Regis McKenna and Strategic Marketing

Much of the intellectual guidance for the Macintosh introduction was provided by strategic marketing pioneer Regis McKenna. His firm (also named Regis McKenna) had worked with Apple for several years, writing press releases and handling public relations; Regis himself sat on Apple's board. (For the sake of clarity, "Regis McKenna" will refer to the individual, "McKenna" to the company.) The company's strategy of crafting marketing messages, and the specific tactics it developed for communicating those to a wide audience, would profoundly influence the Macintosh launch. Central to McKenna's approach were a few key concepts.

Regis McKenna's Philosophy

High-Tech Marketing is Different

The first is that traditional marketing was fine for mature markets (like, say, soft drinks), but for new technologies, a more comprehensive approach is necessary. "The real goal," as he put it in Relationship Marketing, "is to own the market--not just to make or sell products." This requires defining who users are, making the case for one set of technological standards over another, constructing alliances and strategic partnerships. It also requires constructing the rules by which a product would be evaluated-- inventing the concepts, terms of evaluation, and discourse that would define a product.

Markets are Made, Not Won

Consumers of high-tech products can be divided into several categories. Innovators and early adopters are willing to gamble on an untried technology in order to reap potential benefits-- big increases in productivity, dramatic cost savings, greater precision. Mainstream buyers, in contrast, were more risk-averse and conservative. Even if the same technology is marketed to both segments, it has to be represented as revolutionary to the first, and evolutionary to the second.

Beyond these basics, however, the market is up for grabs: individual behavior is predictable along broad lines, but the constitution of markets is not predetermined in the same way. Markets for high-tech products don't exist, in other words: they have to be created. Thus, high-tech marketing involves not just convincing buyers that a product is right for them; it involves convincing them to think of themselves as members of a group who would-- almost by definition-- be interested in that product. As sociologists of technology would put it, the technology and its market are co-productions.

Successful marketing would thus define the product, define the way to think about a product, define who its market is, and help customers figure out if they are potential buyers. This sounds subjective, but subjectivity is intrinsic to public perceptions of high-technology products. Quality, ease of use, quantum leaps in productivity-- all are more compelling than talk of cycles per second or refresh rates. Because high-tech products are expensive, require more support, and have longer-term impacts on customers than other consumer goods, it is also important to tell a compelling story about the company behind the technology could also help sales. An image of stability, a track record of innovation, or a reputation for customer focus can reassure customers that they are making the right choice.

Influencers are Key

Can traditional advertising do this? No: market-weary consumers see through advertising's self-serving nature, when they bother to take notice at all. It is therefore necessary to supplement advertising with messages from trustworthy, neutral parties-- "influencers," as Regis McKenna calls them. Thanks to the appearance of objectivity and disinterestedness, the good opinion of journalists, industry analysts, and high-profile users can be more valuable than advertising.

McKenna's Tactics

But how to get such influencers interested? This was where McKenna's tactics came into play. As Andy Cunningham, McKenna's lead on the Macintosh launch, recalled, "Basically what Regis believed was that you could orchestrate the coverage of a new technology product."

One essential tool was the sneak preview, in which journalists were given advance showings of a product, and often interviews with key developers or marketing executives, in exchange for agreeing not to publish until the launch date. This was a risky move: no company wanted word of a new breakthrough product to hit the street while the old product was still making money and sitting in the warehouse. Another technique was what journalists termed "multiple exclusives," in which writers with different beats-- finance, marketing, etc.-- were given sneaks customized to their interests. Journalists writing for a general audience, however, were better served by a compelling, easy-to-explain story, with interesting characters.

Document created on 14 July 2000;