Apple – Building a Brand, Leaving a Legacy

Kelli Richards / July 19th, 2011

There’s this thing in life that most of us have experienced. It’s a sort of metaphysical passing of one’s self. Those moments when you pass a place you know and can almost see your younger self (or maybe your older self), standing right there in a different time. For me, Cupertino has always held those doorways and windows. Like most of the kids who grew up in Cupertino, I used to make extra money picking apricots in the orchards.

Obviously, fruit has remained a big theme for Cupertino. Of course, I’m speaking tongue in cheek – as most of the world knows, Steve Jobs built Apple’s headquarters here (it’s his hometown too; one of many things we share in common). So, once lush with orchards and wineries, Cupertino is now one of the geek capitals of the world. I say that with pride and humor, because I am definitely one of them, standing on the thin line between artistry and technology. In fact, I worked at Apple for many years, and I’m proud to say that I launched the focus on music and led strategic Music and Entertainment initiatives during my 10 years there.

So I am one of the truly lucky ones, with strong roots both in the Cupertino of old – and the Cupertino of now. The roots of now, the Apple tree, are firmly incontrovertibly implanted in Steve Jobs. As stock prices have shown, Jobs is absolutely the trunk of Apple and inseparable from where investors put the worth of the company.

And here’s the real crux of what I want to say in this piece: Seeing Steve Jobs battle through the fight of his life to restore Apple to greatness – a graceful, courageous and obviously successful battle – doesn’t hold a candle to seeing him fight for his life now. But what he’s creating, despite (or because of) that illness is mind blowing. Naysayers can address the iCloud any way they want, but what we all know is that it’s pretty damned likely to be successful. Apple is ending the war on clouds and lockers and legitimizing what the consumer wants, whether the music industry agrees or not.

It is the new digital age, and like it or not we’re not going to stop access. We’re not even going to control access. Steve Jobs has literally put all his apples into one basket in agreement. Why does it matter? It matters because, like Bob Lefsetz said recently, Apple is EASY. The huge base of consumers out there trust that if they get an iPad or iPod or iTunes … whatever, it will work. Apple has not only galvanized a brand, but it has built a huge, vocal community of brand advocates. No amount of advertising money could have busted the iPad out of the gate the way the users themselves did.

The second part of a brand is always fulfilling the promise you set forth (this is straight from branding queen Libby Gill’s rulebook). And, quite simply, Apple delivers on their promise day in and day out. They listen to their constituency and they build a better mousetrap, make better stuff, and address issues like the cloud – maybe a little later than the creative disruptors, but without a doubt, they’re putting their weight (and their money) where their mouth is.

Which brings me to the issue of legacy: Apple is a big deal – not just to the world, that’s obvious – but here, in Cupertino (my hometown). Legacy is a lot like a brand, in its truest form, it delivers on a promise made. The new Steve Jobs’ Cupertino Apple Campus Mothership is absolutely part of that promise. One day after the WWDC conference, Jobs put forth his new campus proposal to the Cupertino City Counsel, ripe with more than apples. Steve Jobs has designated acres and acres of his campus for apricot orchards – honoring the tradition of the Valley; that’s roots. And it’s deeper than I can convey.

I could go on and on about Apple’s commitment to its future and to the ever growing employee base (I was part of that once, and I retain a strong, golden thread to those people and the work they do), but the commitment from Steve Jobs is bigger than even that. I think I should come clean here and say that obviously I admire Steve Jobs. I don’t agree with him all the time, obviously – or with Apple for that matter. But I’ve seen him renovate more than a company or a product line. I’ve seen him refresh the people around him. I’ve watched him galvanize thousands of employees to get laser focused on success and build something meaningful. I’ve witnessed the grace, elegance, and simplicity with which the products have sparked a revolutionary embrace among consumers. I’ve watched his address at Stanford’s graduation a dozen times and brought that message into my own life – which brings me back to that metaphysical doorway I mentioned earlier. To that glimpse of one’s self coming and going.

You see, we’re all creating a legacy all the time. We are ALL in the process of going, like it or not.
A brand, well that’s for now. But a legacy… what we build that will outlast us, that’s huge. There are 3,700 trees in what will be the new Apple campus as of today. According to initial specs, Apple hopes to have 6,000 trees when the mothership is built. In fact, Steve Jobs hired experts from Stanford to consult on indigenous trees to make this come to “fruition” (sorry, I couldn’t resist). To me, no matter what my life has become – working with industry leaders and entrepreneurs, innovators and influencers, celebrities and musicians, I often look through one of those doorways and see myself picking fuzzy apricots from the tress here in Cupertino. I remember where I come from and, like Steve Jobs, that my legacy has to be bigger than my brand.

And just my humble opinion, whatever those trees are, whatever fruit they bear, in my book they’re all Apple trees.

Kelli Richards

Kelli Richards is a recognized thought-leader in digital music and entertainment with deep expertise in digital distribution and branded content, as well as working with a plethora of luminaries and innovators. She drove music and entertainment initiatives at Apple for 10 years, and helped to birth a whole new consumer movement around disruptive technologies & emerging business models. As President of The All Access Group, she has worked closely with a wide range of start-ups, Fortune 100 companies, and established artists and industry leaders alike as a sought-after strategic consultant for the past 15 years. www.allaccessgroup.com.
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