Create a brand like Apple's by asking these simple questions

apple brand strategy values Jul 10, 2020

Come on, admit it.  

You know you’ve done it. 

At least once. 

Who hasn’t used the Apple brand as an example at some point? 

In a presentation. In a workshop.  On a vision board.  As an example of a brand you want yours to be like.  And why not? Apple is the world's most valuable brand, with a brand valuation of $355 billion in 2022, according to Brand Finance, a 152% increase from 2020.

But what does Apple stand for?  What is their brand strategy all about? 

Apple's brand strategy framework 

What Apple have done, like all other leading brands, is answer 4 simple questions.  They are crystal clear on:

WHY they exist

WHO they are

HOW they do things

HOW they look, feel and sound

WHAT they do

In my 20 years of brand strategy practice and research I've learnt that all of the world's strongest brands also answer these same questions. 

They call their answers to these questions all sorts of different things – most often ‘purpose’ or ‘mission’ for WHY, ‘values’ and ‘behaviours’ for WHO and HOW – but you also come across a myriad of other phrases, like 'promise', 'personality', 'positioning', 'essence', 'philosophy', 'credo', 'maxims'….   

What you really need to know is that it doesn’t matter what you call them.  What matters is that you answer them, in the right way, for your brand

Forget all of the confusing brand terminology and just use these four questions as your brand strategy template. 

How Apple defines their brand

WHY Apple exist is ‘to make the best products that enrich people’s lives.’

Their WHY - what they call their ‘North Star’ - is what drives them.  Making money, profit, delivering returns to shareholders - these are the outcomes of their WHY – not the mission itself.    You hear this in interviews with Tim Cook:

“For me, it's about products and people. Did we make the best product, and did we enrich people's lives? If you’re doing both of those things - and obviously those things are incredibly connected because one leads to the other - then you have a good year.”

And they make sure all employees know this.  Along with their employee’s holiday gift in 2016, came this reminder:

We are here to enrich lives.

To help dreamers become doers.

To help passion expand human potential.

To do the best work of our lives.

Do you know your WHY? 

Are you inspiring your team in the same way?

Or are you just talking numbers, product, sales, profit ….?

The brand values that underpin Apple's success

Apple have known the importance of WHO they are from the beginning. If you haven’t listened to Steve Jobs launch the Think Different campaign to his employees, then take 4 minutes out of your day for a hit of brand-building excellence in one rousing speech.  (It’s old (1997) but still gold).

His most quoted line from this speech is, “Marketing is about values.” Apple celebrated their employees and values in the Think Different campaign – because defining WHO you are is critical to your success.  For Apple, it was key to continue to attract “people with passion” because they “can change the world for the better.”

Fast forward 22 years.  And this phrase still stands.  In a 2019 Time interview Tim Cook stated:

”We’re a collection of people in Apple that want to change the world for the better. We want to leave the world better than we found it. And to do that, you have to be a part of the conversation in areas where the policies of government intersect with your values. Racial equity and justice is a part of that. Diversity and inclusion is a part of that. Environment is a part of that. Supplier responsibility, is a part of that." 

In 2014, Apple produced a video called Perspective, that harkened back to the iconic ‘Think Different’ campaign.  Directed to employees, and prospective ones, it again reinforced WHO Apple is – and the behaviours that guide employees. The text is below, but I'd recommend you just enjoy it as it's meant to be seen.

Here’s to those who have always seen things differently.

The ones who follow a vision, not a path.

Where others perceive first, first, first as valuable, you value the first thing that actually matters.

While others are distracted by the new, you focus on the significance of a whole new take.

Even before you could see how to change things, you never doubted we would change things - together.  And then we did change things together. Again, and again and again.

Relentless optimism is what moves the world forward. So, keep seeing things differently.

Keep trusting there is always another way, a better way, a bigger way.

One that lifts up humanity, breaks down barriers and heals the landscape.

Are you this clear and inspiring when you are talking to possible new hires?

Are you this clear on WHO you are?  

How Apple do things 

WHO they are and HOW they do things are the hallmarks of the Apple brand.  In 2013, at their WWDC they premiered their beautiful Intention video that expressed so sublimely HOW they do things.  

It spells out to their customers and employees how they approach making their products. That each starts with intention - with their WHY - enriching and enhancing the lives of their customers - making them feel delight, surprise, love, connection.
Then they simplify, perfect, start over - embracing a thousand no's for every yes - that's HOW they work.

The first thing we ask is what do we want people to feel? 

Delight. Surprise. Love. Connection.

Then we begin to craft around our intention.

It takes time. There are a thousand no’s for every yes.

We simplify, we perfect, we start over until every thing we touch enhances each life it touches.

Only then do we sign our work, Designed by Apple in California.

Apple brand personality: how they look, feel and sound

Three additional words guide HOW Apple look, feel and sound:




They call these their three lenses, and, according to Tor Myhren, VP of Marketing Communications at Apple,  “If a product is not made up of these things, it’s not Apple”.   These words also inform all of Apple's infamous marketing campaigns, as Mark Ritson shares here.

What a great brief. 

Do you have the same clarity on how your brand should look, feel and sound?

Are you consistent with the words you use to brief people who are helping bring your brand to life?  

WHAT Apple does

The last of the 4 questions you need to answer is WHAT do you do?  

So what does Apple do?

Who cares by this point?! 
(It's ‘Hardware, Software, Services’ if you really want to know...)

What they do is so subservient to WHY they exist, WHO they are, HOW they do things and HOW they look, feel and sound. That’s why their brand stretches so effortlessly from making computers, to phones, to opening retail stores – because WHAT they do can change, as long as their WHY, WHO and HOW do not.

Just as Steve Jobs said in his 1997 speech.

He said while markets and products change, the values and core beliefs that underpin your company shouldn’t.   You have to be clear on WHO you are and what sort of people are going to help you build your brand.  

If you’re inspired to build your brand like Apple, or want some more examples from the brand leaders, then sign up for my FREE mini-course – Brand Strategy in 7 Simple Steps.  



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