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? 

In a presentation. In a workshop.  On a vision board.  As an example of a brand your client wants theirs to be like. 

And why not? Apple is the world's most valuable brand, with a brand valuation of $947.1 billion, according to BRANDZ rankings, growing 55% year-on-year and reclaiming its number 1 spot over Amazon.

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 some simple questions.  The have crystal clear answers to:

1. WHY do we exist?

2. WHO are we and HOW do we do things?

3. HOW do we look, feel and sound?

4. WHAT do we 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 with the same clarity. 

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.  

You may also have come across a myriad of other phrases, like 'brand promise', 'brand 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.

Forget all of the confusing brand terminology and just use these four questions as your brand strategy template to be more like Apple.

How Apple defines their brand

Why does Apple exist?

‘To build the best products in the world that enrich people’s lives.’

Apple's 'WHY' - what they often call their ‘North Star’ and sometimes their mission - 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.

When talking about Steve Jobs in 2022, Tim Cook reiterated this again.

I think about him a lot. I miss him dearly. He would always stop by my office on his way out. And there’s never been a replacement for that. We would exchange tidbits on the day and talk about the future. And we try to carry on the mission that he set in place, to build the best products in the world that enrich people’s lives. And that hasn’t changed. Lots of things change with time. But the reason for our being is the same.

Do you know your WHY? Are you inspiring your employees 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." 

Talking about 'shared values' is very popular today, but Apple knew this from the start.

They celebrated their employees and values in the Think Different campaign – because defining WHO you are and the values you stand for is critical to brand success.  

For Apple, it was key to continue to attract “people with passion” because they “can change the world for the better.”

Fast forward some years and they continue to promote their values and behaviours as a way to attract the best talent.

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 values and 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.

More recently they added this beauty, encouraging people to 'Join Us. Be You.':

To the constant beginners who sing off-key and against the beat.

To those unfamiliar with convention.

Unmoved by rules.

And reborn with every discovery.

Those open to daydreams, and night dreams, and visions, and mirages.

Who can see the millions of shades of green in a field of grass.

Whose days are filled with mysteries that cannot be solved with facts.

You are more powerful than you think, and you are welcome here.

What connects all those people at Apple; 'who have always seen things differently'?  Those unfamiliar with convention and unmoved by rules?

 The idea of changing the world for the better.

It appeared in Steve Jobs' 1997 speech, and 26 years later 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." 

 Their most recent articulation of this phrase is:

Apple’s more than 160,000 employees are dedicated to making the best products on earth, and to leaving the world better than we found it.

Building on this, they have articulated seven values that underpin how they are changing the world for the better:

Apple's 7 Brand Values

1. Accessibility

Technology is most powerful when everyone can make their mark.

2. Education

Education is the great equalizer and a powerful source of opportunity for all.

3. Environment

Our goal is to leave the planet better than we found it.

4. Inclusion and Diversity

We’re committed to making Apple more inclusive and the world more just.

5. Privacy

We design Apple products to protect your privacy and give you control over your information.

6. Racial Equity and Justice Initiative

This is a long-term effort to help ensure more positive outcomes for communities of color.

7. Supplier Responsibility

We believe in a safe, respectful, and supportive workplace for everyone.

Apple brand personality: how they look, feel and sound

How they do things is as much a hallmark of Apple's brand as what they make and do.

In 2013, at their WWDC they premiered their beautiful Intention video that expressed this so sublimely.

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.

Three words in particular 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 the brands you work on 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 in a brand strategy 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 (and now spatial computing (Vision Pro)), to phones, to retail, to TV – because WHAT they do can change, but their WHY, WHO and HOW do not.

Just as Steve Jobs said in his 1997 speech.

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.  

It takes some effort - but the payback can be huge.

In Summary: Apple answers their brand strategy questions in these simple ways

Why does Apple exist?

To make the best products that enrich people’s lives.

Who are Apple and what are their brand values?

People dedicated to making the best products on earth, and to leaving the world better than we found it, who value:

Accessibility. Education. Environment. Inclusion and Diversity. Privacy. Racial Equity and Justice. Supplier Responsibility.

What guides HOW all their products look, feel and sound?

The 3 lenses:  Simplicity. Creativity. Humanity.


If you’re inspired to build brands like Apple, or want some more examples from the brand leaders, then let's get started! Grab my FREE mini-course – Brand Strategy in 7 Simple Steps.  



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