My recent midterm had a series of marketing communications essays including one that read, “’An important aspect of marketing strategy development is the search for a competitive advantage.’ Name any branded product and give an example of its tangible competitive advantage.”
Given this blog, I may never get another chance to use this question again. But more importantly, across two groups of students, the answer that came up almost every time was simply, “Apple.”
I’m going to take the high road and assume that no one shared his/her answers with anyone else during this exams. So the spontaneous explanation – over and over—sincerely considered by these 20-something students centered on Apple and its products: iPods, iPads, iPhones.
The answers included competitive advantages such as the innovation that came with Apple’s reinvention of the music business, its ability to provide minimalist design within premium goods, the quality and originality that came from this computer firm that recreated itself with touch screens and tablets.
And although I screened some television commercials with these business students, we didn’t spend a particular amount of time evaluating the Apple business or business plan. So where did the tangible competitive advantage assessment come from?
I believe that a combination of overwhelming publicity, unique advertising and the pure ease these products drive the positive perspective these young consumers have for anything Apple.
Standing in line for days to get the latest/next generation of the product before your current one has run out of usefulness, accepting the dysfunctional glitches and the design corrections that are quickly developed are part of the accepted experience. And of course, superior marketing communications, with ads or campaigns such as “1984,” “Mac vs. PC,” and “Think different” distinguish the Apple brand and what it stands for.
These students can, and did, write about the iCloud and apps, the seamless integration of music, photos, graphics, the operating system, software and sleekness. All great examples of tangible competitive advantage.
Yet I can’t help but notice that their responses and the enthusiastic support exhibited in their writing not only answered the question. It provided evidence of a great deal of intangible brand loyalty that weighed in convincingly as an advantage as well.