Be Like Apple, Nike and Harley Davidson: What the Success of the iPad 3 Teaches Marketers About Customers

You can’t help but watch it. Every time Apple launches a new product, we have a cultural spectacle unfolding before our eyes. In the most recent incarnation—the launch of the iPad 3—we have newspaper headlines screaming about shoppers lining up to buy on the second day the tablet was available. Pre-orders were phenomenal, breaking all previous records.

We’ve seen Blackberry, Motorola, Dell, and even Google dipping their toes into the clearly profitable tablet waters, yet none have met with the enthusiastic response that Apple has enjoyed. What’s the critical difference?

Understanding The Customer for a Critical Competitive Advantage

Apple, and other organizations that enjoy a similar dominant market position, do so because they focus intensively on understanding their customer base. Knowing, with a high degree of certainty, what consumers want and more importantly, why they want it, can be a huge strategic advantage for any organization.

This is a conversation that transcends screen size and the presence of a camera and even price. Up to 90% of all customer behavior is unconscious. There are powerful, compelling psychological forces at play that influence every decision that we make. We have biological drivers hardwired into our psyche; we grow up in a cultural environment that shapes our worldview. The customer does not come to us as an empty slate. They come equipped with experiences and insights of their own, a collection that makes them predisposed to listen to one type of message and reject another.

As a marketer, wouldn’t you like to know which was which?

Becoming aware of the unconscious psychological factors motivating customer behavior enables us to begin building the much-needed mechanism for taking marketing to the next level. We need to be able to understand—to an actionable degree—the unconscious psychological factors that motivate as much as 90% of all customer behavior, and to perform objective, quantitative research that reveals what that information means for our brands.

By developing a deep, multi-faceted view of the customer, it becomes possible to predict, with a high degree of certainty, how a brand’s customers will predict to marketing efforts. The ability to identify what messages, visuals, and language will resonate with a customer, as well as to understand the source and power of that resonance, is what differentiates dominant organizations from the rest of their industry.

When you can predict customer behavior, you enjoy a higher degree of organizational efficiency. Decision making becomes easier: when faced with a range of marketing directions, you have the actionable data you need to assess potential outcomes and make strategic choices. Clear, strong customer bonds lead to increased market share and profitability as buyers who are heavily vested in a brand are strongly motivated to share their enthusiasm with others.

We see this with Apple. They sell computers, phones, and high tech toys, but they are successful because they’re the vendor of choice for empowerment and personal expression. Harley-Davidson dominates in the motorcycle marketplace because they embody the freedom of open roads and the camaraderie of fellow adventurers. Nike sells more running shoes than anyone else because they understand that more than anything their customers want to win.

Delving Deeper to Form Stronger Customer Connections

The familiar tools of demographics, psychographics, and market analysis have not failed us. But we have reached a point where we must admit that they are no longer sufficient.  What Apple does, what Harley Davidson does, and what Ikea, Nike, and other dominant organizations do, can be done by other companies.

As marketers, we’re at a crossroads. We’ve long understood the role of the emotional response in generating customer interest, driving sales, and enduring customer loyalty. Now we must we must take a more humanistic approach to customer understanding—a view that both incorporates and transcends the easy appeal to the emotional response.

Groundbreaking work has been done by great thinkers—Abraham Maslow, Carl Jung, and Joseph Campbell, among others—to reveal the nuanced and complex landscape of the customer psyche. The time has come to integrate those understandings with the best practices of the marketing profession for a more efficient, effective route to strong, enduring, profitable customer relationships.


B.J. Bueno is founder and managing partner of The Cult Branding Company, the premiere Brand Modeling and consumer insight research firm, and the author of Customers First: Dominate Your Market by Winning Them Over Where it Counts the Most. He is a board member of the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association and a member of the Chief Marketing Officers board for international retailers. Visit:


1 Comment

  1. bruce on April 5, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    my “unconscious” behavior is usually to just lie there. Now, my “subconscious” behavior is probably more interesting…