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Apple’s masterful marketing of iPhone

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Walking through my neighborhood early on the morning of June 30, I noticed a line of about 50 people standing outside an AT&T store—a store that wouldn't open for hours.

This tableau was repeated again and again outside AT&T and Apple stores that weekend, proof of the pent-up consumer demand for the Apple iPhone, which had been released that Friday. But even more, the crowds were evidence of the success of Apple's masterful, six-month marketing campaign in advance of releasing its first cell phone.

What can business marketers learn from the phenomenal success of the iPhone launch?

Marvelous products justify major marketing efforts and expenditures, not the other way around. Reviews of the iPhone, particularly of its elegant user interface, have been remarkably uniform in their praise of the new device.

Choosing the right product name matters—a lot.

In retrospect, it's clear Apple's legal tussle with Cisco over rights to the name "iPhone" was a battle worth fighting (and ultimately resolving). The iPhone name—not to mention Apple's media-playing smarts—connects with that other, brand-defining Apple platform, the iPod. In fact, some observers have gone as far as to say that "iPod" (and perhaps even "i") has become more important, in the brand identification sense, than the name "Apple." It's an interesting notion, even if I—capital "I"—don't think it's right.

When Apple CEO Steve Jobs removed an iPhone from his pocket, officially unveiling the phone/media player/Internet device at Macworld on Jan. 9, Apple did not follow up with a barrage of advertising. Far from it: It ran a mysterious teaser ad during the Academy Awards telecast six weeks later. The "Hello" spot, created by TBWA/Chiat/Day, an Omnicom Group agency, featured dozens of clips from classic movies and TV—actors and actresses answering phones—and ending with a brief look at an iPhone, the word "Hello" and the line "Coming in June."

Within the ensuing information vacuum, the media and the blogosphere engaged in an endless stream of speculation.

"They want to be as disruptive by their absence as by their presence, so they're happy to have this discussion go on ad nauseam in the media," Yankee Group cell phone analyst John Jackson told BtoB sibling Advertising Age.

Apple's less-is-more strategy worked brilliantly, judging by the search activity. Search activity related to the device jumped to more than 1.1 million during the week ended Jan. 14, according to comScore. As Apple's major advertising began in June, searches ramped up again, finally peaking with 1.2 million for the week ended June 24.

Apple reasserted itself with a media player and now with a cell phone.

I don't plan to buy either of these products. But I am seriously considering making a Mac my next computer.

Ellis Booker is editor of BtoB and Media Business. He can be reached at ebooker@crain.com.

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