Thursday, September 24, 2009

Brand Loyalty & The Viable Alternative

I've been doing some musing on this subject over the past month or six weeks. First you need some background to set the context.
This is about Apple. I've been brand loyal to Apple for the whole of the life of their flagship product - the Mac. I've either owned or used the Mac for all of that time. At various times I've run whole businesses on the Mac and since the late 1980s I have owned a Mac or Macs continuously. I like the product and despite the limitations of the earlier operating systems I've stuck with it. There are multiple Macs in the stable at the moment.
Recently an iPhone 3Gs was added to the collection. That is the point that got me wondering seriously about the other side of Apple. The iPhone is a pretty cynical exercise and I've blogged about both its shortcomings and its benefits - I'll leave you to find that. But here are two examples of a pretty cynical approach to me - the brand loyal customer:
First is the matter of Bluetooth. In the iPhone Bluetooth is a crippled shadow of its true self. Now this can't be a technical limitation because Bluetooth is a mature capability that is widely and effectively used in mobile devices by many manufacturers. I've come to the view that the limitations in Bluetooth (try sending a contact to your mate with a "brand x" mobile via Bluetooth from your iPhone) are simply driven by Apple's cynical view of what it wants to achieve with the iPhone. Note that - it's not what the user wants to achieve, rather it's what Apple wants to achieve. Pity about the customer.
The second example is Telstra and tethering with the iPhone. On the message boards you'll find comments from users who report having been told by Telstra "Apple is stopping us from offering tethering". Then you'll find posts from users who report having been told by Apple "Telstra is the one who is stopping tethering". Well all I can say is that they can't both be right! Again a cynical approach to the customer. If Apple cared about the customer then I would be able to tether my iPhone. Apple could fix this if it wanted to. Instead they delivered a "fix" in OS 3.1 that stopped all the users who had hacked tethering. I hadn't BTW. Why is it that iPhone users can't tether? Why is it even a topic of conversation? Other mobile devices have been able to tether for ever, why the issue with iPhone? It should simply be able to be done out of the box just like every other device. Delusions of world dominance anyone?
I really feel that the customer isn't at the centre of that universe. This isn't about customer centricity but about the dominance of corporate strategy.
Let's move on to Snow Leopard. I've blogged about my issues with Snow Leopard. I upgraded because I had faith that Apple would have properly tested the system and done the right thing by the customer. As you know there have been problems and big problems, stop the business style problems with Mail. But let's be clear about Apple's priorities here, their corporate priorities: iTunes was upgraded to version 9 recently and in short order we got an upgrade to 9.0.1 - very responsive, only I don't know anyone who was having problems with iTunes. But of course iTunes is a huge money spinner for Apple, unlike Mail. Feeling cynical anyone?
That brings me to my theory of the viable alternative. In my experience people make change for one compound reason: They hate poor delivery and they hate hubris. They have one pre-condition for making change when they see poor delivery and hubris: they ask themselves is there a viable alternative.
Note that, it's not "is there something better", rather it's "is there a viable alternative". Put that another way: product excellence won't cut it over poor service and a perception of a lack of interest in the customer. Customers will "chuck out the incumbent" if there is a halfway decent alternative.
I'm personally at that point with Apple: I think there are viable alternatives. Are they better than Apple products - maybe not. Does Apple demonstrate that they care enough about the customer to keep me? No they don't. Therefore I'm open to viable alternatives. A Google Android device anyone?

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