Apple: Imitation is the Highest Form of Flattery


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CS_Apple imitation form of flattery-300If imitation is the highest form of flattery, Apple should be blushing red right about now. When you consider that three major brands, including Microsoft, Disney and Tesla, are imitating their in-store experience, Apple has set the standard for the retail experience.

Now my word choice is deliberate here. I don’t call it a store. I think Apple stores are so much more than that. Apple has created within their retail outlets an excellent experience. More like a club, Apple retail spaces have become a place for like-minded people to meet. They encourage you to get involved with the product and want you to touch the merchandise.

Now Disney, Microsoft and Tesla are all imitating this unique style of interaction in their retail spaces. They want a little of what Apple’s got and so they are taking their cues from them. They have also designed “experiences” for their customers as well, and all of these companies are raising the bar on what a retail store should be.

The story is that the executive at Disney who was tasked with reimagining the Disney stores asked the late, great Steve Jobs what he should do. Jobs response was, “Dream bigger.” As a result, the new Disney stores are considered a playground more than a retail store and an extension of their brand. Their vision is to be the best 30 minutes of a child’s day.

Microsoft stores scarcely differ from Apple stores these days. So much of what is happening behind their familiar expansive windows and interactive space is hard to differentiate when you block out the logos.

Tesla, an innovative car company, uses their stores to reinvent the car-buying experience. They use the retail space to educate consumers about their technology. Customers are encouraged to touch the cars, and everything in them. The designer jokes that it looks exactly like an Apple store except instead of computers, they sell cars.

Who can really blame them? Apple has thought of everything. The employees are engaged employees. They are proud to be there. They exhibit the tenet I have been preaching for months now that happy employees give you happy customers. Apple gets employee engagement, and they are not afraid to use it.

But it’s more than attitude. Everyone in an Apple store is on brand. From the blue shirts to the way they answer questions to the way they stand when they are talking to customers, Apple has thought of everything that they want their brand to be and communicated it effectively to the people that work for them. This level of brand integration is innovative, admirable, and inspiring.

Part of the key to Apple’s success is that they consider the subconscious experience. The subconscious experience makes up at least half of the customer experience. Unfortunately, many companies ignore this half since it is difficult to quantify and hard to communicate in a forecast or Excel spreadsheet. Instead most companies focus on what we call the rational side of the experience since that fits much better in an algorithm. We speak about this at our live webinar Customer Experience management training events.

But the truth is that every consumer is getting subconscious clues from their experience as they go that determine the likelihood that they will purchase, that they will return to your store and they will recommend you to their friends and family. The subconscious experience they have has many different facets that create different reactions in the consumer. To ignore this part of this experience is short sighted and limiting to your customer experience design.

The only way to really see what kind of subconscious experience that you are creating, you have to approach your customer experience looking at it through their eyes. You can’t focus on your wants and needs to promote more efficient operations or a meatier bottom line. Instead you have to see how that translates to the customer. We call this process at Beyond Philosophy Moment Mapping, and we find it is very effective for helping quantify this part of the experience.

Apple has done this on so many levels. They hire well and expect a lot from those they hire. They train their employees to identify personally with their customers, teaching them empathy rather than sympathy. They teach them how dress, to stand and talk, to respond to objections that customers have to make them subconsciously feel understood. This is apparent in their body language and the words they use. Their training exhibits what we have been saying all along: The emotional and subconscious part of customer experience is vitally important to customer loyalty.

Apple knows that it has a premium brand. Keeping it premium is their focus. This is in spite of pressure from Wall Street to increase their market share. But Apple knows their customers and they make their decisions with them in mind. It is rare in today’s economic climate to have a company that is so committed to their customers. Perhaps that is why I am always so quick to notice what they are doing and where they are going next.

So it pleases me to see that other big brands and organizations are embracing the exemplary experience that Apple presents its customers and imitating it in theirs. Keeping these important customer touch points in mind when you are designing a customer experience is the key differentiator for businesses these days. In some ways it means that the only way to be different is to imitate the best.

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Republished with author's permission from original post.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.


  1. I own an iPad Air and I really like it, but I would never go to an Apple Store to get one. Service is overrated and help is given with a smirk, a condescending smirk, I have purchased devices there and it always reminds me of why I should not go there.

    I got mine from Target, mind you, a far better experience with them. Apple needs to understand that being on a high horse is so 2012, so before Jobs that it pains me to see them unveiling products that are not up to expectations (Up to quality maybe, but who wants an extremely well-built 2010 BMW when you can have the 2014?).

    I just hope they realize how much the market needs a reinvented Brand, because they are losing the mark and ignoring clients, and only Jobs was good at that.


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