Why is it so fucking complicated for people to understand Apple’s success?

Apple's Success

This is a weird little personal statistic, but I’ve been in about 20 conversations over the last six months where someone mentioned Apple (the company) and tried to explain their success, and basically got some of it right, but otherwise did it entirely wrong. I’m talking about 20 different types of people, from different parts of America, doing different jobs and leading different lives … and all perceiving Apple differently in terms of what makes it literally print cash. FYI: it’s probably going to become a trillion-dollar company in the next 24 months. That’s insane.

I don’t understand why it’s so complicated for people to understand the success of Apple, so I attempted to lay it out briefly here. 

  • To “cross the chasm” — meaning to move from a product used by a small, loyal cadre of followers to a mass-market phenom — you need a simple, elegant design and interface. That’s basically the major thing you need. Check.
  • Think about it this way, akin to dating in your 20s: do you want something complicated, or something dumb and pretty? (I said “dumb” instead of “easy to use” there because “easy to use” has odd sexual implications.) The answer is, “You want something dumb and pretty. No one has time for fucking issues!” Check.
  • Apple doesn’t do “marketing” in the conventional way. They actually leave out lots of key information and let their loyalists fill it in. That increases enthusiasm. When you market in the conventional way — push push push — you can bore people. Check.
  • Phrased in the verbiage of Simon Sinek, Apple’s marketing efforts “start with why.” Most companies market starting with “what” (as in, “The great product we just made that you will buy!”) Check. 
  • Their products are interconnected. When you buy one Apple thing, you tend to buy a couple of other Apple things. That means one purchase = 4 purchases. That’s part of the same logic about Disney movies doing well. The kids want to see them, so the parents go. 2 tickets = 4 tickets. Check.
  • Their succession plan made sense and wasn’t a total jumbled cluster-fuck. Tim Cook isn’t necessarily a visionary, but he’s a good strategy/company/business man. Check.

There’s more, but that’s a basic list.

So rather than get down in the weeds in convos and talk about their “inspirational advertising” or their “headcount as percentage of revenue” or whatever (all arguments I’ve heard), think of this: we often make business success into this very complicated, hard-to-achieve thing — and we often do that because we’re out there chasing shiny pennies and running from meeting to meeting without thinking about our steps.

This is what you need:

  • A focus on design and experience
  • Something that’s easy to use and pretty
  • A focus on “why”
  • Marketing that inspires instead of tells
  • Some consistency at the top rungs of the organization

You can also scoff and say “Well, Apple has money, so all this is much easier!” No shit. Rich people take better vacations than you do, too. None of this is a surprise. But Apple’s formula for success isn’t something you can breathlessly analyze from 25 angles. It’s a focus on the basics of human behavior, writ large at the consumer/product level.

Broad takeaway: In some ways, the most financially-successful company in the world is also one of the most simple. Stop chasing rainbows. Find what you do well and do it, and put the experience of the end user first. The money will come.

Ted Bauer


  1. I understand Apple’s success is due to unconventional marketing (ethereal ethos), cheap production in China with huge retail markup (yay capitalism!), and sense of innovation. What I don’t understand is the view that their products are easy to use. I have never been a fan of Apple because their competitors’ products are much easier to use. Ironically, Apple paves the way for something, but then Apple’s competitors take their ideas and improve their functionality.

      • Yeah, I just fundamentally disagree that Apple’s products are easier to use; and that’s across the board. They may be sleeker to look at, but that’s where their advantage ends for me. It’s weird: I “want” to be an Apple fan, given their irreverence and mysterious je ne sais quoi factor, but I just can’t seem to adapt to their stuff.

  2. Whether Apple’s products are easy to use or not is not the argument here. Apple’s business model is clever and many are now trying to emulate this. What Ted is arguing is that Apple are very clever at marketing their design and experience.. Ie to be one of the cool kids you just have to have their product… Why else do people line up for days when one of their products is released. Brilliant marketing!

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