Apple’s communication strategy is risky

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Apple – once the master communicator – is playing a dangerous game.  It’s also in danger of looking like just another technology company – falling in to the trap of over-hyping new product announcements and then failing to deliver on the promise.  For a company that was the master of understatement; a company known for the secrecy surrounding new product launches under former CEO Steve Jobs; a company that had fan boys and the media on the edge of their seats hoping for ‘one more thing’, it now runs the risk of failing to deliver on the promises it makes.

The Apple publicity machine appears to have gone in to overdrive tonight, with ABC news previewing a ‘historic announcement’ from Apple tomorrow – claiming to have the only anchor at the event.  What use having an anchor at the event is, I’m not sure.  Short of being part of the presentation and broadcasting live from the stage I’m not sure what could be historic.  I’ve speculated that it’s a holographic Steve Jobs giving the keynote address or Steve in person [yes, I know it’s a crazy suggestion, but… historic is a bold claim!].

And, that leads me to another failing of Apple’s recent communications strategy. One of the most effective communications tools is the element of surprise. Those moments that made you smile because you don’t see what’s coming. The ‘one more thing’s that left you speechless or waiting with bated breath. The company has forgotten how to use surprise and the power of anticipation in its product launches.

Apple, under Steve Jobs, was a master of using surprise to amaze audiences. The wall of silence and secrecy created its own sense of anticipation amongst its audience. Under Tim Cook, launches have been preceded by a series of leaks and teases that have largely taken away the need to watch the keynote.  There is no ‘one more thing’.  There’s no “wow” factor as the latest iProduct is revealed because it’s another tweaked version of a product we’ve seen before. The media are now used to create the hysteria before new product launches – and it’s become predictable.

And, it’s not just the launches.  The product marketing has progressively weakened since Jobs handed over control of the company just over three years ago.  The tag lines have become more predictable; more wordy; less memorable.  Less believable. More self-congratulatory. Increasingly contrived. Less like Apple and more like the majority of its competitors.

I’m hoping that Apple doesn’t disappoint – again.  A ‘historic announcement’ is a pretty bold statement – whether the words of Apple or ABC [likely encouraged by Apple]. A new iPhone and, if rumours are correct, the much-anticipated iWatch will be great… but historic it will not be!

If Apple fails to deliver on its promise tomorrow it risks becoming just another technology company that makes bold promises and yet, all too often, fails to deliver on them.