The Fundamental Human Values might sound esoteric, but it’s as brass tacked an approach to business as a spread sheet. These are the values that deliver on a company’s desire to match their customer and prospect’s desire to make their lives better: Happiness, Connection, Curiosity, Pride, and Innovation.
If you share those values with your customers, and act on them, you can build an Affinity for the Organization, which is about as important a quality in marketing and capitalism as you can have.
Every company should align with at least two of the values. Sometimes, your second most shared human value becomes your first. When your Business and Customers evolve, another value can rise. Patagonia, whose initial human value was the curiosity to explore, is now, with recent announcements, societal impact with climate and environmental concerns.
Companies should asses their fundamental human value regularly. You have to take the emotional and perceptual temperature of your customers every year. And as they change, you adapt. You should never be far apart, unless you are about to really shake up your companies offerings and mission.
Once in a very long time, a company comes around that manages to deliver on all 5 Fundamental Human Values. In the late 90’s and early aughts, Apple brought all of the values to life and it made them legendary. Let’s look at how they mastered each of the 5 values.
We want to be happy. We spend a lot of time and money pursuing happiness. And from the actual product to its packaging, Apple left no stone unturned to create moments of joy. The box your new laptop comes in is perfectly constructed and beautifully designed. When you remove the lid, it makes a whooshing sound and reveals the ghosted appearance of your silver or gold machine under the gossamer sheet of protective material. You smile ear to ear. Some even shed a tear. When you remove the machine, you discover it’s sitting in a bespoke catacomb of compartments that contain all the equipment you need to begin your relationship: a plug, a wire, and a small, Bauhaus influenced booklet. Simple. Don’t be afraid. Ohhh! Could the rest of your life be as perfect as this. Sadly, no. Now, you haven’t even operated the machine yet. But that’s not important. You already know it will be great, because Apple went the extra 100 miles to greet you with the best product packaging experience outside a one thousand dollar bottle of perfume, and, for a lot of people, it even smells better. The iPhone helped create the genre of unboxing videos – opening iPhone packages is so delightful they inspire thousands to share in the joy (or envy) of the experience.
Despite COVID, ZOOM, streaming TV, Grub Hub, and the state of American politics, people who need people are the luckiest people in the world. We seek connection. We want community. Starbucks knew that. Facebook knew that, and of course, Apple knew that. At first, they wanted individuals to be personally connected to the emerging technology, devoid of a reliance on Big Blue, so 1984 wouldn’t be 1984. It was a populist, anti-totalitarian, offered control and control is power. That increased individual freedom and freedom has a lot of fans. In the 90’s, Apple owner’s connections were so strong, they forced corporate policy to equip them with their beloved machines, lest they stage a sit in at the office of the head of HR. They could turn up their noses at PC users and PC users would shirk away. They had one of the best advertising campaigns – Mac vs. PC – in the history of advertising.
Mac users were cooler, younger, more in the know, on the forefront of it all, wore jeans, hoodies, and didn’t tuck in their shirts. When you opened your laptop in a Starbucks, and the person across the room did the same, and you saw that perfect Apple logo on the cover, you knew you were traveling with a fellow tribesman. The strength of this connection was forged over years of marketing and millions of owners opening their fifth or sixth perfect boxes, and was so worshipped, that when competitors had better, more powerful, and cheaper products, they would be ignored, scoffed at, and denied. “I’m a Mac person,” was a common phrase uttered, as if the machine was now skin and sinew.
Inherent in an Apple device is the promise of journey and discovery, fueled by curiosity. Your desktop, laptop, iPad, iPhone, iPod, and Apple watch are the tools to help you discover and enjoy the world around you. It’s the automobile for the soul. You can surf the internet, create art, make music and film, argue with others, take thousands of photographs of a plate of manicotti, and save moments and images from your life that you can revisit over and over, all in the palm of your hand. Anything that was worth doing now had to be done on an iPhone, and everyone had to have a mobile experience. Apple took all of those new experiences and organized them into one searchable place called the App Store. Suddenty, the entire world was there for you to explore to your heart’s content.
Oh, the vanity. The narcissism. And yet, here we are, polishing our knuckles on our lapels as we feed our egos things we know makes others envious. And unless you’re a monk – and even they brag about their beer – that’s just the way it is with us humans. We want things that tell the world that we are smarter, richer, more accomplished than others. Apple was never a price purchase. It was never a purchase you could make at a traditional electronics store. You had to spend more and spend it in places worthy of the product’s elegance, which Apple realized should be a store manned by “Geniuses.” Who doesn’t want to buy something from a Genius? When someone walked through the shopping mall, elegant Apple Store shopping bag in hand, others would gaze upon that bag with envy. “Who are they?” “What did they buy?” and “What must I do to stop feeling so envious?” The answer was to get your own bag filled with items from the emporium of wonder and delight. Such was the cache of owning an iPhone that Apple made ridiculing its competitors’ customers a feature of their software. The dreaded green text bubble outed Android users, subjecting them to shame for not being part of team Apple. Nothing else will do, especially in the dating world.
It all started here. The desire by the founders to zag when the world was zigging.
To make a dent in the universe. To give people control. To make ugly, clunky machines sleek and beautiful and easy to use. People love pioneers. Explorers. Astronauts. Inventors. They love innovation that tramples over the old and refreshes with the new, and has a positive impact on the world. Apple’s first fundamental human value was this one. Disruptive. Revolutionary. Creative. Yes, it struggled, but the promise was huge. The machines were better than the status quos. Its advertising was so exceptional it became part of the conversation and culture. Its owner younger, his hair longer, and his vision more visionary. Steve Jobs wasn’t a Wasp approved graduate from a Wasp approved university, he was from the ranks of America’s gift to the business world: The Salesman. He named of the company after an object we were told would keep doctors away. The company soared, then stumbled in the late eighties, as shareholder pressure pushed it to suck. And then, in the nineties, he rose again, phoenix like, and resurrected the company with better machines, newer inventions, and an even more disciplined aesthetic. Then came the iPhone. And the world was dented once again. People love the adventure and risk of innovation. They love when it positively impacts society. And though they might be too scared to walk on the moon themselves, they love to watch others do it for them. Innovation that leads to societal impact is noble, and human’s love to dabble in noble. When Jobs returned to Apple, he made it clear the company was on the side of the innovators.
Of course, the Apple story is far more complicated, as was its founder. But, during this time, it delivered brilliantly on each one of the Fundamental Human Values. Like Patagonia, they started strong in one place: innovation that causes societal impact, and did such a great job on all touchpoints of their business that they eventually delivered on all 5. No small feat.
Tim Cook has done a great job moving a mature company forward, but Apple now suffers the same constraints of the slowing of Moore’s Law that all tech is suffering from. (remember gravity? What goes up…?) How much better is the new iPhone? Do I really need an Apple watch? Is the new laptop that much better than the one I bought 3 years ago? Unless you are a diehard adopter, the answer is…”Probably not, maybe, let me think about it.” They’ve done a very good job with providing smart programming on Apple TV, but so have all the others, and it’s harder to differentiate yourself there. But, for a big window of time, this was the most exciting company on earth.
So….how does your business make people happy? Create connection? Community? Satisfy curiosity? Feed the ego? Or impact society?
Not everyone can do it as well as Apple. But it can be done. If you focus on what your fundamental human value is, deliver on it, see how your customer evolves with your brand, and deliver on that, you can begin building your own legend.
Business needs to be BOTH focused and fluid. Running it through the crucible of the 5 Fundamental Human Values year to year can keep you in the business of building an affinity for your organization. And then 2023 won’t be like 1984.