if you’ve ever stepped into an Apple store, the consumption is taken to quite another level. You’re given the opportunity, not to master the machine, but also to remove the intimidation factor of software. These steps dramatically increase consumption. And hence the propensity to buy. (Again, note: I only own an iPod, and no other Apple products).

So if I feel so excited about an Apple product launch, can you imagine how much more excited an Apple product user may be? And of course, this simply gets them all excited to buy.

3) The goals of the company: This is a big one. Many companies are driven by bigger, chunkier profits each year. This needn’t be the case. In a publicly floated company, the desire to impress shareholders might drive the need for higher sales. But let’s look at this factor from the vast majority of companies like yours and mine. For all practical reasons, a sum of $200k-$300k per year (as based on the year 2007), would be more than generous to our bank balance. Yes, we have a smaller audience, but do we really need to impress anyone? Do we really need boatloads of cash in our bank? The answer is obvious. So the bigger audience doesn’t matter as much as we believe. We could comfortably live out the rest of our lives on the sum above. And live it out comfortably. Apple’s goals are driven by external forces. But even so, they’ve done well with both style and innovation over the years.

4) The positioning of the product: It’s always been cool. No matter which way you look at it, an Apple product has always been the coolest hardware as well as software. Their positioning as the ‘alpha pack of cool,’ is a bit hard to beat. There are few companies on the planet who’ve stuck to their positioning as Apple has.

And these are just some of the factors that are involved in determining whether your audience can be too niche.

Sean

Can hiding or disguising a product’s weaknesses ultimately do more harm than good?

Disguising a product’s weakness is a stupid strategy. But I don’t think, at least in this case, Apple has disguised their lack of ‘optical drive’ (among other things). A weakness can be turned into a strength. (See: http://www.psychotactics.com/artperception.htm)

The objection ‘bag’ is going to pop up on the conveyor belt. So hiding it isn’t going to do any good, and even less so in the case of Apple, where they’re in a big spotlight, and everyone from ‘fanatics’ to ‘anti-Apple folk’ are minutely supervising their every move.

So under normal circumstances, it makes no sense to hide a weakness. It does make sense to turn a weakness into a strength, however.

Sean

As marketers how would you counter the MacBook Air?

MacBook Air now owns a piece of your brain. Pretty much like the Empire State Building. No matter how high they build them now, your brain will always think of the Empire State, when you think of the tallest building in the world.

So you can try, but it’s hard work going for the same space. Because now, as a marketer, I have to erase what’s in the earlier space, and then put in new stuff. That’s not a particularly good strategy.

What’s a good strategy, is finding new space on my brain. Luckily the brain is pretty porous. It doesn’t remember as much as we believe. (See National Geographic Issue on Memory (Online at: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/2007-11/memory/foer-text.html

And I quote:
The metaphors we most often use to describe memory—the photograph, the tape recorder, the mirror, the hard drive—all suggest mechanical accuracy, as if the mind were some sort of meticulous transcriber of our experiences. And for a long time it was a commonly held view that our brains function as perfect recorders—that a lifetime of memories are socked away somewhere in the cerebral attic, and if they can’t be found it isn’t because they’ve disappeared, but only because we’ve lost access to them.

A Canadian neurosurgeon named Wilder Penfield thought he’d proved that theory by the 1940s after using electrical probes to stimulate the brains of epileptic patients while they were lying conscious on the operating table. He was trying to pinpoint the source of their epilepsy, but he found that when his probe touched certain parts of the temporal lobe, the patients started describing vivid experiences. When he touched the same spot again, he often elicited the same descriptions. Penfield came to believe that the brain records everything to which it pays any degree of conscious attention, and that this recording is permanent.

Most scientists now agree that the strange recollections triggered by Penfield were closer to fantasies or hallucinations than to memories, but the sudden reappearance of long-lost episodes from one’s past is an experience surely familiar to everyone. Still, as a recorder, the brain does a notoriously wretched job. Tragedies and humiliations seem to be etched most sharply, often with the most unbearable exactitude, while those memories we think we really need—the name of the acquaintance, the time of the appointment, the location of the car keys—have a habit of evaporating.

Michael Anderson, a memory researcher at the University of Oregon in Eugene, has tried to estimate the cost of all that evaporation. According to a decade’s worth of “forgetting diaries” kept by his undergraduate students (the amount of time it takes to find the car keys, for example), Anderson calculates that people squander more than a month of every year just compensating for things they’ve forgotten.

This means that a good strategy is to pick the areas, where you can pick and choose your uniqueness. This means, instead of trying to be ‘even lighter’ than the MacBook Air, I now go for the ‘light with longest battery category’ for instance. Or remove the factor of ‘lighter’ completely, and go for some other uniqueness.

That to me, is a good strategy.

Joe

Excellent comments Sean, thanks.

Kay you’re spot on regarding the teenage fashion statement. I’m so glad my kids are older.

Neil Smith

MacBook Air: Talk about simplicity! I’ve discovered a concept after some years that seems simple, but to get it across in the word limit that Apple used in that ad?

That takes style. Real style. I struggle with landing on the simplicity button. I hope I’m not the only one.

What I have done in looking for simplicity is to turn away some people, and attract others. I’m not a “Rugby, Racing and Beer” Kiwi (New Zealander). I guess that turns some people away from my attempts at marketing.

Apple has a small but fanatic market. We’re part of it. We just replaced our Nano with an iPod Classic (Video). We’re fanatical users of iTunes software too. But like Sean and others, we compute with PC. : )

Vlatko

Thanks for your interesting article

Niek

I completely agree

Vince4u2

Hmmm, I am tempted to try this.

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