Tech PR Genius: Steve Jobs and the Value of Vision
We live in a communicative era, and folks like me spend a lot of time telling folks like you how important it is to talk and listen to your customers, your peers, and your market. But the tidal wave of reflections on the legacy of Steve Jobs in the past 36 hours has put forward a point that is equally important — and somewhat to the contrary:
There is nothing, nothing more important to the success of your company than having a brilliant vision, and following through on it with a top quality product. Friendliness and responsiveness can’t come close to guaranteeing success.
With the highest regard, and in fact awesome respect, Steve Jobs was a tyrant, a secrecy-obsessed control freak, who probably would have sooner torched his office than tweeted the latest in product developments or set up a focus group. In a world increasingly obsessed with relationships and feedback, Jobs was legendarily unconcerned with what consumers might think they want. “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” he said, echoing Henry Ford’s famous, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have said, ‘A faster horse.’”
That kind of entrepreneurial arrogance leads to one of two places: the unemployment line or the annals of history. It risks tremendous failure in the pursuit of incredible success, and it rests, in many ways, on a counterpoint to the modern communications argument: on supreme confidence that a visionary can lead a horse to water and make him want to drink it. It is the opposite of what most PR and marketing people tell most companies to do.
And it worked for Apple because Jobs was right, and was able to demand the very best from a team of similarly driven perfectionists, from the product design team to the copywriters — from proof of concept to the in-store experience. The result, paradoxically, was a relationship with users so rock solid and profound that product announcements were live-blogged by obsequious media, so consumers who already owned the last version of a product could find out in real-time why they should go buy the newer model. Devotion. Admiration. Covetousness. And all without a single company Tweet or Facebook update.
And yet, Wednesday night, 6 of the top 10 trending topics on Twitter were homages to the late CEO. Hundreds — probably thousands — of articles and blog posts have gone up in the last day and a half, and I can’t tell you how many of my friends on Facebook have changed their profile pictures to pay tribute to Apple and Steve Jobs. Those bonds were built with pride, with confidence, and with products that seemed suddenly indispensable the moment you held them. Reputation and relationships flowed from quality.
Steve Jobs was clearly one in nearly 7 billion. A genius who dragged the world forward into his imagination. But, while feedback and marketing constructs all have their place — even, in one form or another, at Apple — the central lesson, the Tao of Steve, as Om Malik put it, was to care first, last, and always about providing the best. All other necessary efforts are in the service of the real artists who ship. Never forget that.
Kate Schackai is the Vice President of Crawford PR and co-host of #askthePRpro. She blogs for Crawford on general PR issues, social media value, and professionalism in the age of Twitter.