Quick Thoughts – Apple’s different audiences

I’ve already written three posts about Apple’s announcements from last week, but there was one topic I had intended to squeeze into one of the others but which never actually made it in. So here it is, in brief.

I originally planned to title this post “Who Apple keynotes are for” as an echo of my piece on what the Apple Watch is for, but in the last couple of days we’ve seen more news that turns this into a broader theme. Specifically, Apple launched a new section on its site about privacy, with a letter from Tim Cook to Apple customers about how Apple treats their data, and more broadly Apple’s attitude towards data collection. On top of all the discussion about the keynote last week, this has got me thinking about the different audiences Apple addresses in different ways with different communications:

  • Launch events: these are watched by at least three separate audiences: the press, the Apple faithful and gadget lovers more broadly. Apple has different objectives for each of these three groups.
  • Website communications, such as the privacy letter: the letter is linked to from the front page of Apple.com, but only down in the bottom right corner, where many users visiting the site to learn about or order a new iPhone won’t even notice it. Those visiting the Apple site are going to be people with some interest in Apple products, many of them already customers.
  • Advertising: this is the only Apple communication that really gets broad play among the population as a whole, including those with no existing interest in Apple. TV ads, billboards, bus shelter posters and the like all generate broader awareness of and interest in Apple products, and its TV ads are particularly crucial.

Of those three sets of communications, only the third is mass-market in nature. Apple doesn’t typically say how many people watch its keynotes, but I would guess it’s 10 million or fewer in most cases. Even if it was double that, it’s a tiny fraction of its customer base (which numbers in the hundreds of millions) let alone the total addressable market. Website communications are likely read by far fewer people, though they also get some pickup in the press, as Tim Cook’s letter has this week. But advertising is where Apple not only talks to the total addressable market, but also where it provides specific triggers to buy, rather than just generating interest. Launch events are held before products are even on sale, and in the case of the original iPhone, iPad and Watch events, well before customers could even place a pre-order. Website communications like the privacy letter are about educating both existing customers and potential switchers, but again aren’t a call to action. Only advertising is a call to action: a specific invitation to buy an Apple product.

As such, the nature of these communications will be different. Just as the emphasis, tone and content of the iPhone introduction event was different from those of the ads that followed when the product went on sale, so I would expect the Apple Watch commercials to be very different in their tone and focus from the launch event. The launch event was about seeding interest and intrigue (with a significant element of mystery, especially around pricing), while the commercials will be far more specific, focused and with a specific aim in mind: getting people to buy one.