Why Thinking Like Steve Jobs Will Make You More Profitable
about a 4.5 minute read
Since his passing, there have been a range of books, articles and films about Steve Jobs. While they usually praise his genius to some degree, there is a nagging, persistent and unfortunate criticism of him – they say he wasn’t a real inventor, engineer or designer and that others did the real work for which he took credit. This criticism is misguided and wrong.
You see, Steve Jobs was a marketer. Marketing is one of the most misunderstood, undervalued and ignored skills in business today. As Apple’s marketer, Jobs created unprecedented corporate wealth – more than $300 billion in market value in merely a decade; an achievement Apple could never have realized without him, despite the impressive and world-class sum of the brain power of its inventors, engineers and designers.
Every business, regardless of size or industry, needs a chief marketer, a role which must logically be performed by the CEO or their direct daily report. No business can sustain itself without marketing – real estate (my business), restaurants, lawyers, car dealerships, dentists, art galleries, cruise ships, banks, printers, authors, property development … all of these need to be constantly asking themselves how their products and services align and interface with their intended audience.
Marketing is defined as the ongoing activity of aligning and interfacing a business with its marketplace – of communicating the value of a product or service for the purpose of selling that product or service.
But what does it mean to “align and interface?”
We often hear people say about Apple products: “before having one, I didn’t even know that I needed an iPhone, but they somehow knew, and now I can’t live without it.” I contend that Jobs had a perfect empathy for the user, and his ability to grasp needs even the user didn’t know existed, made him the most specially gifted marketer of this era.
Some people create rather brilliant products and services, but they do so without user-context or in a vacuum – they assert “people should want this”, and then set out to prove it by push-marketing the product or service. Predictably, they get loads of sales friction and their creations are rarely financially successful.
Even when faced with daunting market ambivalence they will continue to rationalize the validity of their product or service, which causes them to fail to innovate. But what’s missing? After all, shouldn’t the plain engineering brilliance of an idea or a product be enough to lure in a paying audience? It isn’t enough.
What’s missing is failure to identify “angst.”
The best marketers don’t create products or services in a vacuum, but rather in direct response to user-context. Angst is a user’s worries, pain and emotional concerns, whether rational or irrational, and once identified, it becomes a viable marketing “niche” – and all niches have different user-context.
You must discover, as Jobs was able to do, some particular angst that someone will take action on to resolve – some problem they are actively looking to find a solution to, and something for which they perceive they have few options. Achieve this, and there is no friction in selling it – the market will be abundant.
There is a tendency in business to disregard a user’s emotional concerns as trivial or as subjective whims, and this is regarded at
times as a virtue or skill, but to do so is a marketing mistake – major opportunity missed. Moral judgment of the audience in a niche is not the proper role or goal of the marketer – it should be left to the philosophers, but even some great philosophers understand marketing:
A manufacturer of lipstick may well make a greater fortune than a manufacturer of microscopes – even though it can be rationally demonstrated that microscopes are scientifically more valuable than lipstick. But – valuable to whom?
A microscope is of no value to a little stenographer struggling to make a living; a lipstick is; a lipstick, to her, may mean the difference between self-confidence and self-doubt, between glamour and drudgery.” – Ayn Rand
It may seem counter-intuitive, but the trick to becoming a bigger occupier of a given niche space is to first become much smaller. A product or service should be designed and offered only to an extreme niche. Today’s consumer prefers not to be told what to do and insists upon “self including” in your offering – they prefer their own independent evaluation without being subjected to “salesiness.”
A major benefit of extreme niching is that users outside of the niche will self-include on their own terms and therefore the niche may grow organically and exponentially by delighted users spreading the word … a substantially better strategy than push-marketing. Persistent recommendations by existing users is the single best form of advertising – and cannot be paid for.
Once Steve Jobs understood the niche he was targeting, perfect design of the user-interface became vitally important to him (in fact, Apple users today spread the word actively and loyally). It is far too common for designers and engineers to resist in rolling out their product or service until it is made flawless or perfect through internal analysis, which is a mistake and creates lost opportunity.
Design is not just what it looks like and feels like, but how it works. – Steve Jobs
For complex reasons, most people intensely dislike or eschew negative feedback and anticipation of criticism freezes them from acting. Whereas, perfecting the alignment and interface with the user requires a type of nuanced feedback that one just cannot acquire without an early roll out.
To avoid corporate espionage, though, Jobs taught himself how to become the exception to this rule. Through intense focus he acquired incredibly accurate user-empathy – he was able to disable or switch off his own personal biases and place himself in the shoes of the user. With ruthless fidelity to perfecting the user-experience, he was able to innovate the design over and over and over again until it acquired all of the essential elements of solving the angst of the user.
Innovation is something that must occur “as needed.” Some business theories tout “continuous innovation”, but this neglects the essential aspect of understanding angst. The only times to innovate are when your product or service are currently experiencing market friction, or are anticipated to at some reasonably known point in the future. The business world has access to numerous metrics and tools for analyzing market friction.
The hallmark of the world-class marketer is to wake up every single morning with the attitude “my business is in trouble today … go find out where!” And this is not done as a negative, but rather with a big grin and a I-eat-problems-for-breakfast attitude. The marketer is keen to find quirks and problems – he is keen to innovate.
I didn’t know Steve Jobs, but I would wager he took this approach.