The Real Reason They Wept for Steve Jobs: A Marketing Revelation


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This week, I finally figured out the real reason customers mourned and wept when Steve Jobs passed away.

The answer emerged, like the missing value in an algebra problem, shortly after I had watched this remarkable video from the TED series of lectures, a talk filmed years before Jobs passed away. In it, Simon Sinek, examines the messages delivered by Apple, Martin Luther King and others. He explains why those messages did such a superb job of inspiring and motivating people, and why they had so much more impact than competing messages did.

For this blog, I’ll be looking only at Sinek’s conclusions about the Apple message … but I urge you to watch the whole video so you can learn from the other examples he cites.

Steve Jobs was not interested in selling you a computer … although that’s what most of his competitors were interested in selling. Computers are a “what” topic. Many of Jobs’s competitors, over the years,focused on the “what” of their offering when they put together their marketing messages.

Often, they did this by fixating on some glamorous “money shot” of the object they were trying to sell. But even when Apple showed consumers its product, the larger point of the marketing message was not the “what” that you got when you decided to buy from Apple.

Nor was Steve Jobs interested in selling you faster processing speeds, crisper images, better sound, or enhanced memory capacity. The technical wizardries that deliver those classic marketing “benefits” remain the basis, even now, of most of the marketing messages of Apple’s competitors. “Pixels” and “megahertz” are classic “how” topics and they are not the reason thousands of Apple customers left carefully inscribed messages of personal grief at hundreds of customer service centers.

So … what was Steve Jobs selling you?

The power to shake up the establishment and tell the Powers That Be that you have a better idea. That was — and is — Apple’s mission, its internal and external marketing message: THINK DIFFERENT.

WHY MessageThat is a “why” topic, and it is far, far more powerful as a marketing tool than any “what” or “how” topic. All the revolutionary Apple products were simply means to an end. That end was you rocking the boat and challenging the status quo. Apple’s offerings happened to be the tools you could use to challenge established thinking.

The Power of “Why” Message

Once marketers understand the difference between Apple’s compelling “why” message … and the less compelling “what” and “how” messages of its competitors … they will understand why so many people mourned the passing of Steve Jobs. It was the “why” message that he shared. Jobs made Apple Inc. the embodiment of something special, not just a technology manufacturer.

Most companies have not invested sufficient time and energy to formulate a “why” message, and thus cannot benefit from this powerful competitive advantage Do your customers know your “why”?

Three Big Takeaways for Marketers

Marketing Takeaway #1: Devote the time and effort necessary to separate the three levels, so you become crystal clear on the “what”, the “how”, and the “why” of your business.

Marketing Takeaway #2: Gather a “brain trust” that includes your senior leadership and a sampling of your customers. Analyze and refine your company’s “why” until it is memorable and compelling enough for you to build your marketing message around it.

Marketing Takeaway #3: Once the “why” becomes clearly defined, you will realize that it is not only of value to marketing, but helps align every other part of the company!


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