These days, the prevailing marketing wisdom seems to be “When in doubt, copy Apple.” You see it everywhere from TV ads and print ads, right down to the knockoff product designs stretching across the aisles at Best Buy. Yes, ever since the debut of the iPod in 2001, Apple has been an unstoppable force of marketing and technology, taking the world by storm.
But what about before 2001? Apple was incorporated in 1977 (after a year of working out of Steve Jobs’ parents’ garage) and quickly introduced the Apple II to the world of computers (the Apple I being a prototype sold to hobbyists).
In 1983, Apple introduced the Lisa, and then a year later, its successor, the Macintosh, which revolutionized modern computing. And look at the ad they ran to promote it:
Virtually identical to the ads they run today, save for a change in font. So what was Apple doing between 1984 and 2001? Well, Microsoft released Windows in 1985, which although inferior was cheaper and able to approximate the look of the Mac well enough so that people thought they were equal. After that, Microsoft became the undisputed king of Personal Computers, and Apple was relegated to the sideline.
But Apple had instituted a product evangelism campaign in 1983 when they were working on the original Mac. The job of the Apple Evangelist was originally to promote the development of software programs for use on the Mac. The evangelist would meet with various development companies and forge relationships, giving them support from Apple where needed. This was the beginning of the Apple Brand Community.
Once the Mac was released, more evangelists were hired, this time to recruit new users to the platform. One of the main goals these new evangelists had was to create and foster Mac User Groups around the world. These groups would meet monthly to showcase new offerings from Apple, offer insider tips, and give away freebies such as mouse pads to the members of the group. By getting the users together and conversing, they were able to instill a sense of community in them, thus bonding them together. And Apple did all this in the days before the internet as we know it even existed.
Through this program, Apple succeeded at creating a relatively small, but extremely loyal fan base. During the 90’s, Apple was unable to save the Mac, and also released a staggering number of commercial flops, from the Newton PDA to the Pippin video gaming machine. Through all of it, the one mistake that Apple never made was abandoning those Mac User Groups. So when Apple released the iPod in 2001, exclusively for Mac users at the time, they had a willing Brand Community to jump on the bandwagon and propel them toward becoming the powerhouse they are today.