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My name's Joel Kelly and I live in Halifax, NS.

I'm a 20something guy doing digital and social media strategy for a Halifax-based marketing agency.

I'm a vegan nerd and marketing asshole.

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Contact me about whatever (like, say, your marketing questions) at

Monday, April 20, 2009

You're probably trying to sell the wrong thing

Apple doesn't sell computers or phones.

They sell pieces of the future.

That's why people buy them.

That's why their competition can't actually compete with them and keep making ads that suggest they make phones or computers or whatever as good or better as Apple does.

Well fine, who knows, maybe they do. But nobody cares because that's not what Apple was selling in the first place.

There's a reason people called the iPhone the Jesus Phone, both fans and haters. Because that's how people felt about it. Like they were holding something completely unrelated to a phone. They weren't holding technology. They were holding something spiritual, something they'd assumed was unattainable.

And the haters saw this and mocked them for thinking so highly of a phone. As if it had anything to do with making calls.

They were holding a piece of the future in their hands, and everything else seemed like an antique in comparison.

Blackberries, by contrast, aren't selling you the future. And they're certainly not selling you a phone, either. They're selling you professionalism and formality. That's why people buy them, because it's the closest thing you'll ever get to having a corner office downtown.

And that's why when Blackberry tried to compete with the iPhone they failed miserably. Who the hell wants a shiny bit of technology from them? Nobody. In fact, Blackberry trying to sell the future is off-putting at best.

So when Microsoft says, hey, don't buy a Mac, you can get the same functionality from us, for cheaper, you can do the same things with a PC, it just sounds empty. It doesn't mean anything.

Why? Because Microsoft is selling efficiency and cost, and Apple is selling the future.

People buy PCs because they can't afford to buy the future, or aren't interested in owning it. Or they think that Apple trying to construct the future just makes their products cumbersome and overly flashy (to the detriment of user-experience).

So what are you selling? If you describe your business as selling a product or a service, you're probably doing it wrong.


Jeff said...

Apple is selling the future alright. So much so they can't even make products that work in the now. Every piece of software/product is outdated almost before you buy it. =( Apple does one thing VERY well when it comes to consumerism - product exclusivity, so if you buy Apple you have no choice to continue to buy everything Apple..

Joel Kelly said...

Both your points are right, which is why it's so fascinating.

The fact that their products ship broken is rendered inconsequential because you're not buying a piece of equipment, you're buying an idea. It doesn't necessarily have to *work*.

And if you're buying the future from Apple, of course you're going to keep buying Apple products. Everything works together in one tethered *idea*. The fact that the future is incompatible with other bits of software or tech doesn't seem to matter to people.

kathryn said...

I agree with your point but have to say it's not the future they sell - it's an idea , a promise, of the future that they have carefully crafted. Apple doesn't just represent products they represent a socio-economic ideal. Apple represents the in-crowd, the "cool" kids, the sophisticated crowd that you can belong to if you buy in. And, just like Jeff mentions, once you're in you pretty much have to stay in.

Great post - it's not about the product, it's about the ideal.

Joel Kelly said...

Yes and no, Kathryn.

The advertising surrounds the cool kids, the in crowd. The product itself, where the *marketing* happens, has nothing to do with being cool or "in".

The cool kids have simply co-opted the future.

Ian said...

They're definitely selling more than a product. The furute is an intereting way of looking at it. In Apple's case i like (and kinda hate) to think about it as a fashion product. Their computers, especially, look nicer and do neat things, cost more, have no better warranty than any other cheap computer and really not made of anything special inside...but you want it anyway. Now it's time to go think about what we're trying sell.

Joel Kelly said...

Yeah, Ian. Maybe they're not selling the future to everyone, but it's definitely so much more than technology for almost everyone.

They're selling an idea, a feeling. It might be a little different for each person, though.

Kimberly said...

I never thought about it that way, but yeah, that's exactly what they're doing and why all the competition fails so miserably at diverting attention from them. Nice post!

Joel Kelly said...

Thanks Kimberly!