Apple announced the end of iPod. It is not only the end of a well positioned brand, but also the end of the portable music player category.
In 2001 Apple launched the iPod. One look at the above advertisement made clear what the iPod brand was all about: a digital music player holding 1000 songs in your pocket. The advertisement combined a clear product image, brand name, and category benefit.
Consumers went en masse to the shops to buy iPods. Repeat: consumers went out to buy the iPod, not the Apple. For many it was in fact the first real encounter with the company Apple.
The advertisements were very consistent and therefore recognizable for consumers:
The portable music category got an enormous boost and iPod became very quickly the leading brand inside the category. In fact the brand iPod became synonymous with music player.
Changes inside the category
Inside the overall music category, the medium to enjoy music changed in the last decades. It went from CDs bought in record stores and played on CD players to digital music players (iPod) and digital music stores (iTunes). For years the iPod and iTunes brands made room for the smartphone and apps such as Spotify. Every change impacted the brands representing the category.
The shift from music players to phones impacted Apple, iPod and other electronic brands operating inside the ‘Portable Music Player’ category.
Companies only manufacturing & selling portable music players do not exist anymore in the same way Apple would not exist anymore if the company would only be active in portable music.
The change in medium and ultimately killing iPod does not harm Apple. Apple uses a Multi-Category Strategy with strong brands like iPhone in phones, Mac in computers. Unfortunately over the last years, Apple started using descriptively named line extensions. For example, the company bought the Beats streaming music service, merged it with iTunes, and renamed it to Apple Music. The company launched Apple TV and Apple Watch. Often the line extensions are inspired by the company leadership.
The Multi-Category Strategy using descriptive line extensions make a lot of sense with the leadership team and shareholders. The thinking could go like this: ‘when we rename all our products Apple, then they contribute directly to the Apple brand, a key indicator for shareholders and investors.’
The thinking goes wrong with the consumer. Unique names are so much easier to talk about and recommend.
‘I stream music using Beats on my iWatch’ is much better in terms of positioning and owning a unique category than ‘I stream music from Apple Music on my Apple Watch’. Consumers are likely to even remove the Apple brand in the conversation – the exact opposite Apple these days wants to achieve.
The success of the iPod and iPhone were instrumental to the success of the Apple brand. But too often, successful companies fall in love with the company name, forgetting that people buy brands and not companies.
This article is based on content in the book Win With What – the first category-led growth book for anyone who wants their business to thrive and survive.
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