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John Sculley To Marketers: Don’t “Worry About The Technology,” Focus On The Customer
The ex-head of Apple and Pepsi adds his backing to the idea that companies are no longer in control.
There aren’t many people who have seen the arc of modern marketing from as many vantage points as John Sculley.
The ex-CEO/Chairman of Apple and President/CEO of Pepsi — currently an investor or board member in several marketing tech companies — sees two big movements affecting marketing. One has already happened, while the other is still in progress.
The first movement, he told me in a phone interview, is the “power shift” that has been caused by such technologies as cloud computing, mobility and data analytics, not to mention the internet itself. As a result, he said, “industries have been reinvented by companies giving customers new transparency, [where] the customer is in control.”
The companies are no longer in control, he emphasized.
“If you go back to when I was at Apple,” he said, referring to 1983 to 1993, there was still the traditional media, no web and no mobile. Sculley described it as “pretty simple” in comparison to today, since it was a time when Apple took the attributes of the product and made choices about “how to promote it.”
“That’s not the world we live in today,” he said, since the main task of marketing today is to provide the “best customer experience.”
Companies don’t have to spend as much on ads, he said, because marketing has moved from emphasizing the product to emphasizing what the customer wants.
Emphasize the customer experience, including the price point, and, “if you do these things right, customers will tell other customers.” This, he pointed out, is much more powerful than the brand telling customers what to think.
He advises that it’s all about “the customer plan,” and less about the business plan, a point he emphasized in his 2014 book, “Moonshot: Game-Changing Strategies to Build Billion Dollar Businesses.”
A business plan is “just a budget exercise,” he said, a document to raise money.
Don’t “Worry About The Technology”
Sculley has been involved with several marketing tech startups, including the co-founding of Zeta Interactive, which recently bought eBay Enterprise’s Customer Marketing Division.
But when asked about which current or potential technologies would best support this customer-focus, he advised that marketers shouldn’t “worry about the technology, because it’s changing so fast.”
“Focus more on the customer,” he said.
“Marketers have to constantly look at, ‘what’s the best customer experience, what will differentiate.’ ”
The other big trend, which he describes as still in progress, is the delivery of content and services that leapfrogs traditional infrastructure like wireless providers or cable companies, providing a deluge of “over-the-top” content and services.
He pointed to device companies like Apple that provide unlocked smartphones, thus “taking over the role that wireless operators thought they would have.”
“Wireless companies like AT&T are [now] really marketing companies, content companies. The large incumbent [companies] were much more in control. Nowadays, most young people don’t sign up for a cable plan.”
But, he added, “it’s not yet clear if there’s enough customer revenue for everyone to provide content and media services.”
“Never Particularly Accurate”
Sculley’s moral: the power shift has already happened and it puts the customer in control, the marketer has to respond, but some restructuring — such as the delivery of program content — isn’t over yet.
I couldn’t end an interview with someone who has been depicted several times in movies about Apple without getting his take on them.
“I look at them as entertainment,” he told me. “They’re never particularly accurate.”
He described the most recent one — “Steve Jobs,” starring Michael Fassbender as the legendary Apple co-founder and Jeff Daniels as Sculley — as a “somewhat misleading view.”
It made Jobs out “as a monster, [having an] imperfect relationship with his daughter,” he told me. But “people actually loved working for him,” he said, adding that Jobs was “much more human and had a better sense of humor” than what was depicted in that film.
As for the depiction of him:
“The actors they picked were great, a very entertaining script, [but] most of what they portrayed never happened.”