The Brilliance of Apple’s Innovation Strategy

A lot of tech-heads love to poke at Apple as not being innovative. They point to the technology as having already existed long before Apple’s repackaging of it, claiming that it’s essentially a dumbed down version of better options. And there is merit to the argument. Apple certainly didn’t invite the laptop computer, nor did they invent the MP3 player. And, more recently, Apple is not the first VR headset to hit the market. That’s not Apple’s path or strategy.

The brilliance of Apple isn’t in its pioneering innovation. Instead, it’s in its iterative innovation which is antithetical to adages of being first to market.

Old school thinking would tell you that being first to market is an indelible advantage that leaves everyone else clamoring for second place at best. The thinking is that second best will always be at a disadvantage. Just reference Pepsi versus Coca-Cola or Avis versus Enterprise (although Avis’ “we try harder” campaign takes advantage of their standing.) It seems that pioneers are lauded way too much, however.

Pioneers have a huge and oftentimes insurmountable task at hand. Before they can tout their benefits, they have to create demand and a sense of need within the marketplace. That takes time and money, which many startups simply don’t have. So what’s a better path? Iterate.

Iteration embraces competition and instead looks to improve on what’s already available in some way, or ways. Rather than looking to create an unknown widget with the hopes that people may buy it, iteration finds an existing product and market the builds better products for a core group.

For Apple, the early adopters simply aren’t a focus. Early adopters are great for many reasons, but they aren’t a large mass of people. Not large enough to fuel a successful company. Apple, instead, looks to find mass appeal with people to appreciate reliable technology that’s fashionable and easy to use.

Early tech adopters love new innovations. They love their complexities and other features. It’s a right of passage and affords them a position of superiority. Larger groups appreciate things much different.

Apple’s Patron group appreciates tech that doesn’t require too much thinking. Tech that’s beautiful and well designed, rather than clunky. They prefer a balance of form and function, rather than function dominating form.

As a result, the team at Apple doesn’t focus on creating a new piece of technology. They look to iterate a better version of that technology with a design-first approach, happily owning second-to-market status.

Without the identification of “iteration” and “design-thinking” as tenets, this strategy would not work. This is why brand strategy is so critical. Brand strategies help find the opportunities for a company to iteratively innovate in a category. This is usually in the form of focusing on the needs of a subculture where specific needs and shortcomings of existing products can easily be identified.

Strong, successful brand strategies help companies establish better paths to success where innovation is crafted to suit a core group of people. That’s not to say that first to market doesn’t have its advantages, but uncharted territory is dangerous for many reasons.

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