Why Apple Doesn't Need You

This is an era where the conversation with customers is critical, or so we're told. So why is Apple arguably the hottest company around?

J. Nicholas Hoover, Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

December 11, 2008

3 Min Read

This is an era where the conversation with customers is critical, or so we're told. So why is Apple arguably the hottest company around?Conventional wisdom, at least in the tech community, now says any company worth its salt should be blogging. The customer-vendor relationship is a conversation, it's a connection. You can't live without having an ongoing conversation with your customer. Over at eWeek's Apple Watch blog, Joe Wilcox bemoans the fact that Apple doesn't blog at all and isn't particularly responsive to journalists (I'm being charitable -- they usually completely ignore us). He says Apple better wake up or the Net Generation won't buy into Apple forever.

Now it's true that Apple doesn't do any of this social media stuff. But Apple makes things people want, it seems to understand what's cool, and it is the ultimate arbiter of what it creates. Rule number one for business isn't "be transparent and open." It's "create stuff people want." Pets.com couldn't have wiki'd, blogged, and "transparencied" its way to profitability.

Will this approach work for everyone? No. I'm sorry, but not everyone's company can be as "cool" as Apple, and as I've been writing about for a while now, this is indeed the era of social media. Even within Appple's products, there are glaring examples of where my argument goes awry: for example, customers can share playlists and see what's popular on iTunes.

Look, I think it is important that companies find a collaborative voice online, that they tap into the power of wikis, the healthy transparency of blogs, and the feedback loop of social networks. After all, it's the customer that drives the business and the employees that run it. It's quite helpful to know what your customers want and employees need, and social media and transparency is a good vehicle to create a bond, a relationship with your customers. It's just not the only thing. In the end, the company decides what's best for the company.

Do I wish Apple was more open and transparent? Yes. Do I wish they returned my calls once in a while? Yes. But Apple's successful despite all this, which means it is doing something very right that's as or more important than directly communicating with its customers and soliciting feedback online.

Newsflash: the Net Generation is the one driving Apple's renewal. Maybe Apple's "silent approach is so last century," as Joe writes, but its laserlike focus on the user interface is so this century. Apple makes the iPod and the Mac look simple. Apple hardware has sleek lines, and the user interface is pretty and generally instinctive. Apple ad campaigns remain memorable and "cool." And it creates all this in secret. Like George Bush, Apple is the ultimate decider of what it builds.

Conversations about Apple take place more by word of mouth, in packed Apple stores in malls, and in quickly spreading speculation. There's buzz out there, and Apple doesn't need to drive it with social media and by talking to me daily.

Again, Apple isn't open with developers and it isn't open with its customers, yet whatever Apple is doing, it's working. Since the company is generally a black box, we just don't know what goes on inside Apple. Heck, we don't even know if it's actually listening to customers at all. It might tune it all out and just get to work.

But the lesson here is that even if you're listening, you're still going to have to make the final call. Often, customers don't know what they want. They need a little help. If they knew what they wanted, they would just have collectively said "what we want is an iPod" before it ever came out. It's "if you build it, they (well, "he," but that's semantics) will come," not the other way around.

About the Author(s)

J. Nicholas Hoover

Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

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