Steve Jobs knew sleek from slick

We live in a connected world, always on the edge of any idea being viral. Like no time before, creativity can be the genesis of a career, a product and a company. Apple turned the company’s fortunes around based, I’m convinced, on what Steve Jobs learned at Pixar. His time in Hollywood made him appreciate that it takes more than just great technology. Yes, he innovated and created amazing products, but he also learned sleek.

Not slick…sleek. Each Apple introduction of new product is now a legendary moment, calculated for creativity and impact. They’re getting the same kind of applause as the runways of Paris or Milan. For software and hardware? How is that possible?

Indirect ROI

Jobs had to break through the constraints that most technology companies face every day. In an industry driven by ROI on all sides, he had to go a new way and trust that it would take time and resources to develop the Apple image. Marketing couldn’t be a cost center.

I met a senior Apple Marketing executive a few months ago on a flight to London who insisted that he has no ‘hard’ ROI in his budgeting for branding and creativity, no matter how many skeptical questions he fielded from me. He finally convinced me.

Going a new way is very hard. Consider how much fear people have for going against the accepted way of doing almost anything. I’m new to marketing and it would be very easy to second-guess my own approaches, but I’m here for a reason and that has to be my driver, not fear. Steve Jobs had his fear under control, for sure. I admire that. I need to emulate that.

Even as a new marketer, I know a few other things from my broad life experience. I know there are a few more ways to be sleek and not slick. Most of all, I know what works when I’m the audience:

Keep it sticky

Great marketing iterates and doesn’t plan just around big bang moments. Great marketing campaigns, even around events (and maybe especially events), have a lead up, big moment and then an after-event plan that keeps things fresh and serves as an ongoing reminder of the most important themes. How many product launches, website revamps or marketing events simply happen and then fade from memory? Iteration is the new launch. Content is the new follow-up device. Not just any content, either…it needs to be emotional, personal, creative and high quality.


Sony Bravia’s brilliant add with bouncy balls is the best example of taking a differentiator like their television’s brighter colors and combining it with everyone’s happy childhood memory of bouncy balls.

They didn’t need to add any tag lines. Instead, they brought their ideas together in a classic San Francisco landscape, where product features, our memories and the exotic street scenes make it a thing of beauty. It wows us and stirs imagination without ever departing from the core theme of ‘colors’. You can watch it many times and see different things each go round. It plays well in any language.

It is very differentiating and very creative.

Be consistent

And they didn’t do it just once. They came back to their theme in even more creative ways, with colorful dominos tumbling across India, spools of thread unwinding on an Egyptian pyramid, paint exploding from buildings and colorful rabbits made of Playdoh. They chose wisely and left themselves enormous room for ongoing, consistent messaging.

Be versatile

The genius is its versatility and the opportunity these videos brought for expression of Sony’s core concept of color and the company’s creativity. By expressing differentiation through bold, creative concepts and repeating the message in new ways, Sony was able to corner the market for their core theme through iterative creativity that didn’t stray from the most important message.

Ooze passion

Unless you’re a robot, it is nearly impossible to put consistent energy into something that you’re not passionate about. Too many people work for the purpose of an income and not for a core need to be great and part of something great.

Marketing is no place for these folks. Marketing managers need to know this and focus team building on passion and creativity more than experience. Great marketers are found in the organization’s passionate corners.

Reward digital IQ

Beyond video, we’re in a remarkably social world. Sony knew they needed people to share their ideas more than they ever could themselves. You can’t plan viral, but you can make it more likely. This is why any marketing today needs to demonstrate its digital IQ. The power isn’t in what you say, but in who you influence to follow and repeat your messages. Its hard to imagine an effective digital marketer who isn’t well-connected outside of work as well.

The next two are based on my years of management, consulting, sales, process, and financial experience. There’s enormous power in the details and every time I’ve strayed from where I needed to be, it was about priorities, planning and details.

Measure your effect

All passion and no metrics make Jack a random boy. Sleek marketing needs to have goals and ways to show progress. How big is our reach? Who remembers our message? Where are we influential? How many sales are being driven by our efforts? If Marketing doesn’t create revenue, it misses its purpose. While it may not be easy to tie dollars spent to contracts signed, there needs to be metrics for each individual on the team to show contribution and alignment to strategy.

Watch your costs

While not treated as a cost center, marketing is a process that needs to be costed out, refined and improved. Just as marketing needs to be iterative, it needs to iterate within itself as well, no differently than any other organizational process. What does a new campaign cost? What are the time and materials necessary for an article, a data sheet, a new sales deck? When you break it down, you can see waste and you can begin to get more from your spend.

When you’ve done your best, there’s a big payoff.

Now, draw in

Customers are like the bees in the picture below, drawn to an attractive idea delivered with a passionate message, despite the fact that every tree is green. They want to ‘buy into’ a company with a great vision that shows creativity in products and marketing alike.

I don’t like shopping at Wal-Mart. It feels shabby and I’m not willing to trade the quality of my environment for small discounts. Before you say it, yes, I have that luxury. But don’t you love the feeling of walking through an Apple store? We find that even opening their packaging is a delight. Everything they do says, “We invested everything in this and you made a good decision.”

Making great products is the baseline for great marketing, but why would a company put their life’s blood into products and ignore the ability to create marketing that reflects their commitment to being excellent at everything?


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Categories: Marketing

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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One Comment on “Steve Jobs knew sleek from slick”

  1. October 8, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

    I have been saying for years that Apple’s core competency is packaging. I think that ‘sleek’ fits to describe the packaging. I am not sure that they understand that packaging is their core competency, but I am always looking forward to their next product. Will it be an iTV or an iToaster?

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