Apple could charge a lot more – but should they?

Most of the things we own are OK, but a few special few are works of great craftsmanship, things of beauty. They give us pleasure in the same way that some houses, some architecture, is beautiful to look at. It’s something about being human that just looking at a building can be pleasurable yet we aren’t benefiting in any way from its function, we don’t own it, and may never even step inside it.

Beautifully crafted things usually cost more, which is understandable. In fact they often cost a great deal more – we have to pay a lot for small increases in quality, especially at the top end.

So luxury watches, handbags, wines (even business schools) cost an awful lot more even though functionally they may be rather similar to much cheaper alternatives. Luxury watches still cost tens of thousands of dollars more than throwaway watches that now are just as accurate at timekeeping.

Apple, under the guidance of chief designer Sir Jonathan Ives, makes beautifully crafted products. No tablet comes close to the build quality and sleek lines of the iPad Air, and the new Mac Pro looks like something developed using futuristic superior alien technology.

If these products came out from a company in the LVMH empire they would be priced many times higher. So why doesn’t Apple charge more? Even just a little bit more would do little to dampen demand and would add dramatically to profits. So why not?

Firstly, because Apple is in the technology business, where product features are very important and where it’s difficult to gain much of a technological advantage, certainly not one that lasts for any time. In handbags it’s taken for granted that they can all hold stuff, so design (both looks and build) matter enormously. In technology, basic functional factors like speed and screen size really matter, and Apple will never be far ahead of competitors.

Secondly, because Apple wants to build penetration and scale. They want lots of customers for their beautiful products who will then buy music, movies, books and apps from Apple – and of course future products. Getting an Apple product into someone’s pocket or bag gives Apple a medium through which to build mental availability for other Apple products. This is the same reason Amazon massively subsidies their Kindle price.

Thirdly, because Steve Jobs hated price premiums. He always wanted a lower price. Not a discount – he understood the need for profits to fund new product development and marketing, but as low a price as possible to still be profitable. He wanted his products to change the world, which meant getting them into as many hands as possible. Like Jonathan Ives he wanted people to see his art.

Anyone can have a price premium, it isn’t necessarily a sign of strength or good strategy.

So there are arguments in both directions, Apple should lower its prices and more aggressively chase share (closer to the Amazon Kindle strategy), or Apple should increase its prices and reap enormous profits. I guess from their perspective that means their prices are where they should be.

Out-take for marketers: a price premium might be nice for profits today but it holds back reach and scale, and that increases the riskiness of future profits.

PS A related interesting question is whether they should launch a cheap, minimal feature smartphone to bring kids and ‘light users’ into their fold? But they already sell the iPod touch and still have the iPhone 4S on the market so maybe this simply wouldn’t do much for them?

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Apple’s mythical price premium

I’ve written previously questioning the marketing orthodoxy to aim for a price premium, and specifically on the myth of Apple’s price premium.

Here is another nice quote from Steve Jobs, interviewed on stage alongside Tim Cook (current CEO). He was asked if Apple’s goal was to win back dominant share of the PC market

“I’ll tell you what our goal is…to make the best personal computers in the world and products we are proud to sell and would recommend to our family and friends. And we want to do that [raises voice] at the lowest prices we can, but I have to tell you there is some stuff out there in our industry that we wouldn’t be proud to ship, that we wouldn’t be proud to recommend to our family and friends…and we just can’t do it, we can’t ship junk”.

You are charging too much

Why is it that marketing theorists tend to blame a brand’s demise on “loss of differentiation” or some such thing when they shoud be saying “it’s too expensive, it’s no longer competitive” ?  (which incidentally means the brand is becoming more not less differentiated).

Why is charging too much seen as a indicator of marketing strength, not weakness or stupidity ?

It annoys me how people keep citing Apple as a company that charges price premiums.  They don’t.  Anyone really familiar with the industry knows of the comparison feature-by-feature breakdowns that show macs are priced competitively they just don’t compete in bargain basement minimal feature area.  Notice how iPad competitors are struggling to even match the iPads pricing.

Back in 2008 Steve Jobs said this during an interview with financial analysts:

Toni Sacconaghi – Sanford Bernstein:

“And then you had also mentioned the price umbrella statement and you said look, certainly to be successful on iPhone, we don’t want to create a price umbrella. I think in response to another question, you also talked about extraordinary feature functionality in terms of your Mac products. Do you have the same philosophy around Mac as you do with iPhone, that you have to be careful not to create an umbrella in each? So I guess the simple question is should we continue to see more affordable price points across the Mac product family and across iPhone going forward?”

Steven P. Jobs:

“Well, I think what we want to do is deliver a lot, an increasing level of value to these customers. There are some customers which we choose not to serve. We don’t know how to make a $500 computer that’s not a piece of junk, and our DNA will not let us ship that. But we can continue to deliver greater and greater value to those customers that we choose to serve and there’s a lot of them. And we’ve seen great success by focusing on certain segments of the market and not trying to be everything to everybody. So I think you can expect us to stick with that winning strategy and continuing to try to add more and more value to those products in those customer bases we choose to serve. Does that make sense to you?”