Web Marketing, as taught by the Apple Store

Below is a guest post by long-time Twitter follow and colleague @andymci. Andy originally posted this on his blog last week, but I was so impressed by how well he articulated his thoughts around this subject, especially since it’s his most recent post after being on a hiatus from blogging. I invite you to add your 2 cents in the comments below and share this insightful piece.

Seeing as we’re approaching Black Friday (happy thanksgiving, my American friends!), and Apple will soon open their new Grand Central location, today seemed like a great time to make this post.

Apple Store in Sydney, AustraliaWant your company’s website to be more effective? Start giving a damn about your audience, and stop treating them like cattle. Force-feeding your potential customers a buffet of self-indulgent corporate fluff isn’t going to make them like you.

Social media marketing, inbound marketing, content development, thought leadership – it’s all based on a single theme: customer service. And the Apple Store has done a great job with customer service.

When it comes to web marketing via customer service, here’s what we can learn from the Apple Store:

Your competitors are identical to one another.

Most company websites cover just the basics: Products and services, corporate history, company culture, business model, contact information, and hours of operation. Blog posts (if there even is a blog) are nothing but press releases and company announcements.

It’s dull, unimaginative, and completely irrelevant. What stands out? Absolutely nothing. There’s very little of value, so prospects move on from one website to the next without batting an eyelash.

The Apple spin: Apple stores are different from other technology stores. The products are still at the center of everything, but the Apple Store experience is insanely different – they educate customers in a no-pressure + fun environment.

Make your website experience insanely different from your competitors. Entertain and educate your audience.

The 3 Options of Customer Engagement: Entertain, Educate, or GTFO.

If you’re going to push out press releases and promotions through your blog, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or any other engagement platform, you’re missing the point.

Social networks & blogs are meant for interaction, and nobody is going to interact with a post that provides nothing of value.

The Apple spin: In an Apple Store, customers are entertained when they play with the devices, and customers are educated thanks to the Genius Bar + one-on-one training.

How can you mimic this on the web?

  • Create opportunities for visitors to interact with your product or service (virtual demos, webinars, etc.).
  • Get your own Genius Bar going by taking off your Sales hat and putting on your Teaching hat. Think about how you can educate visitors through social media and blogging.

Customer service shouldn’t be based on transactions.

Good customer service is polite and friendly.

Great customer service is polite, friendly and helpful.

My favourite stores and restaurants get my business because they gave me great customer service before I ever pulled out my wallet. (I bet it’s the same for you, too.)

The Apple spin: Apple Store employees are helpful and informative, but they don’t pressure you into buying anything. They’ll greet you when you enter, and they’ll wish you a good day as you leave.

Greet your website visitors, don’t smother them in promotional fluff. Provide them something useful with every visit – maybe a free download, a useful tip, or a how-to article?

Your website is a store. Treat it like one.

Some things to keep in mind:

Website visitors are guests, not prospects.
Even if they’re “just browsing”, make it an enjoyable experience. Care about them. They’ll be more likely to come back, or refer someone else to you.

Your home page is your storefront.
Keep it fresh, keep it clean, and limit the focal point to one or two things. You want them to come inside, don’t you?

Your website layout is your sales floor layout.
Make it easy for guests to find what they’re looking for. Your layout should be clean, clutter-free and intuitive. Don’t overwhelm with distractions.

Constantly push for feedback.
“Good enough” is never good enough. Figure out what can be done better, and make incremental improvements. Open up that Suggestions box!

Crap on a silver platter, wrapped in a pretty pink ribbon, is still crap.
Appearances are important, but if what you’re trying to sell is broken/sub-par, then fixing it is the higher priority.

Reimagine everything.

The Apple Store succeeded not because we tweaked the traditional model. We reimagined everything. […] Until the Apple Store launched, customers went to a technology store to acquire a product, and it was often an awful experience driven by a salesperson on commission whose main interest was in emptying your wallet. Apple Store associates are not on commission, and they don’t try to sell you anything. They have one job: to help you find the product that’s right for you, even if it’s not an Apple product. All those things create value beyond the transaction.

Ron Johnson, formerly Senior VP of Retail for Apple, pioneer of Apple retail stores.

Final thoughts: It’s uphill battle all the way.

Apple has done an amazing job with their retail locations. But they’re Apple – their culture, and their business, has been built on doing things differently.

Shifting the focus of a company website towards customer service is hard work. I know, because I’ve tried, and I’m still trying.

This is what I’ve learned:

  • Resistance comes from executives who don’t see the value in customer service as a marketing strategy.
  • Resistance comes from employees who don’t see the value in web marketing at all.
  • Progress comes from small improvements, made whenever and wherever possible.

Daunting? Absolutely. But if you’re really, really passionate about customer service being the right approach for growth and success, it’s totally worth fighting for.

Photo Credit: Rafael Torales on Flickr

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