Steve Jobs: Brand Ecologist

So much has already been written about the death and life of Steve Jobs that there really isn’t much else to say. Except there is.

I’m not one of those people who did the “digital-candles-and-virtual-flowers-at-the-Apple-store” thing.  Like these dudes:

Nor was I inspired to go make a “goofy-nerd-meets-hip-hop” tribute video with a dozen co-workers.  Like these folks:

But the incredible outpouring of love and affection for Jobs got me thinking about what he truly accomplished from a brand perspective.

So let’s break it down.  We live in an age where you can purchase everything from frozen orange juice to sophisticated bomb-making manuals without ever getting up from the couch.  The entire transaction takes less time than the commercials that you’re skipping on your DVR.  With this kind of technology, there are only 3 groups of people who line up in the middle of the night to purchase anything:

1.  North Korean peasants waiting for monthly food rations (starvation is the ultimate motivator);

2.  Harry Potter freaks waiting for “Deathly Hallows” premiere tickets (even Nerds need to get out of the house every now and then); and

3.  Apple consumers waiting for the next product release.

This behavior defies every bit of logic and convention for new technology devices. We’re NOT supposed to buy a new phone or gizmo on the first day it hits stores.  We’re supposed to wait a few weeks until prices come down and they iron out the bugs in the firmware.

Remember the flap over the iPhone 4 reception?  These guys do:

That’s the thing about Apple.  The prices never come down.  And even serious bugs like the iPhone 4 reception snafu get lost in the jet wash from the blogosphere. Somehow, Steve Jobs was able to turn new product releases into happenings… with genuine excitement that something special was truly in the air.

But Jobs didn’t stop there.  Once people bought these very expensive devices, Apple was able to create the connective tissue to your daily life: the iTunes store.

No one else comes close to this combination of hardware and mindshare.  The Amazons and Netflixes of the world have our credit cards on file but are ultimately hawking someone else’s products.  The Samsungs, Sonys, and hardware makers sell great products, but they have no OS to learn how we’re using them – and the credit card ends up at Best Buy.

Apple enjoys the best of both worlds:  a family of products that truly excite consumers, and a credit card on file to make it incredibly easy for us to keep buying, over and over again.  And let’s not forget the server farms of user data they’ve amassed over the years.

By keeping consumers connected to the hardware, and opening that hardware just enough to let developers play with it, Apple has effectively created a global farm system of user-gen R+D; it can pick and choose any features, applications, and technology that it wants to plug into its ecology.

In the end, I think this unique business ecology will be Steve Jobs’ greatest legacy.  We’ll never see a brand more emotionally connected to its customers again.  Period. If you have any doubts about this statement, just watch this:

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