1997 was a seminal year for both Steve Jobs and Apple. This was the point of his return to the company that he founded; when its fortunes were far from certain, and many questions still remained on his ability to turn around Apple’s ailing fortunes. Yet, Jobs admits that initially being ‘fired’ from Apple, and his subsequent period of exodus, was the best thing that could have happened to him; allowing him time for reflection and releasing the pressures to reinvigorate his creativity. It’s notable that on his return and just before the launch of the iMac in 1998, a product that initiated the re-birth of Apple, Jobs came out with a series of quotes that shed light on his thinking at the time; thoughts that were central to his ethos for developing, delivering and marketing products that would ultimately define a new era for both the company and the world. These insights speak directly to how to consider, construct and deliver Value Propositions that will engage, stimulate and mobilise customers; something that Jobs excelled at more than any other (although unlikely that he ever considered it in such a formalised manner):
1. Start with what you want people to know about you
“To me, marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world, it’s a very noisy world. And we’re not going to get the chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us.”
Steve Jobs to Apple employees, 1997
Jobs recognised that the essence of the Value Proposition is clarity around a core vision or purpose. Put simply (as he did): “what do we want (people) to know about us?” This central thought guided both Apple’s internal dialogue and external Marketing. What did he, his team and the company (/brand) want to be recognised for, and by extension, what did they want their customers to take away from the products that they delivered and marketed? This clarity provided focus, enabling internal teams and external customers to rally behind a central core belief (by taking risks and ‘thinking different’, you can bring about positive change). The Value Proposition is the clear articulation of what it is that you want your employees, customers, partners and stakeholders to know about you. It is the encapsulation of your product or business, starting with why you’re doing it. If this isn’t clear, then your audience won’t give you their attention, they won’t care, and ultimately thy won’t buy what you’re offering.
2. What you leave out is more important than what you put in
Steve Jobs, Apple WWDC, 1997
“I don’t think it’s good that we’re perceived as different, I think it’s important we’re perceived as MUCH BETTER. If being different is essential to doing that, then we have to do that, but if we could be much better without being different, that’d be fine with me. I want to be much better! I don’t care about being different, but we’ll have to be different in some ways to be much better.”
Steve Jobs, Apple WWDC Closing Keynote, 1997
Most marketers focus on ‘differentiation’. Jobs recognised that differentiation for the sake of it is irrelevant. What actually matters is being better. Being different merely provides an alternative to what customers are currently doing or using, and people generally don’t buy mere alternatives given the effort involved in changing. If something is better, then it creates preference, and customers are willing to change for things that they prefer. In the Value Proposition, it is crucial to consider what makes you better; what gives you a clear advantage compared to your competition, rather than just being different.
By devising a Value Proposition that has a clear purpose, focuses on your core benefit, and explains why you’re better than what else is out there, you will achieve standout and resonance with your intended audience. Steve Jobs and Apple used these principles and “made a dent in the universe”…how will you?