Friday, April 12, 2024

iPhone Marketing Guru Looks Back

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You remember Bob Borchers. What’s that, name doesn’t ring a bell? Borchers’ was the anonymous Apple marketing guy who hosted the original, 24-minute iPhone guided tour video back in June of 2007 when the device first came out.

Yes, it was only a few years ago, long before “There’s an app for that,” that Apple felt compelled to do a rather lengthy promo video to explain just what the heck the iPhone was.

Borchers jokes now that he was “the ugly mug” in the video, but he was far more than just a talking head.
Bob Borchers iPhone Guy 013.jpg

In addition to heading worldwide product marketing for the iPhone, Borchers also spearheaded the Nike+iPod partnership and Apple’s iPod integration efforts with major auto companies. His almost five year tenure at Apple continued up through the recent launch of the iPhone 3GS. Earlier he held senior marketing positions at Nokia and Nike.

Now he’s a partner at venture firm Opus Capital. I caught up with him at the GigaOm Mobilize conference where, unleashed from Apple’s traditional stranglehold on employee’s speaking to the media, he was happy to discuss his time there and trends in the marketplace.

Even his hiring was tinged with secrecy. Borchers says he had no idea what he was being hired to work on. But after he got there, Apple let him know they were working on a new device, the iPhone.

So what was it like working for Steve Jobs? Borchers wouldn’t comment on Jobs’ dictatorial reputation, but he did say Jobs was open to push back on his ideas as long as they were well-reasoned and defendable.

“The good news is that you came away from every meeting with decisions being made; there was no paralysis by analysis.”

Selling a $500 phone

When the iPhone launched with a $500 price, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said his first reaction was “that is the most expensive phone in the world and it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard.” Later he said, “it may sell very well.”

Nice save!

Borchers, as it turns out, had experience selling much more expensive phones when he did marketing for Nokia’s Vertu line of luxury phones. These babies sell for anywhere from $3,000 to $100,000! One example, Nokia says its diamond-laced Signature Diamond phone is “Assembled by hand in a process so complex that it takes even experts up to three years to learn.”

Perhaps after that, pitching a $500 phone didn’t seem very daunting. He says one his goals at Apple was to establish in people’s minds that the iPhone was more than just another product, and something a consumer would be happy to pay more than a hundred bucks to own. Mission accomplished.

“Steve (Jobs) realized no one loved their phone,” says Borchers. “The goal was to make the iPhone irresistible and make the customers give the most effective demos. We deliberately never called it a smartphone because we don’t want to be part of what that was.”

Palm and Apple and who else?

Borchers said Apple’s unique advantage with the iPhone is the tight integration and control it has over both the hardware and software. “No one else except Palm really gets the importance of having the hardware and software together,” he says.

He also believes Apple’s other edge is a long held marketing strategy it shares with his previous employer Nike — complete disdain for market research in devising new products.

“As a company, and I think Apple gets this better than anyone, you want to follow what Wayne Gretsky said about hockey: skate to where the puck will be, not where it is.”

In other words, rather than survey customers on what they want, Apple (and Jobs in particular) is more inclined to follow his gut as to what consumers want, even if they don’t know it already.

Borchers says he’d like to see more such forward thinking when it comes to mobility in the enterprise. “We’re still in ‘Enterprise 1.0’. The devices are trying to replicate what’s on the desktop. But what I want on a mobile device or phone isn’t a mini-Salesforce, I want something designed for the device from the start.”

With the economy still struggling, he says the right investments in mobile today could pay off big time as the economy improves and consumers and businesses gain more buying power.

“People say, ‘Is venture dead?’ No, what I see is a flight to quality.”

Opus Capital has a somewhat unique approach in that it doesn’t target market segments but rather smart people, ideas and opportunities.

“The last thing we want is someone who says something like ‘This is a software-as-a-service company.’ We look for great teams and ideas. Over the course of 5-to-7 years a successful venture will probably have changed quite a bit from the original idea.”

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