Rotten at the Core? Apple’s Alignment Problem

Work hard on the job today or work hard to find a job tomorrow.

That isn’t the message most of Apple’s Brand Lovers would expect to find hanging on the wall of their favorite tech company’s manufacturing facility. It seems a little too Dickensian in sentiment, a world removed from the sleek gadgets tailor made to empower and encourage the creative spirit.

But there it is, right in the middle of a NY Times investigative report: In China, Human Costs are Built into an iPad.  Reading this, we learn how Apple’s supply chain is fraught with difficulties. Safety and environmental concerns top the list. People have died. There have been multiple explosions at manufacturing facilities—blasts, experts say, that were completely avoidable. Toxic materials were used in the production of iPhones, driven by what Supply Chain Digest calls “aggressive procurement practices.” Allegations of child labor, punitive practices in the workplace, and high rates of suicide round out the list.

There is a culture of secrecy and silence around Apple’s manufacturing practices; vendors sign confidentially agreements so sweeping that they’re barred from disclosing they’re working for Apple at all.

Customers First: Understanding the Pillars of Belief

Of all of the challenges that Apple has faced over the years, this situation holds the most potential to break the brand.  There is an obvious and fundamental disconnect between the way Apple is conducting business and the way that Apple’s Brand Lovers would expect Apple to do business.

Now, until this point, it’s probably fair to say that the vast majority of people who use and enjoy Apple products never once thought about how all of that iTech was actually made.  But if those same people were asked asked about how they thought their iPhone or iPad was made, we’d hear a range of responses based on the beliefs and assumptions that those customers have about Apple as an organization.

The Pillars of Belief articulate the beliefs that our best customers have about our company. This can be a simple but all important question, such as “Are they honest and fair? Are they the type of company I want to do business with?” Questions like these can help uncover the beliefs customers hold about your company that influences their buying decisions.

Brand Lovers strongly prefer to do business with companies whom they believe reflect their own personal belief system. They’re seeking those points of familiarity, of personal resonance, where their perception of your brand meshes closely with the cultural stories they hold most dear.

Problems arise when an organization’s performance, in any sphere of operations, gets out of alignment with the Pillars of Belief.  The Apple Brand Lover has expectations based upon their belief that Apple is a company that empowers and elevates people’s existence. The discovery that this product is made in a nightmarish sweatshop environment is out of alignment with that belief.  This disconnect introduces a tension into the customer-brand relationship; a tension that customers may resolve by abandoning their once-beloved iGear.

Apple has been making moves to remedy the supply chain issue, but as both the NY Times and Supply Chain Journal have noted, those efforts have been perceived as lacking and entirely secondary to the need to produce the new iGear as quickly and profitably as possible. Bringing Apple back into alignment with their Brand Lover’s expectations will require greater efforts to remedy existing problems, as well as increased visibility and transparency.  Only then will Apple be acting in a fashion that their Brand Lovers expect. That’s what it means to put Customers First.

Previous Post Next Post