mac users

Why are Mac users so loyal?

Posted by Matthew Stibbe
Picture of Matthew Stibbe
on 8 May 2006
Miscellaneous Technology inbound marketing

Before the Mac community puts a fatwah on me and I get a lot of emails about this post, let me say that a) I have an iBook G4 which I use daily and love, b) that I am a Mac fan from way back. I cut my teeth programming on Macs (anyone remember Hypercard, MPW and MacApp?), c) the book that got me to start my own business was Guy Kawasaki's The Macintosh Way and I read his blog every day.

That said, in the interests of full disclosure I must add that Microsoft is a major client of my company, Articulate Marketing and Apple is not. In my flat I have six Windows PCs and one Mac; four PocketPC devices and one iPod.

I've noticed that some Mac users verge on the zealous when it comes to their computers. No slur on their beloved machines passes without a flood of emails. Since I write a lot about IT security, I see a lot of variants of "there are no viruses for Macs" and "why don't you tell people to buy a Mac not a PC". Sometimes these letters are hilariously misinformed and sometimes they are well-researched and well-argued. In either case, there is no denying the commitment the writers have to the brand.

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I'm not going to get into a debate here about whether they are right or wrong. What is fascinating is how it is possible that a multinational corporation can provoke such intense personal loyalty in their customers. I mean, wouldn't any business love that kind of intense commitment?

I have a number of suggestions as to why this is but I'm interested to know (especially from Mac users) what motivates them:

  • David and Goliath. Although they are a big company, Apple enjoys the status of being the underdog to Microsoft. Adverts like "Think Different" turn this status into something of a crusade and creates a community of purpose amongs the people who have aligned themselves with Apple. Their latest adverts featuring a Mac user and a PC user play to this as well.
  • Self-esteem. The whole Think Different mentality, the coolness of the dancing iPod ads and so on flatters users into thinking that they, too, are cool, different, elite. It's similar to BMW's campaign to brand its cars as the 'ultimate driving machine' which implies that drivers are the 'ultimate drivers'. They play up the Californian image. I loved the way the packaging says "Designed in California" (but doesn't also say "by a Brit and made in China" but we'll let that pass).
  • Benefits not features. Microsoft products tend to be sold on features. Mac products on benefits. This is changing: Microsoft's People Ready Business is a good example, but Apple are great at showing how your new Mac is going to improve your life; how your iPod will make you hip and so on. The best expression of this difference is this fabulous video showing how Microsoft would package an iPod if it made one.
  • Emotion not reason. Psychologically, I think people are more strongly motivated by emotions (fear, greed, joy, lust, benefits, Apple) than they are by reason (logic, data, features, Microsoft).
  • Evangelism vs. Marketing. Apple has always majored in evangelism whereas Microsoft has tended to focus on more conventional marketing. Evangelism is about building product awareness through users and word of mouth. Perhaps another word for it is grass roots marketing. Anyhow, people are far more likely to believe a purchase recommendation from a friend than from a shop assistant. I think this creates a much stronger commitment to the product after it has been bought.
  • Packaging. It's a small thing but Apple's product packaging is out of this world. Opening my iPod Nano was genuinely delightful. The same with my iBook. Opening the plain Dell cardboard boxes to get my PCs was not at all delightful. In fact it was more of a chore than a positive reinforcement of the purchase decision.
  • Consistency. Microsoft is hampered because it cannot control the whole user experience. It relies on hardware manufacturers to deliver its software. This means users have a split loyalty: to Microsoft and to, say, Dell or Toshiba. It also makes them vulnerable to the weaknesses of others. When Windows XP was first launched, over 60% of crashes were down to a bug in someone else's graphics driver. But everyone says "Windows crashed". Being able to control the hardware as well as the software helps Apple deliver a more complete user experience.
  • Usability. I'm not going to get sucked into the trandimensional vortex of 'which OS is best' but there is one thing that is consistent across Apple products and that is usability. Little things like the way my iBook wakes up instantly when I open the lid or click wheel on the iPod make Apple products easy to use and, again, reinforce the purchase decision. It's a question of attention to detail.

What's interesting to me as a Microsoft-watcher, is how they are picking up on some of these points. For example, my Xbox 360 has cool packaging, good design, a great UI because the whole experience is controlled by Microsoft. It was however, four months late. It will be interesting to watch their new ad campaigns for their midmarket products and Windows Vista later this year.

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