19 July

The Story of Apple Isn’t About Apple

Donald Miller and "Building a Storybrand"

Excerpt from Building a Storybrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller

Apple grew much larger only after Steve Jobs began filtering his message through the lens of story. Transformation in his thinking happened after working with (and partially creating) the genius storytelling factory that is Pixar. When Jobs came back to Apple after being surrounded by professional storytellers, he realized story was everything.

Just think about the incredible transformation that took place in Steve’s life and career after Pixar. In 1983, Apple launched their computer Lisa, the last project Jobs worked on before he was let go. Jobs released Lisa with a nine-page ad in the New York Times spelling out the computer’s technical features.

It was nine pages of geek talk nobody outside NASA was interested in. The computer bombed.

When Jobs returned to the company after running Pixar, Apple became customer-centric, compelling, and clear in their communication. The first campaign he released went from nine pages in the New York Times to just two words on billboards all over America: Think Different.

When Apple began filtering their communication to make it simple and relevant, they actually stopped featuring computers in most of their advertising. Instead, they understood their customers were all living, breathing heroes, and they tapped into their stories. They did this by:

  1. Identifying what their customers wanted (to be seen and heard)
  2. Defining their customers’ challenge (that people didn’t recognize their hidden genius)
  3. Offering their customers a tool they could use to express themselves (computers and smartphones)

Each of these realizations are pillars in ancient storytelling and critical for connecting with customers.

I’ll teach you about these three pillars and more in Building a Storybrand, but for now just realize the time Apple spent clarifying the role they play in their customers’ story is one of the primary factors responsible for their growth.

Notice, though, the story of Apple isn’t about Apple; it’s about you. You’re the hero in the story, and they play a role more like Q in the James Bond movies. They are the guy you go see when you need a tool to help you win the day.

Despite what acolytes of the cult of Mac may say, Apple likely doesn’t make the best computers or phones. “Best” is subjective, of course. Whether Apple has the best technology, though, is debatable.

But it doesn’t matter. People don’t buy the best products; they buy the products they can understand the fastest. Apple has inserted themselves into their customers’ story like no other technology company, and as a result, they’re not only the largest technology company, they’re in the top ten largest companies period. If we want our companies to grow, we should borrow a page from their playbook. We should clarify our message.

3D cover of Building a Storybrand

Learn how to effectively use story in your marketing with Building a Storybrand. Available in: