What Happens When A Person Becomes Your Brand?

Rest in peace, Steve Jobs. You left the world a better place and Apple’s marketing team with a big job on their hands.

I am a recovering Apple fanboy. I used to believe that everything that Apple Computer did was perfect. And if you’ve ever used a Mac at work, then went home to a PC, you might agree with me.  I love my iPod (anyone who reads this blog regularly knows how much I love my music), I love my iPad and I love my Macbook Pro. I’ve been a user for a long, long time. I bought my first Mac 20 years ago in college (and yes, they were incredibly expensive even then). I’ve used a Mac almost every day ever since.

But Apple isn’t perfect (sorry Jasper). I was around when Steve Jobs left to start Pixar, etc., and it was a dark time for the company. Leadership made some crazy decisions, the company lost touch with its core demographic (creative people) and worst of all, quality suffered. In other words, Apple without Steve Jobs was a below-average computer company.

That’s why it made so much sense to lionize Jobs when he returned. Apple chose to make Jobs the poster boy (something Jobs seemed to go along with willingly) for the company’s marketing efforts, and it paid off. Not only was Jobs a brilliant innovator, he had the right mix of personality and mystery to make him something of an icon. In fact, Steve Jobs very quickly became synonymous with Apple’s brand. When he fell ill, Wall Street panicked, solidifying the fact that the company could just has easily been called Jobs Computer.

Apple knew what it was doing when it turned the Apple brand into the Steve Jobs brand. It worked perfectly, and Apple has been printing money ever since. But now that he’s gone, Apple has a big problem on its hands – the same problem that any company has when all of their marketing equity is in a person rather than in the company itself.

If the CEO of CocaCola left tomorrow, would anybody know the difference? Would you be worried about the future of Coke? Probably not. The Coke brand is infinitely more important than any one person. That’s a long-term project that Coke has excelled at. On the other hand, Apple’s short-sighted gains may become a long-term headache, especially if their products don’t remain on the cutting edge.

I hope it doesn’t happen. I hope that they are able to find a new way to sell themselves, and I hope they keep up the good work when it comes to their products. In the meantime, we can all learn a lesson from Apple Computer. Your brand is bigger than any one person or thing, and that’s how you should keep it.