I’ll never forget the day Steve Jobs died. As one of the true visionaries and personal heroes in my lifetime, I’d followed him with unfaltering admiration for his passion, attention to detail, and ability to inspire. In fact I’d followed him for so long, I almost felt like I knew him personally. Like many others on the day he died, I learnt of his passing on the actual device that he had invented.
For my Dad it was a different story. Even though as father and son we have an incredible bond through our shared love of computing (at 71 he proudly owns a PC, a Sony PS3, an iPod & iPad) it didn’t affect him.
You see, to my Dad computers and technology were just products. Of course, he knew through me and the media who Steve Jobs was, but to my Dad he was just “the Apple guy”; a businessman from California that made computer products. And just like any manufacturer such as HP, IBM, or Dell, my Dad had no real connection, and didn’t care much to either.
Back in February this year, my parents were heading off on holiday. My sister had given my Dad some vouchers for his birthday, and I had suggested he buy the Walter Isaacson biography on Jobs. He didn’t seem that bothered. “What’s so interesting about a guy that built a computer company?” he exclaimed. You see, although he loves technology, my Dad doesn’t care much for big business; therefore a book about building a multi-billion dollar global corporation didn’t set his world on fire. However, after a little gentle persuading from me, he reluctantly conceded and a week later my folks jetted off to sunnier climates.
During the holiday I received the usual update texts from my Mum. They were enjoying the sunshine, seeing some fantastic places and meeting new friends. However in addition, she also pointed out that my Dad couldn’t put the book on Jobs down. He was completely immersed in the story; speaking to everyone he met about it, and was even pacing himself so that he didn’t finish it too quickly.
A few weeks after their return, I headed down to stay with them. My Dad seemed to bring the topic of the book up in the majority of our conversations. I’d never really seen him like this before; the story of Steve Jobs had clearly moved and inspired him, and I loved seeing the passion he had for something I too shared. Over dinner that evening, my Dad continued to quote sections and stories from the book, each time with more vigour and enthusiasm. It was at this point, I realised I had to take him to an Apple store.
The Apple Shrine
In life, there are a few powerful memories that remain in your mind so vividly, it’s almost like they are carved into your brain. For me, it’s things like being surprised at Christmas with my first computer, my Mum crying when I bought her a car, meeting my nephew for the first time, or the look on my Dad’s face when he entered the Apple store in Exeter on 9th March 2012.
My Dad didn’t care for Apple products or Steve Jobs before reading his story. Yet standing in a retail shop doorway on this cold spring morning, it was like he was staring straight at the physical embodiment of Steve Jobs himself – the beautiful design, the relentless attention to detail and the faultless user experience. He even highlighted to me the story of the floor tiles being specifically imported, and that Steve had personally patented the design of the stunning staircases.
No TV advert, billboard, or cold call could have convinced my Dad to buy an Apple product. And if he did, he would have simply evaluated the rational argument and dismissed it for being too expensive. Yet, connect with him on an emotional level by combining an authentic story with an understanding of a higher belief, and he will buy. My Mum asked my Dad that morning in the Apple store “why do you need one of these iMac’s?” to which he lovingly replied, “I don’t need one June, I want one”.
Since starting the book, my Dad has watched numerous videos of Steve Jobs on YouTube. He’s seen the Stanford speech, a whole range of Apple product launches, and the famous footage of Jobs re-joining Apple in 1996. He has truly connected with Steve’s story and purpose in a very moving way.
The Art of Creating a Brand Story
Apple is successful because it allows people to understand its story. Apple is transparent, consistent and authentic. People buy Apple products because they connect with what the brand stands for. Buying Apple allows customers to portray to others what they believe; that they are one of the crazy ones, that they think different, and they challenge the status quo.
Sure, not everyone is an Apple fan, but that’s why it works. In order to build a beloved brand, it’s essential to have to have both haters and lovers – just be sure to always be true to those who love you.
The reality is, if you aren’t offending someone, the chances are you aren’t fascinating anyone. Faceless, indifferent companies that lack purpose (apart from making money) and that attempt to sell to everyone, are the ones that end up wondering what went wrong. Blackberry manufacturer RIM is a case in point.
How well do you tell your story? Do you have an opinion, or just repeat what everyone else is saying? Does your brand stand for something above and beyond just the products it makes? And can your employees and customers easily communicate what its purpose is? Only by understanding why you exist, and then telling your story in a way that motivates others to act, can you really make a long-term impact.
I talk to brands everyday about the critical importance of consistency, opinion and authenticity – about having a belief in a higher cause that guides you like a shining beacon.
My work takes organisations from just focussing on products, to telling a story that attracts true believers. I grew up obsessed with stories and creativity, and I’m now living what I love every single day; helping companies tell fascinating and authentic stories that in turn, have employees motivated to work for them, and customers queuing up to buy from them. The world has changed; faceless companies are heading for extinction. People want to believe in something bigger than themselves.
My Dad didn’t own an iPad when Steve Jobs died. He does now, and something tells me that’s not going to be the last of his Apple purchases. Thanks for being awesome Dad, and thanks to Steve Jobs for bringing us even closer. Rest in peace Steve.