“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less." -- C.S. Lewis
Fighting the good fight is a noble thing to do for a corporation. Americans love the underdog. And so, after Apple's successful apology to Chinese customers, does Apple have an opportunity to improve its image in the U.S.?
There are worthy things for a corporation to do besides make money. They can fight the good fight for its customers, and that often has a technical theme. Plus, they can exhibit some social responsibility -- giving back to the home country.
There is a delicate mix of all these things in any corporation, and the presentation, as a whole, of that mix determines how we feel about a company. For example, during the old days of the PC Wars, when Apple was the underdog, the corporate Rocky Balboa, fighting the giant Microsoft, we rooted for the little (tough) guy.
The Fall of 2012
This double entendre heading is meant to suggest a confluence of events in late 2012. Competitors were certainly catching up with Apple in the important tablet battleground. But there was also a political context. In the presidential election, there was a stark choice between what was perceived as the detached and very wealthy and those who were struggling, buffeted by large corporations, banks, and politicians exerting their will on Americans. The struggle for financial survival and personal freedom for many Americans was in full force in that election. What Americans rejected in the 2012 presidential election was selfish service to self and friends, whether by wealthy individuals or corporations.
Along comes Apple, dominating in every area. At the top of its game. Unassailable. Making products that are the very, very best, but also very expensive. Apple flaunts an obscene amount of money in cash holdings overseas, immune from taxation. Apple is not only rich but traditionally perceived as arrogant.
It just looked bad.
Now, all this is not to say that Apple is not making fine products. They are. Apple was ranked highest in customer satisfaction amongst smartphone makers on March 21 for the 9th time in a row by J.D. Power and Associates.
These defenses are applicable, but they may not have offset the more general view perceived by the media last year. It's like the case of the beloved employee who's greatly respected, donates to charity, but misses his sales quota. He's laid off anyway.
It's possible to argue that, taken as a whole, the image of Apple in the past few months has been of a company that is no longer the David fighting Goliath. The only focus is making the very best and (sometimes) the most expensive products, and that's all the stockholders should care about. And in that bold profile lies the quicksand of a malaise, a concern that Apple is no longer really, really on our side, the underdogs.
The subconscious connection between wealth, wealthy corporations and the struggles of the everyday American bubbled to the surface in 2012, and the media, attuned to such things, picked up on it. It may have led to much of the Apple bashing in the past few months.
The Chinese Inspiration
Recently, the traditional Apple approach of aloofness and elitism rose up to bite Apple in China. Astutely, smartly, Apple figured out what was going on with the Chinese culture and responded accordingly. See: "Apple Takes Chinese Approach & Apologizes for Warranty Practices." Right away, one has to wonder what the impact if this event will have on Apple, Tim Cook and the executive team.
For example, what practices has Apple been engaging in, as the underdog of years past, that are no longer applicable? Is there a way to shift the focus of the corporation so that the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts again? Can that be achieved by a different branding of the company? Is the more humble approach used with China a signpost that it may also be time for the Top Dog Apple to strategically alter its relationship as well to American customers? Partners? The Media? Finally, what constitutes the good fight now?
We know that Apple tries to look out for our privacy. Even so they've dropped the ball there with some inattention to data services. We know that Apple makes solid products that last, but there remains some uneasiness about Apple's headlong rush for cash that is, for some reason, unable nowadays to have us gasping for breath at the beauty, elegance and usability of its two operating systems. These are things to fight for.
The Chinese affair with Apple is a portent, an inspiration and fabulous opportunity for Apple to size up its public image and its approach to customers once again. We Americans love the heroism of companies fighting the good fight for us, not, conspicuously, themselves.
Teaser image via Shutterstock.