Apple Puts on (Another) Show

With its latest product announcements, the tech giant continues to prove the value of special events.

There likely won’t be too many surprises at Apple’s product showcase Wednesday: a couple of tweaked iPhone models, a few new smartwatches, and maybe some revamped laptops. And yet, the “gather round,” as the company is calling it, is all the buzz inside and outside Silicon Valley. Investors, consumers and other stakeholders stop their day to watch CEO Tim Cook and other leaders walk around the stage at the Steve Jobs Theater and highlight the firm’s latest gadgets. "Apple has mastered the art and science of generating excitement around a product launch," says Jamen Graves, a Korn Ferry senior client partner. 

The curated guest list, careful choreography, surprise appearances, sleek production, and big reveals that have become hallmarks of Apple events parallel the consistent experience users seek from its products and services. That’s by design. “Apple’s brand experience transcends its products,” says Caren Fleit, managing director of Korn Ferry’s Global Marketing Officers practice. “It goes into the services it provides, what you find in its stores, and how employees interact when you need to follow up.”

Many leaders would be thrilled with that enthusiasm over one of their meetings. Apple has staged nearly three dozen of these evens since 2005. Its ability to continually generate engagement from consumers, investors, employees, and the media around these events is paramount in an era when brand and consumer experience are driving purchase decisions. “The leadership team, with and without Jobs, has always been very aligned around values, strategy, and the role everyone plays in furthering the organization,” Fleit says. 

Actual tech and product innovations supersede stagecraft, of course. "Apple has the opportunity to lead the way by being bold and anticipating if not influencing the way people interact with technology in the future.  Yet we see this less and less in their products," Graves says.  "How long will this current fan base, near-term strategy help them differentiate from their competitors?"

So far, though, investors don’t appear too disappointed—one month after Apple became the first publicly-traded U.S. company to be valued at more than one trillion dollars, its stock closed trading Tuesday near a 52-week high. The company’s strategy increasingly involves its broader product ecosystem and its services… It wants to sell you on the Apple life.

In an environment where the iPhone, while still a cash cow, is no longer a growth product, an argument could be made that the stakes are even higher for Apple’s leaders to deliver an event that reaches all stakeholders with a unified, consistent brand message. The message, though, isn’t simply about selling new products and services to unite its iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Mac, App Store, iCloud, Apple Music, Apple TV, and more. It’s about living the Apple experience. “Apple’s leaders have always been very consistent about aligning and delivering on the experience,” says Fleit. This week’s event should be no exception.