Rotten to the core?

CrunchOne 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.

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7 Responses to Rotten to the core?

  1. Let’s all just hope that Apple patented it and will safely leave it locked up without licensing it out to anybody. I can’t imagine that a company as focused on customer experience as Apple is will suddenly throw all of that to the wind.

    • Chris says:

      Thanks Travis, and yes, I agree.
      What I can’t figure out is why they would even consider it. I’m sure we can all come up with scumbag ideas for ripping people off, but we’d surely dismiss them immediately if we didn’t work for Michael O’Leary?
      What might the impact on Steve Jobs’s own brand be if the Apple fans club realise that he is cable of even considering such a thing?

  2. Paul Tomblin says:

    Apple has patented a lot of stuff over the years, most of which never sees the light of day. I think they just reflexively patent any idea they have in case somebody else gets the same idea later.

    • Chris says:

      Thanks for the comment Paul.
      Yes, I understand that logic. I just wondered if they stopped to think what their fan base would have made of it.

  3. Apple already have a track record of inconveniencing their users in order to maximise income.

    Take support for the flash plug-in. Around 99% of browsers are flash enabled, and a large number of websites assume this. Yet Apple won’t allow it on the iphone, because it wants to sell ‘Apps’.

    Nevertheless, the cult continues to grow. The latest place of worship – a vast glass box – was recently opened in New York:

    http://gothamist.com/2009/11/14/upper_west_side_apple_store_opens_i.php

    Thanks be to Jobs.

    • Chris says:

      Thanks Andy.
      You dare to mention the unmentionable – that the user experience of Apple products is not always as delightful as they would like us to believe.
      I was staggered when you pointed out that the iPod would always put a slight pause between each “track” and this meant that classical music (which tends to have track markers as pointers in the middle of continuous music as it moves from one theme to another) could not be listened to without a silence that neither the composer, conductor or musician had intended. I guess no one in Cupertino listens to classical music!

  4. Pingback: Apple differentiates the iPad | Effectivus Product Management

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