Globalization: Apple’s One-Size-Fits-All Approach


Globalization: Apple’s One-Size-Fits-All Approach

Did you know that by the end of October 2014, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus were available in 69 countries and territories, with a total of 115 countries planned by the end of the 2014? That’s not the only amazing fact. Did you also know that the iPhone is the same design regardless of region?

Apple did not customize their phone in terms of features and looks. So you might think Apple is taking the concept of “global” to the purist level, using a one size fits-all approach, with a standardized design across all regions, the same range of products for all countries, and no visible customization – also called localization – except for the power source, pricing, and carriers’ specifics.

There are certain benefits to standardization, and this one in particular: establishing a global brand with a strong identity, worked for Apple. However, what about raising the idea that the standardization of Apple products may in fact precisely answer the requirement for cultural understanding?

The secret of any global brand success is cultural understanding. What if Apple has understood the underlying common-ness of all humans so that no-need for product customization is actually the highest form of cultural understanding? Or, what if Apple has found the path to that sweet-spot, where there is a common ground among differing cultures?

The thing is, going global is not just about offering a product to several markets around the world. It’s also about finding the denominator for a particular product that is region-blind. Apple, I believe, found this baseline purist – often called minimalist – approach with expansive usability testing. Steve Jobs said, “The main thing in our design is that we have to make things intuitively obvious”.

However, Apple concedes to personalization on several layers. Let’s examine what those are:

Apple has stores all around the world. For each of these stores, Apple follows a strict customer service protocol, which is tailored to each region. That creates insane loyalty and attachment, because the local staff uses a personalized approach to communicate with customers.

Even the type of building matches the culture. For example, the Paris Apple Store is housed in a Haussmann-type building that is ideally suited to Parisians’ tastes in architecture. Or at least, what they have grown accustomed to. Bob Bridger, vice president of Apple Retail Development explains what makes Apple Stores so popular. “Once a location is picked, it’s all a matter of working towards making sure the store has an inviting appeal that matches its surrounding culture and environment. It’s about ‘getting out into the street’ and feeling what the local feels.”

Second of all, Apple chooses the countries where they are going to do business carefully.  In fact for the first time in iPhone history, Apple phones will be on track to be available in more than 115 countries by the end of the year 2014, making this the largest iPhone rollout ever. Talk about localization! Apple may use a one size-fits-all strategy for their products, but that strategy allows them to launch in so many countries because they have minimal customization to subject their phones to. But the area in which they choose personalization is their technical local requirements.

The new iPhone 6 supports anywhere between 16 and 20 different LTE (long-term evolution) bands, depending on the model – which is the highest of any phone being currently sold. That means you can use your US-bought iPhone 6 all over Europe and Asia with fast download speeds. That is the epitome of a global experience tailored to the regional standards, isn’t it?

Third, the Apple ecommerce web site is also purist and standard across all 125 world regions that the sites it is translated into, and is a mirror of the brand. It has the same look and feel, regardless of the country you are viewing the site in, but the content is highly customized in the local language, trans-created, or reviewed by local copywriters. You find that same high translation quality in all of Apple user guides and documentation, even though Apple’s user-friendly design approach makes the use of guides somewhat obsolete.

Did you know that Apple isn’t on social media? In fact, Apple customers constitute Apple’s advertising – Apple isn’t even involved.

How and where do they get their customer pulse? By being silent. They let others do all the talking for them. Maybe that seeming lack of social marketing strategy is, in fact, the strategy. Customers come to Apple. Apple creates the want and solidifies the brand in that way. Customers adapt to Apple, Apple does not adapt to customers. In 1998, Steve Jobs told Business Week, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Lastly, I will dare to say that Apple is choosing not to adapt its products to the local culture, because it does not need to. Apple is the culture. This is the culture that people want to embrace when they wait in line at Apple Stores when they could just buy the product online. People want to experience being a part of Apple with its culture of hip, fashion, creativity, personality, and design. Apple creates the culture and customers become its embodiment.

Apple has many detractors. But in the end, a successful brand is one that elicits powerful emotion and positive sentiment from its customers. How many competitors of Apple wouldn’t want to find the path to their customers’ hearts in a similar way?