In 1996, the Apple brand bordered on bankruptcy. It was just another computer company without any real point of difference. Steve Jobs had been gone for over a decade. Years of overlooked opportunities, flip-flop strategies, and a mind-boggling disregard for market realities caught up with the company. The Windows 95 launch by Microsoft had severely eroded Mac’s technology edge. Apple was rapidly becoming a minor player in the computer business with shrinking market shares, price cuts, and declining profits.
                                       



The return of Steve Jobs

Apple looked like it would not survive, as it was a poorly run organization through the early 1990s. Executives made terrible decisions with inconsistent strategies and, most importantly, there was no brand idea for what they should be. After Steve Jobs came to Apple in 1997, he shifted the focus to rebuilding around the  brand idea of “Apple makes technology so simple that everyone can be part of the future.” Steve Jobs took a consumer-first approach in a market dominated by an obsession with gadgets, bits, and bytes.


How the five elements of smart strategic thinking show how Apple completed its turnaround plan:

1. Set a vision of what you want

  • Apple’s vision was to make it easy to get everyone to be part of technology in the future. The main issue was how to create brand fans then mobilize them to spread the word to the masses.

2. Invest resources in a strategic program

  • Apple invested and aligned everything behind a brand idea defined as “Apple makes technology so simple; everyone can be part of the future.” Apple uses this brand idea at every touchpoint, including the brand positioning, communication, innovation, purchase moment and experience.

3. Focus on an identified opportunity

  • For decades, Apple consistently focused on empathizing with—and taking advantage of—the consumer’s frustration with technology. In the 1980s, Apple attacked IBM personal computers as being too complicated. In 2005, they used “I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC” advertising to attack Microsoft. Each time, Apple used its “consumer-first” mentality to transform leading-edge technology into accessible consumer technology.

4. Leverage a breakthrough market impact

  • Apple takes a fast-follower stance that takes current technology and makes it simple to use. Every platform, including desktops, laptops, phones, watches, tablets, and music streaming delivers the brand idea of simplicity.  Apple deploys high profile launch hype to use vocal Apple advocates to spread the word to their friends.

5. Performance result that pays back

  • Apple created a consumer bond with their brand fans to enter new categories. On top of that, Apple is now the most beloved consumer-driven brand, with premium prices, stronger market share, sales, and profits. They used brand love to help drive a remarkable 40x revenue growth over 10 years, skyrocketing from $5.7 billion in 2005 to $240 billion in 2015. This rapid growth helps cover the high costs of advertising and R&D, giving them very healthy operating margins, up over 35%. All this strategic effort has increased their market capitalization approaches $1 trillion.