Why Apple and Its Brand Can Endure a Crisis

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In the guest post below, Ronn Torossian, Founder, President and CEO of New York-based 5W Public Relations, discusses Apple’s brand credibility and how the company would survive a potential iPhone 4 recall.

by Ronn Torossian

Much different than BP, Toyota, Mel Gibson, Tiger Woods and Dell, Apple can better weather negative media and afford a PR crisis (if such a thing is possible).  Let’s keep things in perspective for Apple – The brand is so hot that there are waiting lists for their products, and they won’t even take your money in their stores.  Even with a massive, high-probability record-recall, Apple still will emerge unscathed in the big picture.  They have made so many right moves for so many years that one misstep was to be expected.

In exploring the world of branding and marketing, people tend to lean on the mass marketing concepts taught in schools of business. They teach about power branding, co-branding, differentiation and loyal consumers following their brand preferences. As these are all valid concepts, it is a natural negligence of the power of the brand stemming from media coverage and public awareness. If not for PR management and buzz around innovation, none Apple’s inventions of the last decade would have been as successful as they currently are.

Were people agitated by Dell only since its batteries burst into flames while working on your laptop? No, the batteries were one additional negative aspect of the brand stemming from the late 90s’ caused by reckless communication management instead of quality service. As for the recent Mel Gibson fiasco, are the newly released tapes the only reason the public is asking to end his career? No, there is a recent history with poorly-considered statements and very unfortunate timing. This also applies to BP with the oil spill and the public opinion of corporate ‘Greed,’ goes alongside the jealousy and anger towards Tiger Woods’ glamorous career, and concludes with Toyota, which simply wouldn’t admit to mistakes and playing with peoples lives.  They all paid the price and will continue to for miscommunication.

Apple has been innovating and determining the way consumers of all walks of life live, do business, and interact. It is a brand that applies to all industries and it reinvents itself all the time while dominating the markets of Telecom, Tech, and mass consumption. Just as Fed-ex defined overnight travel, how many people are walking around with “walkmans” these days? No one, now it’s the iPod, stupid. Apple has amazing products, but all of them would mean nothing had Apple neglected the communications around its activity.

If IBM’s Thomas Watson of the 50’s is known for his pathetic statement, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers, then Apple is known for the exact opposite. The bi-annual Apple extravaganza in San Francisco is an unprecedented attraction of media attention. It is as if every single year Apple will and should introduce us to a new way to make life easier. Its CEO is a brand power that is reenergized by his quiet, almost “simple” character that lacks colorful dimensions. The products enjoy a pre-sale rate that shows a blindly-directed consumer market, overachieving substitutes.

Today, Apple can afford the iPhone 4 recall because – from the public’s view – they are almost vital to our “existence.” The awareness this brand gained and maintained in the minds of the masses stands as a symbol of technological modernity. It defined mobility.  It reads portability and integration. It defines social interaction through its apps. As a business, it acts as a generator of income for app developers and social media marketers, and let’s not forget how it revolutionized the music industry through iTunes.

What Apple did that no other brand could do is integrate and harmonize all its sub-brands as leverage for a major awareness-building stunt – known to us as “Apple”. In contrast to Toyota, people will return the device and impatiently await its replacement, because Apple doesn’t have peers, whereas a Toyota driver can easily drive a Honda, instead. In addition, Apple lures customers to the next innovation – be it iPad 3, iPod 5 or Shuffle 8. When Toyota cars were returned, it was a ‘Goodbye’ wave from former drivers. The recovery for Toyota will require a regained credibility and loyalty on the consumer’s end. On the other hand, the Apple case is so strong that loyalty remains intact.

The strength of Apple stems from its PR and brand awareness. The probable recall reinforces the public opinion of Apple that displays it as a highly-crucial piece of equipment in our daily lives. Apple described the possible recall as a “sign of its commitment to consumer quality devices,” and that shows how well the PR machine works for Apple. For any other brand this would mean a disastrous outcome and a possible end to periodical success.

For Apple, it’s a re-run of the suspense and sleeping bag phenomenon seen outside Apple stores worldwide. If they sold 3 million devices now, I’m thinking they will sell 5 million by the end of this epic.

Ronn Torossian is president and CEO of 5WPR, one of the 20 largest independent PR firms in the U.S. Named one of the top “40 Under 40” by PR Week & Advertising Age, Torossian was a semi-finalist for Ernst & Young 2010 Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and his PR agency works with a roster of iconic brands.

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