Say What? Brand expert Rob Frankel insists: ‘Apple’s glory days are over’

September 20, 2012

Frankel has in some quarters been called "the best branding expert on the planet." He blogs about all things brand at his website and has also authored the book 'The Revenge of Brand X'. Here's an edited Q&A of our recent interview: 

You’ve had some forthright views on Apple in the past. What do you see in the future for Tim Cook’s firm?
Since 2010, I’ve been writing that that Apple’s days of dominating are on the downslide, but that the market has not realized it yet.

And although Apple has a long future, the glory days are over. I actually think one of the places they will get hit is in the tablet market.

Why do you say that?
I’ve seen some pretty weird stuff happening. There was a time when Netscape dominated 90% of the market but within 18 months Internet Explorer just destroyed it. And then before the Internet, Microsoft came out with Word and decimated word processing.

So I’ve seen it happen before where a leaner, meaner market product takes over.

In my opinion, Google has done the smart play by coming in late with a low price and an open ecosystem. Apple, by comparison, will in time be seen as expensive and closed off.

And instead of selling the benefits of closed systems, they’ll become the ‘Microsoft of cool’, bating everybody in before locking the door behind them.

Most people seem content enough with this walled garden approach, at least when it comes to Apple. Does the issue come down to innovation?
I think they’ll eventually run out of ideas. I hear Apple is doing an iPad Mini, and let’s say they get away with that. That’s fine, but it’s not really innovation just downscaling.

And then let’s say they do something in the TV space. The next thing after that that Jobs wanted was to go into the education market, but without Jobs I am not sure they’ll have the horsepower or design.

Jobs had this ability to see the bigger picture and the granular detail, and this is a rare talent — attacking the education market requires that.

If you see Jobs very much as the visionary of Apple, what do you make of Tim Cook as CEO?
All around the world there are three generations of wealth; the grandfather creates the wealth, the father spends it and the son loses it.

After the visionary leaves, the next generation doesn’t understand the vision of the company, so someone like Tim Cook will just look to maximize everything.

But you can’t underestimate the human factor, or put it on a balance sheet. If you’re comparing two tablets between $500 and $99, it’s not rational for the consumer to spend five times more. So something has to account for that.

One of Jobs bad decisions was keeping Cook there; he was good for a take-over or as a babysitter, but he was a second in command. I would have sooner seen Jonny Ive become CEO, as he’s closer to what Jobs was.

Jobs was more of a designer, but Cook is anything but and sees design as a means to an end.

Clearly, Apple won’t see my views but I speculate that there are executives walking around the Apple suite thinking ‘is this what Steve wanted us to do?’ They’re trying to second guess his vision.

Apple recently won its patent battle with Samsung. What effect do these lawsuits have on consumers and their appetite for the iPad?
The Samsung battles are the next chapter of the story. You’re starting to see Apple sue on design, not on anything substantial and it begins to look desperate.  

And when it gets down to rounded corners, something which may have been important to Jobs, the majority of consumers don’t really care. If anything they’ll start to see that most tablets are the same, and will save their bucks by going to a lesser brand.

What do you make of Apple’s rivals and their brand strategies?
The larger companies aren’t doing what a brand should do, and often confuse branding with identify and don’t really understand the value of a brand.

Both Google and Microsoft don’t really have a brand strategy. Microsoft is driven by numbers and products that sell, and Google suffers the same lack of brand awareness. No-one, not even those inside Google, can really articulate a precise brand strategy.


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