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What tech brands can learn from the consumer response to the iPhone X launch

(Image credit: Image Credit: Pio3 / Shutterstock)

Whether you’re in tech or not, Apple’s is clearly the story of the moment.   

With leaks, rumours and speculation, there has been an overwhelming amount of media content generated in the run-up to the big launch. Yet not everyone is buying the Apple hype. In fact, the wider picture suggests the emergence of a growing smartphone backlash; especially amongst the over 45-year-old age group. 

New research from Future Thinking, carried out among a national sample of 2,000 people, reveals one in five people in the UK now do not want a smartphone at all – instead, they just want a phone that just makes calls.  

This is primarily driven by those over 45 years of age. But there is also indication of millennials rejecting one of the supposedly defining technologies of their generation. 

Many want to ditch their smartphones in exchange for a simpler, less distracted life, without being glued to a screen or being bombarded with notifications, and you could argue that the rebooted version of the Nokia 3310 was a big response to this trend.   

Add too, findings from a recent survey from Piper Jaffrey which showed that in the US there was almost no more interest in upgrading to the latest iPhone this year than there was last year, and there’s a clear picture emerging: consumer preferences are broadening, and technology companies like Apple need to do more to appeal to a hinging demographics. 

There are signs that Apple is attempting to do this.    

With teases and classic marketing techniques to keep appetites whetted, and the drama of the final unveil – it’s unveiling of the latest iPhone at Apple’s event earlier this month was a master class in tech launch. 

But the products themselves are also revealing. Premium and luxury is the definite market of the all-singing, all-dancing iPhone X. But there is also the upper-mid range iPhone 7 and 7 plus, and 8 and 8 plus; as well as lower mid-range iPhone SE. 

This is a big indication that Apple wants to broaden its reach - it’s relying less on a core audience, and continuing to position itself for further growth at all levels. 

For Apple and its ilk though, a key question will remain: how best to approach growing your audience to include the disenchanted consumer?   

Understanding behaviours beyond tech’s echo chambers 

Clearly, we need to understand attitudes and behaviours better, and we need to see the wider trends and future direction of mobile consumption. Not through the eyes of our tech media echo chambers, but using new research into the many different types of consumers. 

We need to understand how they think and what motivates their behaviour, if we want to gain a competitive edge. 

One approach to look at is behavioural change management. 

People will only change their behaviour and buy into a new brand or product as part of a process of behaviour change. Understanding and influencing emotions and tacit behaviour will be crucial to impacting decision-making at each stage. 

With the latest psychological research, we are learning more and more about the mysteries of ‘irrational’ human behaviour. Building on the authoritative trans-theoretical model, which breaks behaviour change down to five “stages,” it is possible to explain, predict and quantify a consumer’s likelihood to change their current behaviour. 

We know that consumers fit into one of five validated stages of behaviour, ranging from pre-contemplation, contemplation and preparation, to action and finally maintenance. An individual will progress through these stages – but this is not always in a linear movement. 

This is where brands like Apple have their opportunity.   

By building a research model that allows you to identify which stage a consumer is at in the framework, you can gauge how likely they are to respond to something new; and most importantly, understand what kind of factors drive or prevent behaviour change. 

With these insights, you have a better foundation from which to influence. The communications you develop for your potential audience can be more tailored, and more effective. 

You could look at how to move consumers of each segment up the path to purchase, with the different messages and tone of voice needed for this based on their current closeness to the brand. 

Brand archetypes can be used to understand how to develop a consistent brand position. 

Archetypes in product branding and within research is nothing new. For brands, it’s about anchoring your brand against something iconic, something within our collective unconscious. Archetypes are a powerful tool in a researcher’s brand positioning armoury because they are based on innate behaviours we all recognise. 

Embracing complexity in people is vital.   

The traditional demographic analysis used in marketing has typically been used in a formulaic, large scale way. However, we now need more advanced approaches. Using microsegments based on psychological research is becoming a far more accurate approach to targeting audiences to those with a changing, generic or incidental base – age or social grade for instance.   

Brands need to ensure their brand and communications are aligned to their audiences, to maximise engagement and appeal. Different communication touchpoints may each  serve  a  different  purpose  and  their  respective  roles  potentially  necessitate  different  content.  A  brand’s  challenge  is  to  maintain  a  consistent  position  across  touchpoints, whilst tailoring content to the respective platform and mechanic.   

Brand archetypes are based on recognising and aligning innate behaviours we all recognise and not around age, gender, social grades or other classifications. Archetypes can provide a real commercial advantage for marketers in understanding a brand’s behavioural and attitudinal position across communication touchpoints. 

Tech brands like Apple are uniquely placed to benefit from this, due to the vast number of consumers that buy into their brand and the lifestyle it provides. 

Having an enhanced understanding of psychology, to align brand message to consumer appeal, will not only help tech brands get ahead with the growing group of people who do not want another iPhone, but also in retaining their current audience.   

As people change, tech brands – all brands – need to make sure they adapt.    

Clearly, missing out on the richness of underlying attitudes that truly connect people to brands can have a big impact on sales.   

Incorporating a sophisticated research model and psychological basis to segmentation will be an ideal differentiator for tech brands in the current, overpopulated climate. 

Apple’s most recent launch hardly failed to deliver. But for other forward-thinking tech brands, the underwhelming consumer response could be the big reveal. There’s certainly opportunity in the one in five of us who prefer a phone that just makes calls over a smartphone. 

John Whittaker, Head of Marketing at Future Thinking 

Image Credit: Pio3 / Shutterstock

John Whittaker is head of marketing at Future Thinking, a global company of researchers, marketers, statisticians, strategists, innovators, creatives and industry experts. Its focus is on launch, communicate and experience.