A lesson in strategy

A basic strategic principle, using deceptive plots to distract the other party and wisely choosing the time to bring something forth in order to preserve the element of surprise, can be applied with success in military, sports, business and most other competitive environments.

An example of the principle’s application in business appears in the approach Apple adopts for the development and release of its products. The recent release of iPhone 4S brought this to my thoughts again. Since Apple introduced the first iPhone to the market, the company built around its development process a sense of mystery and excitement by releasing products only in certain times of the year and making the overall development processes a tightly kept secret.

While proper surveillance of Apple’s patenting activity can reveal its development focus – to the average customer, Apple keeps the element of surprise – nurturing the company’s reputation as an innovator and leader in the field with every new product presented to the market.

Is this a two edge sword though? I believe so. Secrecy can fuel rumors that will in turn affect the perceptions and expectations of the market – falling short of these expectations consistently can be dangerous. Reputation is more easily lost than gained.

On the positive side, Apple can largely influence those rumors. On the negative side, without concrete intervention, the voice of the market will have the most influence (common desires of customers based on needs and also expectations based on the past experience of outstanding offerings).

Did the latest “Let’s talk iPhone” event match the high expectations of the client base? I don’t believe so. The strong rumors about a potential iPhone 5 release might have left some iPhone fans disappointed by what they got. The introduction of the voice command system and iCloud features is a good response to competitive threats within the industry but does not really match the expectation of the customer base – expressed in numerous online blogs (increased battery life, larger display, better antenna, design improvements, etc.). Moreover, historic experience with the voice command still leaves some skepticism and doubts concerning its actual functionality. Will people still buy the product? Most likely…

Will the same stand for another company? I am not sure. Apple still benefits from a large ‘fan base’ and strong reputation brought partly by historical experience and partly by the iconic leadership given by the late Steve Jobs. Still, to keep the perception of trends setters in the industry and surpass the tragic loss of its leader, Apple will require not only a sustained PR and branding effort but also more aggressive strategies for product cycle times and licensing/buying in add-on technologies – making future releases prove that the outstanding innovator tradition is kept.

Image credit: Olivier Bataille

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