One of the concepts I learned about during my MBA that really resonated with me was that of the Psychological Contract. This is the unwritten, and largely unspoken, contract between an employee and their employer. The idea is that during the recruitment process discussions will give rise to a set of expectations about how each will behave and what they can expect of one another. This is further developed as the employee becomes part of the organisation and learns “how things are done around here”. If those expectations are not met, there is a breach of the psychological contract and the employee may feel a reduced level of loyalty, motivation and commitment.
A similar type of contract is built up between a customer and a supplier. The customer, reading the marketing information, absorbing the messages and negotiating the purchase, will build up a set of expectations about both the product and the company. That set of expectations is based on the values that the brand communicates. If those values are true to the organisation, the customer is likely to be satisfied, or even delighted, with the relationship – they get what they are expecting, and are likely to be an advocate of the brand. If, however, the values are unrealistic or untrue, the customer will become dissatisfied and may feel cheated or tricked. They’ll certainly not be promoting the brand to their friends and colleagues.
So, what might the reaction of that hugely devoted Apple customer base to the suggestion that Apple might force them to take adverts in return for cheaper products? The Independent today (Tue 17 Nov 2009) reported that Apple has filed a patent, with Steve Jobs listed as the first of the 5 inventors, for “enforcement routine” software. The idea being that you get your iPod cheap in return for receiving ads. The clever software ensures that you’ve understood the ad by asking you a question about it. Get the question wrong and the device could be locked.
One commentator described it as “the most invasive, demeaning, anti-utopian and downright horrible piece of cross-platform software technology that anybody’s ever thought of.” So, a positive enforcement of the brand then?
This is the type of behaviour I’d expect from Ryan Air. I understand that I get unrealistically cheap air fares in return for a constant barrage of advertising. I also know from experience that Ryan Air will try to trick me into incurring extra spending or penalty fees if I fail to follow their arcane procedures exactly. That’s fine and my view of their brand compared to Virgin or BA reflects that.
The problem is that Apple’s oh-so-cool brand, with its beautiful , minimalist design, high fashion, high value (and high priced) products seems completely out of place with such a cheap trick. If Apple’s strategy is to go down market to grow their sales, they appear to be on target, but considering the likely impact on their high-end brand, it seems a very high risk strategy.