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Marketing lessons from Steve Jobs

Look closely at the marketing strategies used by Steve Jobs and other visionaries and the first thing that comes to mind is the realisation that marketing is not a democratic process and that those who are really successful at it are, yes, visionaries.
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Great marketing, I believe, requires visionary leadership in the form of a benevolent dictatorship capable of inspiring teamwork among those who work for them.

Pains in the ass

Visionary marketers do not suffer fools gladly and, while men and women such as Steve Jobs are a pain in the ass to work for, their sheer brilliance, excessively hard work and self-belief is enough to make those who carry out their orders be willing to die for them.

Of course, one cannot generalise when it comes to marketing because there are often many exceptions to what look like hard and fast rules. But, on average, behind every successful brand you will find a visionary leader.

People such as Steve Jobs and his ilk prove that marketing is not something that can be successfully developed by a committee or consensus. This applies to every aspect of marketing, from product development to pricing, promotion and advertising, to mention just a few.

"I am right"

One of the many famous Jobs' quotes that has stuck in my mind is: "The customer is not right. I am."

While this might sound like the absolute antithesis of good marketing, it is actually spot on when it comes to product development. The fashion industry, the music industry, the entertainment industry are all proof positive that consumer trends are set by brands and not consumers.

Certainly, research helps determine consumer aspirations but, generally speaking, when it comes to new products and services, the customer has no idea what he or she wants. History is jam-packed with case histories - such as Apple - where a visionary had the idea and the marketing skills to produce a great product or service that consumers became convinced they wanted.

Where the customer is always right, however, is when it comes to after-sales service and everything else that happens after a product or service is supplied.

What Jobs got absolutely right was implementing that very basic fundamental "it's not what I want to say but what my customer wants to hear." He did that every time he got on stage and it was this that made those Apple launches so successful.

It's got to be good

But, of course, one cannot just produce any old product and expect marketing to make it sell like hotcakes. A product has to have some consumer benefit and this is the reason that there are so many new product failures about. That's where the visionary part comes in.

Successful businessmen such as Jobs and Richard Branson might be diametrically opposed in terms of their personalities and the way they go about their trades. They do things thing very differently.

But, while they have nothing else in common, they share the trait of being visionary marketers.

What they teach us is that marketing isn't just a matter of luck or a magic bullet; it's about careful planning, attention to detail and masterful timing.

In fact, no successful marketer relies on even the slightest amount of luck or just firing blindly into the marketplace, hoping for something miraculous to happen.

About Chris Moerdyk: @chrismoerdyk

Apart from being a corporate marketing analyst, advisor and media commentator, Chris Moerdyk is a former chairman of Bizcommunity. He was head of strategic planning and public affairs for BMW South Africa and spent 16 years in the creative and client service departments of ad agencies, ending up as resident director of Lindsay Smithers-FCB in KwaZulu-Natal. Email Chris on and follow him on Twitter at @chrismoerdyk.