For The Love Of God, Will Everyone Please Stop Copying Apple?

Yes, Apple is amazing. In no uncertain terms, the company has had a seismic impact on our society. Apple has changed everything from what we buy to how we work and awakened both corporate executives and the general public to the value of good design. Apple has raised our awareness of the value of simplicity (and the rejection of feature overload); the importance of paying attention to every little detail (down to the layout and typography on product manuals); and the seemingly unbelievable business domination that comes from examining not just isolated customer touchpoints but the entire customer experience ecosystem.

Not surprisingly, customer experience professionals at other companies want to follow Apple’s lead. And it’s only natural for one company to be influenced by another.

But in the case of Apple, I’ve been completely stunned over the years to see the degree of blatant copying that’s taken place. This has come, of course, from Apple’s direct competitors. Take, for example, the roughly 40 tablets that were announced at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show; the various Android-based phones, which look more like iPhone clones than not; and the app stores that have popped up to support every major mobile platform.

More than direct competitors, though, I’ve been fascinated by the number of companies outside of the consumer electronics industry that seem set on copying Apple. The latest culprit? Citibank, which recently made news for its “branch of the future.” In an article on financialbrand.com, Citibank’s chief innovation officer was quoted as saying, “We’re knee deep in everything Apple. We’re huge believers in their capabilities, approach, and philosophy, which is about really strong design backed by extraordinary systems.” And while I applaud that thinking, I was shocked when I saw the pictures of the new branch: Blink, and you’d swear it was an Apple store. (Citibank even went so far as to hire the same architectural firm that designed the Apple store concept.)

To be honest, this smacks of an attitude that I thought I had seen the last of during my junior-high days, when everyone copied the most popular girl in the class. But unlike junior-high girls, who will eventually develop more sophisticated perspectives, brands playing the “copy Apple” game face two very real dangers:

  • The experience you create will not be aligned with your brand. The Apple customer experience fits the company’s focus on design and innovation down to a T but that doesn’t mean it’s the right customer experience for any other company. Are your company’s brand attributes the same as Apple’s? Is your strategy the same as Apple’s? If you answered “yes” to both of those questions, good luck. If you answered “no” (and 99% of companies should fall into this category), then you need to focus on defining the customer experience that’s right for your brand. For example, companies aiming to bolster brand attributes like trust, luxury, or healthy living should craft wildly different types of customer experiences than a company focused primarily on innovation.
  • The experience will be one dimensional and set the wrong expectations for customers. The customer experience that Apple provides at any single touchpoint isn’t just a veneer. It reaches deep down into the bowels of its products and services and into every single decision that Apple makes whether it's circuit board design, packaging, transportation, or hiring. (As Apple’s human resources website says, it’s “part career, part revolution.”) So unless your company has created a customer-centric culture that drives every single employee and decision, pretending to be like Apple at any single touchpoint is just going to lead customers to disappointment when they inevitably discover that their experience is an isolated fluke.

Smart execs know that the path to success lies in not looking like everyone else even if the companies they want to emulate are true leaders. Be your own brand. And define the amazing customer experience that’s right for you.

Comments

If you're familiar with the

If you're familiar with the r&d in universities, all what Apple does is not so spectacular. It's just two things Apple does smart: Its marketing (to make rumor and mystery) and the Holistic approach: Make all development (software/hardware/internet) just in one hand - in this case, Apples. So copy the methods they use, not the things they sell.

methods vs. products

hi Jan. I totally agree with this: "So copy the methods they use, not the things they sell."

Excellent article. I couldn't

Excellent article. I couldn't agree more.

I wonder if CB's execs even considered how their life-long "thrid generation" customers would feel after interacting with their new future branches!

IMO Apple does one thing better than any other firm.. They breath and control their customer journeys

JP

hahaha

hi JP, Funny comment about Citibank!

Glad you brought up customer journeys. I agree that this is really important.

Apple doesn't get everything right either

I have a pile of Apple hardware and software (and generally like it) but have to say they don't get everything right either.

Take their support forums: lots of discussions closed after an arbitrary period (whether answered or not); very little evidence of Apple staff participation; and moderators deleting topics that don't display Apple in a favourable light (I don't have evidence of this, but am pretty sure I've seen it happen).

On the other hand, I've had some great customer service from Apple in store. Maybe I've had to push harder than I should have to but they have generally erred on the side of the consumer, rather than enforcing a hard "it's not covered by the warranty so you're on your own" model - for that I applaud the company. In fact, I think that's probbably the main differentiator between Apple's premium products and their PC/consumer electronics/media industry competitors.

Apple are very protective of their brand (as they should be) and have a tremendously loyal set of users; but it does feel like a cult at times - and I'd have to conclude that may be dangerous if emulated.

Totally agree -- Apple isn't perfect

hi Mark,

My colleague James McQuivey wrote a great post last week on Apple's decision to start taking a cut of content delivered through its products, regardless of where a person bought it. From the post: "At Forrester, our call is clear: this is a mistake." http://forr.com/gHx5De

Just one more reason why blindly copying Apple is dangerous!

Stop Copying Apple

Great post Kerry. It's not good enough to copy Apple - companies need to apply lessons from Apple's success to their own brands and customers in order to create unique value ecosystems. Simply copying Apple isn't enough as also supported by my Forrester post on Apple vs. Microsoft in retail
http://blogs.forrester.com/nigel_fenwick/10-11-10-who_will_win_the_retai...

Thanks!

hi Nigel -- Thanks for comment and the link over to your post! I really like your breakdown of the eight retail success factors.

"...the seemingly

"...the seemingly unbelievable business domination..."

I don't follow this part... They are a very well-performing company, with some wonderfully designed products, and impressive growth, but I wouldn't say they're dominating the business. As far as I can glean from various publications online, they aren't dominating the business in any regard in worldwide stats:
* Operating system: WinXP ~48%, Win7 27%, Win Vista 15%, Mac OS ~7%.
* Mobile OS: SymbianOS 30%, iOS 25% <-- Their best showing, worldwide marketshare percentage-wise, Blackberry 15%, Android 14%
* Even in the browser category: IE 46%, Firefox 30%, Chrome ~15%, Safari 5.09%

I do agree with your general sentiment though. Stop copying Apple. Learn from them, definitely. Realize that good design from top to bottom can completely change the game, but don't just visually copy them. :-\

just give them time... :)

hi Troy, Thanks for your comment. I agree that they're not dominating (yet) via those stats. But they've developed products, services, and a business model that the entire business world is now scrambling to recreate. That's domination in my book.

Good point.

Excellent point. They're not doing anything at all on the server side of things, and are still not aggressively growing in the enterprise desktop market (Dell, HP, etc. still corner that, and still bundle Windows: http://bit.ly/gLrOkX) but yes, they have positioned themselves very strongly in the home, end-user, and mobile markets. I think if they reigned in Steve Job's apparent arrogance, they'd be able to capture a bit more Apple-hold outs as well. ;-)

Personally, I think I'd prefer to see no single company control any market. Better competition that way, driving better research and development and design! Better for us that way!

Cheers,
-Troy

Quote of the year...

100% agree. Learn from companies like Apple, but be true to your core brand and capabilities. Well said!

Thanks!

Thanks, Allyson! :)

To your point, Kerry, those

To your point, Kerry, those who do what Apple does, without regard to their own core value proposition, will confuse both themselves and their customers.

One thing that Apple has done consistently, which has given it consistent success, is to build an extraordinary customer experience directly into their products. If other companies emulate that – building the experience directly into their own product – they’ll enhance their own brand, and delight their own customers in an Apple-like way.

For more on how “Apple builds the experience into the product,” go here: http://jlwatsonconsulting.typepad.com/my-blog/2011/01/this-weekend-new-y...

Building the experience into the product

hi Jim,

Thanks for weighing in. You and several others have mentioned things that Apple does right -- like building the experience into the product, focusing on (or controlling) customer journeys, and taking a holistic approach.

What do others think? What's Apple's secret sauce? (The kind of stuff we can apply in our own companies, not just copy.) And -- perhaps most importantly -- do you think that your company could really start to internalize these lessons?

Join the discussion in our CXP community

Since I've gotten a fair number of comments on this post, I've just opened a discussion in Forrester's customer experience community: What's Apple's secret sauce? And can your company apply it?

Please join us there!

Algo muy parecido a esto, en

Algo muy parecido a esto, en el mismo sentido, aunque más breve ya lo escribí el 29 de septiembre de 2010 en mi blog:

Qué aburrido es el diseño web: Plagio de Google y Apple
http://escipion.lacoctelera.net/post/2010/09/29/que-aburrido-es-diseno-w...

Un Saludo

Translated by Google:

Something very like this, in the same direction, but shorter and I wrote on September 29, 2010 in my blog:

How boring is to design web: Google and Apple Plagiarism
http://escipion.lacoctelera.net/post/2010/09/29/que-aburrido-es-diseno-w...

A Salute

Deja Vu all over again

Hi Kerry-

I can't tell you the number of conversations I've heard that go like this: "Company X is amazing. Have you thought of making your company known as the Company X of your space?"

For today's Company X, look for:
Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Social Media insert here

And 2 years ago:
Salesforce.com, Google, Apple

Ugh. Maintaining your brand integrity is critical. If you are the "company X of your space," you're simply following and not leading. And watch out, for tomorrow there's another company to follow.

When it's ok to be the "Company X" of your space

Amy, I understand and agree with your point about the importance of maintaining one's brand integrity, but I also think that a company can simultaneously be the leader in its space, AND the "Company X" of its space - as long as its space is not the same space occupied by Company X.

Example, using Salesforce.com as the Company X:
Workday (www.workday.com) is a 6 year-old HR software solution that is deployed exclusively as Software as a Service (SaaS). Workday competes (successfully) against the traditional on-premise leaders of the HR Software space (PeopleSoft and SAP) much like Salesforce.com did in the tired CRM industry, dominated by the Siebel’s of the world.

When Workday is referred to as the Salesforce.com of the HR software space, that's not such a bad thing. Workday has created a new category (SaaS) within its space, and has become the dominant player in that category.

The key difference is that Workday and Salesforce, the "Company X" occupy different categories/"spaces."

It's this for that

This conversation reminds me of one of my favorite sites: itsthisforthat.com

The site asks, "Wait, what does your startup do?" and then randomly generates answers that explain the startup in the context of Company X. The answers begin, "So basically it's like a:"
- Netflix for surgeons
- Wordpress for attractive people
- Enron for middle schoolers
- Amazon for Family Guy enthusiasts
- Wikipedia for cheap vodka
- Yelp for cougars
- Foursquare for billionaires
- Match.com for adult dancers
- Flickr for government corruption

Ok, I'm not sure what some of those companies would actually do, and others scare me. But they're all good for a laugh! :-)

In all seriousness, I agree with Jim that sometimes comparing one company to another can help to explain the business model. But Amy's point is also valid. In 2004 I started hearing from companies that wanted to have the iPod of their industry -- but they didn't really grasp what that actually meant, and they certainly didn't understand what it would take to make it happen.

A LinkedIn for Chinese Takeout?

Thanks Kerry, for sharing the link to "It's this for that."
I'm still laughing between keystrokes - that site is WAY to addictive!
Amy, if you haven't been there yet, it's worth checking out!

Best regards all,
Jim

A google for trees

Yep, that web site was a big hit for me and my team. That, along with buzzword bingo :)