Social Identity

Why Apple shines

I think we all know by now that Steve Jobs is a very smart guy.

His natural affinity for beautiful design, and savvy marketing skills helped Apple become the most valuable brand in the world, ahead of Google, or Facebook, or Coke.

But his personality may have had as much to do with Apple’s success as any art or marketing skills. I don’t know Jobs, so this is conjecture, but he seems predisposed to the classic Us vs Them personality type. Certainly, he has promoted Apple this way, from the very first, and famous, 1984 TV spot.


Here’s where the Theory of Social Identity comes in.

We humans have an inherent tendency to categorize ourselves into groups. This often happens subconsciously, and we base our personal identity partly on our group affiliations. Then, we tend to create boundaries to keep our groups separate from other’s groups.

That’s part of the reason Harvard grads feel vastly superior to graduates from your local community college. Part of the point of buying a Mercedes or Maserati is that most people can’t afford them, so driving one identifies you as different from, and superior to other drivers.

And it helps explain why we will spend hundreds more to buy a computer made by Apple than one made by Acer or Dell: It makes us a member of an exclusive group, and everyone who sees the Apple logo on our laptop or smart phone instantly knows that.

Jobs has done a brilliant job, from the first, of clearly differentiating between ‘Apple people’ and all the rest of the shlubs. They’re smarter, hipper, better people.

Part of Apple’s momentum is our own innate need to belong to such a cool group, and because being in that group confers status, we’ve become evangelists for the brand, helping Jobs market his products even though we’re not paid to do so.

The ‘cult of Apple’ is fact. Consider this: “In a recently screened BBC documentary, UK neuroscientists suggested that the brains of Apple devotees are stimulated by Apple imagery in the same way that the brains of religious people are stimulated by religious imagery.

The documentary is called Secrets of the Superbrands and you can read more about it HERE.

As with most Apple ads, the focus is on the coolness of the people using the product, and the nerdiness of the people using the other products, more than on the product itself.

iPhone ads never, ever talk about the actual phone call, the part where you talk to someone not in your presence and they talk back.

So, how do you make your listeners feel they are part of an exclusive group? As we discussed last week, if music isn’t part of your arsenal, you’re wasting a weapon.

Stop worrying about quantity claims, and dive deep into the emotional hooks of songs and how they make those listening feel. That requires you to listen to what you’re playing, to have a mood-meld with those listening.

What are you doing to create an Us versus Them mentality in your groups (and, yes, there can, and will be, more than one)?

Stand for something.
Spotlight your differences.
Allow extra access to your most devoted, evangelistic group members.
Share the passion, and the personal stories behind that passion, for the songs you love.

If you want concrete ideas, call me. Let’s talk — because I have some.