Apple is a ‘Lover,’ Samsung a ‘Partner’

“Apple – if you compare it to a person – is like a lover. Even if you don’t like certain things about it, you just cannot cut it off all of the sudden.”

These are the words of C. W. Park, a professor of marketing at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California.

“That is why the iPhone 4S – which received harsh reviews initially – was selling like hotcakes after the death of [Apple co-founder] Steve Jobs,” he said.

Park was recently awarded a fellowship from the Society of Consumer Psychology (SCP) in the U.S., the highest honor the SCP gives in recognition of an individual’s contribution to the field of consumer psychology. Some dub the fellowship a “Nobel Prize in marketing.”

Because it’s Apple

In a recent interview, Park said that usually when people choose a certain product over others, it is because of its “functional superiority.” The product offers more convenience than its rivals

However, Apple has broken that formula. People are simply happy that they own Apple products. Functional superiority is a secondary issue.

Park said that is exactly why he compares Apple to a “lover.”

At first, people fall for each other for reasons like “they are good looking,” “they are nice to me” and so on. But after a while, they just like each other because it’s them.

People also choose Apple for reasons such as “it’s convenient,” “the design is pretty” and so on. But most Apple fans buy Apple products simply because it’s Apple.

So how was Apple able to get such avid fans?

“Apple products became something more than just a product, but an icon of creativity and innovation,” Park said.

Consumers were wowed with Apple’s marketing tactics. They were impressed when chief executive Jobs himself would come up to the podium touting just how creative and innovative a product was, showing off an entirely new concept where you get full control of your handset with a touchscreen.

Since then, Park noted, using Apple products came to mean that you were taking part in Jobs’ creative initiatives.

In his research, Park dubs such a relationship a “brand attachment.”

With products that only have functional superiority, consumers develop “brand preference,” and that is the farthest they can get.

But with products like Apple’s, consumers develop “brand attachment” in which they connect with them not just on intellectual level but also on an emotional level. And when the relationship reaches this level, the brand survives even when strong rivals emerge and the fad passes by.

Selling philosophy

So what does Park think of Samsung Electronics, which dethroned Apple recently to become the leading smartphone maker for the first time?

“Samsung is a ‘partner,’ ” Park said, adding that there is a give-and-take dynamic in Samsung’s relationship with consumers.

Functional superiority was exactly what made Samsung become the global leader, surpassing Japan’s Sony in TV business, Finland’s Nokia in the mobile phone arena, and now the California-based Apple in the smartphone business.

But he warns that should Samsung fail to provide that satisfaction in functionality, consumers will not think twice about turning away.

“Where is Sony now? With a focus on only functionality, Samsung could become Sony.”

Park, who holds a bachelor’s degree in German language and literature from Seoul National University and master’s and doctoral degrees in business administration from the University of Illinois, said he plans to make a comparative study of iPhone users and Galaxy smartphone users.

Park urges that Samsung should “stop selling functions and start selling philosophies and values from now on.”

“It’s important for Samsung to deliberate and decide what kind of brand philosophies and values it will communicate to consumers,” he said.

I am currently taking his ‘branding strategy’ course , he is just a joy to work with. We occasionally talk about Apple and Samsung during class discussions and he has this unique tone to make things easily understandable and memorable. Looking forward o the following weeks.

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