Why Won't Apple Love Me Back?

For those of you who don't know me, I am an Apple Freak.  Ever since my first iPod, I have been enthralled with the brand and its products.  As an email marketer, I have often used Apple communications as examples of best-in-class email programs.  However, today I must admit that there seems to be something lacking in the way my favorite brand communicates with me via email.  If I'm truly honest with myself, the latest email programs I have received from Apple suffer from a common problem that plagues business-to-consumer brands.  Let me paint the picture....

A few years back, I purchased my first iPhone, an iPhone 3G (I know, why didn't I have a first generation iPhone, but that's a whole other story).  Anyway, as you can imagine, I was uber-excited at the time and anxious to dig into the phones features.  Like any good Apple customer, I waited in line for the device and then played hooky from work so I could set it up.  A few days later, I received my welcome email from Apple. To this day I consider it one of the best triggered-welcome messages I have ever received.

The communication welcomed me to my new phone, provided extensive education opportunities so I could enjoy the myriad of features, introduced me to the app store and some top applications that I should consider purchasing, and so on.  We all know that there are some basic building blocks to any welcome program. Welcome emails should connect with the consumer, set expectations about the type of dialogue the consumer can expect via the email channel, confirm opt-in and address housekeeping items like add-to-address book, etc.  However, more than anything else, a welcome email should add value to the new relationship between the consumer and the brand.  This "value" sets the tone for the inbox-based relationship going forward.  Apple did all of this and more.

Like many others, I stood in line a few months ago and purchased an iPhone 4.  I repeated the steps described above and once again, a few days post-purchase, I received my iPhone 4 welcome email.  As I looked at the message (a similar yet scaled-back version of the original I received with the iPhone 3G), something just did not feel right.  The message just did not seem addressed to me; in fact, I immediately realized that this EXACT same message could be sent to every new iPhone 4 owner.  I felt slighted. I'm not just any iPhone owner!  In fact, I considered myself an Apple evangelist. 

Since my iPhone3G purchase, I had stopped by the Apple store and bought a Time Machine, headphones (the expensive wireless Motorola Rokr S9-HD) an iPad (the big one!), another iPhone for my wife, a Mophie Juicepak Air for my 3G -- and the list goes on and on.  Yet here I was, being treated as if I'd woken up on the morning of the iPhone 4 release and become just another first-time Apple customer.  Slowly, I relaxed and talked myself into believing that Apple has some solid reason for not understanding our relationship. After all, they're Apple. Steve Jobs looks good in those black mock-turtlenecks, and I can forget one minor slip-up.  When I forget what kind of cake my wife likes on her birthday each year, I expect her to understand and forgive, right?

I was calm for about 97 seconds.  That was when I noticed the stack of iTunes gift cards on the desk.  My son had just had a birthday, and we'd bought him an iPod Touch.  He also raked in like $50 in iTunes gift cards.  I opened iTunes (on my iMac) and took a look at the purchases I had made over the years.  Movies, music, books, applications -- I swear, I've spent more on content with iTunes than I have at the Apple Store!  I looked back at the iPhone message -- nothing about books, movies, application, etc.  Not only had they not acknowledged my value as an Apple customer, they'd completely ignored my ecommerce relationship on iTunes.  To Apple, the retail store and iTunes may be separate lines of business, but to me, they are one and the same.  In fact, it is the seamless relationship between content on iTunes and the Apple devices that keeps me coming back for more.  That's was it I promised myself that one day, I would share the experience via a blog post.... Mission accomplished.

The takeaway is that consumers expect a higher standard today.  We expect this higher standard not from every brand or every email communication.  There are many emails that I subscribe to that are a necessary element of a rather passive business-to-consumer relationship.  I subscribe, I open, but I rarely buy.  I am fine with these brands treating me like the number that I am. 

But there are a select few brands that are special -- brands that I have committed to through loyalty based on repeat purchases, online advocacy and overall brand engagement.  To these brands I should be considered a "Best Customer" and treated accordingly. 

I expect these brands to make the effort to analyze data warehouses, ecommerce systems and CRM solutions to create a picture of our relationship and leverage that picture across communications and offers.  As an email marketer, I understand that the 360-degree customer view I am referring to is not always easily achieved.  However, I have worked on projects with clients that have accomplished this and treated their best customers in a way that inspires advocacy, loyalty and brand engagement. 

If you are involved with email marketing, CRM or ecommerce at a large consume- focused brand, take a look at your communications.  Think about your best customers.  Are you treating the relationship with respect?  Apple isn't -- and come on, this is Apple we are talking about.   These guys invented the Mac, iPod, iPhone and iPad, so please forgive me if I think it's within their scope of abilities to create customer-focused email marketing programs!

Tags: apple, email
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4 comments about "Why Won't Apple Love Me Back?".
  1. Ken Braswell , November 11, 2010 at 2:45 p.m.

    Unfortunately, just another example of marketing not paying attention to the details. Long ago I learned that successful marketers do the little things...of course to you it didn't seem small, but in this case Apple decided to use the "generic" approach to marketing communication instead of utilizing a little more technology to personalize this event. It's sheer laziness! And quite surprising coming from such an industry leader.

    KB

  2. Ira Schloss from thomas publishing , November 11, 2010 at 2:52 p.m.

    in contrast to your apple experience, i just recieved a "gold card" from starbucks indicating (recognizing) me as a cardholder since 2008 -- echos of another superb marketer, American Express who makes one feel special.
    from time to time over the years, sbux sends a little token of appreciation -- usually unexpected. has apple ever sent you a free anything?
    i must say that i have never been disappointed with an apple product (i am not the uber-geek you seem to be), nor has anyone i know. but as a tech company, you'd think they could come up with some program to recognize you and your fellow "gold members".

  3. Monica Bower from TERiX Computer Service , November 11, 2010 at 3:03 p.m.

    But still, it's all automated, right? We don't expect an actual human being to be the one customizing each and every welcome message, and if business guides to social media are any indication of how the very idea panics most marketers, we'd PREFER it to be robots rather than human beings giving us welcomes and best wishes and we're sorrys.

    Apple's genius is that it has until now been very good at turning a small amount of personalization into the appearance of a committed two-way friendship. "We make you look good, so we love you, and you love us" is different than "we know all about you, so we love you and you love us." In fact the current privacy panic attack suggests most people are more comfortable being a little less well known by their vendors. Apple was able to make you FEEL like you were the only one - and for a while, hey, maybe you WERE, but now they're the top technology company in the world, so the experience necessarily becomes more generic.

  4. Kelly Lorenz , November 12, 2010 at 10:46 a.m.

    Ryan -

    While I completely agree that there's a huge opportunity here to better communicate with you (and yes, it is possible to tweak automated messages through dynamic content based on a few criteria or data points you have on customers fairly easily if you have the technology and resources -- which I think it's safe to assume Apple does), I want to provide a counter viewpoint.

    After all is said and done, are you still going to be a loyal Apple customer and continue to buy Apple products? Apple did nothing earth-shatteringly wrong enough to make you stop buying their products; they simply aren't acting like the diner around the corner that greets you by name when you walk in.

    A cost/benefit analysis is taken into account on both ends. Should Apple go to the effort and spend resources to address you by name when you're a very loyal customer regardless? How much more incremental value can you provide to Apple at this point? And on your end, how much does a personalized experience matter and where's the breaking point?

    -Kelly Lornez