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Brand Thinking
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Brand Design, Apple Style

By Burkey Belser
June 20, 2011
Brand Design, Apple Style

Wednesday's Journal reported JC Penney's theft of Ron Johnson, the genius behind the Genius Bar and Apple store designs. The more interesting sidebar was the report on "Secrets from the Genius Bar," an insider's look at the brand design and strategy principles that account for the stores' remarkable success. Go ahead and read the article but here are my takeaways:

* Nothing is left to chance.  Not a thing.  Apple's control of its physical point of contact with customers extends beyond the light and airy feel of the stores.  Training is scripted. Every detail is managed down to the "pre-loaded photos and music on demo devices."  Brand managers may find this a challenge in partnerships where left-brained, ego-strong lawyers and accountants and consultants own the store. But guess what?  That's the price of great brands.  In today's market of online cranky consumer reviews, strictly control what you can.  You can write scripts for ALL of your receptionists.  Yes, you can.  You can write the introduction to every PowerPoint sales show. Yes, you can.  You can develop a checklist of questions for sales opportunities and even the casual conversations that occur at charitable events and conferences. Yes, you can.

* Apple technicians don't sell; they listen. They are even urged to limit responses to "Uh-huh' 'I understand.'" Making emotional connections. Giving comfort. This behavior, which is not at all natural to everyone, can be learned. The details of their language are also carefully thought-through. One point I love: staffers were "told to say 'as it turns out' rather than 'unfortunately' to sound less negative when they are unable to solve a tech problem." I come from the South but this is a detail of courtesy even I wasn't taught.

* Back for a moment to store design. White walls. Hardwood floors. Clean, sleek counters. A Genius Bar for troubleshooting. A play area for kids. Set-up desks to assist buyers getting the software up and running. The products themselves are staged.  Just for a moment, apply that thought to your lobby. Interesting, no? Imagine the "receptionist" out from behind a lectern or small desk with a tall stool coming to greet visitors. Imagine not one but half a dozen plasma screens on the wall.  Forget the Sports Bar. Why not a Business Bar with coffee and sodas instead?  Now apply that thought to your website. Then keep going down the list of "spaces" where your clients and prospects interact with the firm. (We can help you do all of that, including the lobby space.)

We often talk about the 20,000 foot view and the zip foot view in our shop. One isn't more important than the other. But it's rare to find companies who struggle hard to keep an eye on both.