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Apple’s iPhone Marketing in China Leverages Global Buzz

Apple’s iPhone

What do you call it when people pay nearly double current sales price to buy a product which is basically crippled of its most important function, and the maker has spent zero marketing dollars to sell the product?

I’d call that pretty powerful buzz marketing.

According to this USA Today story, some Chinese are willing to part with 8800 yuan to own an iPhone which doesn’t have working phone capabilities in China, because Apple has not yet signed a partnership agreement with a carrier. (Presumably, Apple would part with China’s leading mobile service provider, China Mobile, to launch iPhone service in China.)

Any way you look at it, Apple’s iPhone has had a successful launch in the US. Apple has taken its legendary experience in hardware/software design and integration and applied it to a whole new product, the mobile phone, bringing good design sense and functionality to a product which has confounded most users for years. On the marketing side, Steve Jobs has put the reality distortion field into overdrive, convincing many Americans who have never used smartphones before to part with their money. A few analysts have gone so far as to predict that Apple will replace Microsoft in the mobile space, becoming the leading player for a new category combining hardware and software design and integration in mobile computing. A report which came out on Sept. 4 has claimed that iPhone sales in the US in July have already beaten smartphone sales.

In China, mobile phones are very popular and are more than just communications devices. Often, with the Chinese concern for social rank, they are indicators of social status. On the business side, this translates into frequent replacements of handsets among China’s rising urban middle class as users want to have the latest devices. Mainly for this reason, handset makers have placed most of their research and development in China, to lower costs and to be close to trends for their single largest market.

But could Nokia, Motorola, Samsung and LG have missed something Steve Jobs and Apple saw, an opportunity which Jobs’ gang could not pass up? And could the high rate of handset sales belie not only a desire to have the latest mobile device, but be an indicator that Chinese users were not satisfied with any of the handsets made by any of the major hardware makers?

Moreover, could this represent an opportunity for Apple, which has never had major market presence in China for its computer business, but has made limited inroads with its iPod business? And is this a major opportunity for iPhone in a major emerging market?

First of all, let’s take a look at what Apple has done differently. In typical Steve Jobs style, Apple has played God, giving buyers a complete final sealed package and solution, including software (a version of OS X) by Apple, and a hardware design by Jonathan Ive, Apple’s superdesigner who has been largely responsible for the elegance factor in Apple’s products. To the consternation of a new generation of software developers, Apple has provided only very limited support and documentation for designers of third-party applications for the iPhone. But even with this very limited support, something interesting has happened: the developers have organized themselves to develop new apps for the iPhone.

When was the last time you heard of a large group of developers organizing themselves to develop and extend apps for new Nokia, Motorola, Samsung and LG phones? And for nothing?

While Apple and Steve Jobs try to create consumer reverence somewhere along the lines of Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, the fact is that the first iteration of Apple’s products still are far from perfect. But the products always gets better. This reveals something about Steve Jobs which he strives to keep from the market: he listens and acts on intelligent customer input.

Uniquely among major hardware/software companies, Apple does not use focus groups. Designers design for Steve Jobs: designs and features Steve Jobs likes are kept; designs and features he dislikes are tossed away. There are no focus groups by marketing groups for senior management to use as crutches for their decisions.

If you look at it closely, what is happening with all the buzz for the iPhone is a mirror copy of what happened when the iPhone was announced on Jan. 7 at Macworld in San Francisco. The six month waiting period created a huge amount of pent-up demand and free buzz for the iPhone in the US, which translated into record sales for the product when it was launched on June 29.

Now, it’s happening even in China.

Genius. Pure genius.

9 Responses to “Apple’s iPhone Marketing in China Leverages Global Buzz”

  1. tick says:

    Dear Paul,

    Thanks for your post. Actually I subscribe your blog for a period. You provide good insight of China than some other foreigners as I know.

    But for this topic, I don’t think that iPhone will be popular in China so far. iPhone doesn’t support to input Chinese. Secondly, it is too expensive for most of Chinese. Meanwhile, I have been using a Treo smartphone for 6 months. And I don’t think I will give up Treo and transfer to iPhone only because of its beautiful design.

    And I doubt that iPhone is selling well in USA asI read this post.

    So, it is only my opinion for your reference. Hope to read your future analysis of China.


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