Before you read you must watch this video.
Last month Apple experienced some turbulence after the release of its highly anticipated iPhone 4, the phone that changes everything. Again. Shortly after the product’s release some consumers began complaining of a problem whereby signal strength would be greatly diminished or at worst a call would drop if the phone was held in a particular manner.
Apple quipped back asking consumers to simply not hold the phone this way. This added fuel to the fire for the detractors and Apple found itself in the centre of the Company’s first major public relations crisis in over a decade.
Rather than make immediate pleas, the Apple executive team waited until July 16th to address the media and public directly with respect to this issue. Jobs who gave a rather persuasive presentation posited that signal loss due to the way the phone is held is not unique to the iPhone, in fact it is something the entire smart phone industry battles with. The hard data Jobs presented with respect to the drop call rates, return rates and other metrics are hard to debate. When you look at the numbers you wonder how it is that this particular story became so big, so quickly. The complain rate on the new iPhone 4 at Apple Care is .55%. That’s half of one percentage point. The return rate on the new iPhone 4 is 1.7%, less than 1 third of the iPhone 3Gs return rates. Gosh, what is all the hoopla about?!
This begs the question: Will all of this diminish Apple’s brand in the long run?
I look back to Maple Leaf’s handling of the Listeria outbreak in their Canadian facilities as a benchmark. When faced with a real and truly deserved public relations crisis the leadership at Maple Leaf foods actually enhanced their brand by taking immediate ownership and claiming responsibility. They took out full page ads in Canada’s national newspapers and sought to control the discourse in its early stages of development.
Here is an example of one of their ads:
Apple on the other hand waited. Mainly because they could and more to that end they wanted to wait until there was data to present to people so that comparison and benchmark analysis could be made. Apple is actually a leader in antenna technology and has produced the most sophisticated antennas in the industry. Some have complained that Apple waited too long to address this problem, but these people don’t understand that addressing ‘the problem’ would be an admission that there is a problem in the first place and if these individuals can look at the hard data they will see that there is no problem.
Anyway back to the question at hand: diminishing the brand. I do not see how this can have long term, adverse impacts on the brand. iPhone 4 has already sold 3 million units and the general sense is that the product itself is culturally stick – people want it. People know that Apple makes great products, has great customer service and will buy their stuff. In the normal course of a brand there will be hiccups and challenges that must be faced – just ask Toyota. Great companies and great brands will persevere though because they offer something tangible and desirable that people want, maybe even need. So I can’t see this eating into Apple too much for any longer. So perhaps I should just stop talking about it and let the story die?
In the end, if you don’t like the phone, don’t buy one.