Monday, 14 January 2013

Apple sees China as their "number one market". But it creates a problem on price. A real marketing conundrum.

Apple for once, seems to be in a bit of a marketing bind. Their CEO Tim Cook, currently on a visit to China, said China will be "Apple's number 1 market in the future" even taking over from the US. And who would argue with that.

In fact China is going to be the biggest market in the world for most brands in the future, full stop. Remember too, there are Chinese technology companies (I can name 5 already) of note who will also have an impact outside China - this is not a one-way street.

The problem Apple have in tackling China and indeed, in competing globally with Samsung (who outsell Apple 4:1) is price. Apple is and always has been, the premium brand ($400/$500) but China needs a low cost brand (under $200). The winning formula for Samsung was of course, to do it better (or copy) than Apple and sell it cheaper - that's proved a winner. The problem with China is they don't have the incomes en masse to support Apple's current pricing. So they simply won't be able to buy Iphones and Ipads in massive numbers at current pricing.

Never mind just China, with a worldwide recession, Apple needs to consider its pricing anyway.

If Apple reduce their pricing, it will shift the brand values worldwide into a place where I'm sure it doesn't want to go - cheap rather than premium - and affect every market in which it trades.

Although interesting isn't it, that a brand can be premium in one market and cheapest in another? Corona beer in Mexico is the 10 cent, cheapest, downmarket beer. In Ireland and the UK it's $4 and premium. Same beer, same bottle, different markets.

If Apple don't reduce their pricing but try the old marketing trick of developing a new "low cost" brand - The "A Phone" or something - it will be absolutely transparent and have exactly the same impact. Apple will be cheapened.

Of course a cheapened brand is not a bad thing in recession - not at all. One only has to look at Irish Airline brand 'Ryanair' and sees them sweeping across Europe. Cheap and nasty but a huge success.

So it's a brand conundrum and a particular problem with a brand as established as Apple. My view is the way out is to move towards value add. In other words, retain the existing pricing (more or less) but then give something with the brand - buy one get one (bogof) or possibly a loyalty scheme (Apple club) giving massive rewards and so on. Subsidise the upfront cost.

We will see what Tim Cook does. Already Apple have indicated that they will not be reducing prices....but we'll see. If they're going to crack China, whatever about competing with Samsung, they have a problem and it's not going away. 

But then I'm talking about Apple and we know they'll find a way, they always do. But it will be interesting marketing to watch.