13 Strategies Apple Uses to Get Customers to Upgrade iPhones

How does Apple get customers to shell out $999 to upgrade iPhones when their current phones work just fine?  By creating irresistible desire, anticipation and overcoming satiation.  We will breakdown Apple’s key psychological strategies and tactics to help marketers build more buzz behind their product launches.

1. Create irresistible desire.

A phone may be considered a ‘need’ in today’s society but the iPhone is certainly an indulgence.  Apple appreciates this and relentlessly focuses their marketing efforts on creating a burning desire to buy.  Unlike food, water, toilet paper, and toothpaste which need little rational explanation for buying (we buy them because we need them) the iPhone requires Apple to awaken our senses, arouses our interests and suppress other needs in order to pursue the purchase. How does apple create irresistible desire?

2. Have great products, but have even better showmanship.

Innovations fail to live up to their expectations because they fail to create them.  Instead of passively releasing products as developed, Apple keeps their secrets hidden for the big reveal – the Apple Special Event. They build excitement and hype and treat them like every social celebration worth getting excited about (e.g., weddings, birthdays, Christmas).

3. Build a habit into the customers routine.

Apple has made it a habit to host their Apple Special Event annually.  People know it, look for it, and get excited about. This routine certainly helps build the attention, hype, and generate the word of mouth needed to fuel desire for the next iPhone.

4. Put passion in the pitch.

Apple does not focus on cold rational explanations of innovations (e.g., dual core processor, 12mp camera), but rather uses emotionally charged language to communicate their passion for developing the latest and greatest user experiences. A customer centric approach that teases, tantalizes, and energizes customers to buy the iPhone.

5. Create the perception of innovation.

How does Apple convey they are the most innovate iPhone? It is simple, they tell you! Innovation, like art, is in the eye of the beholder. It is a perception. Apple fuels this innovation perception by directly communicating every year “this is the best iPhone we have ever created”.

6. Focus customers attention to overcome satiation.

Every year Apple upgrades the same features – faster chip, better camera, higher resolution screen, fancy security features, and new software. Instead of drilling down on every update and new feature, Apple focuses customers attention on different upgrade aspects every year. This focus creates the perception of major innovation because they rotate your attention on different aspects of the phone.  If they equally discussed every update it would diminish the value of their innovations and likely result in less customers upgrading.

7. Foster upgrades with comparison neglect.

Airlines provide loyalty rewards in the form of points and miles because most people are unwilling to do the math conversion to understand the dollar equivalent (1 point = $?).  In short, airlines keep your focus you on accruing rewards and away comparing award value to money.  Apple uses this comparison neglect technique by focusing on the iPhone X to make the upgrade easier. Apple could fuel more customer upgrades by adding friction to comparing previous iPhones to the new iPhone X.

8. Use savvy branding to heighten expectations.

Which do you prefer?

9. Anchoring the new with the familiar.

We like and buy things that are familiar to us. Apple does an amazing job with anchoring new innovations with the familiar.  Instead of jumping into the new aniemoji or Face ID, they gracefully leverage the familiar to make new and uncertain feel more cognitively fluent. This also helps create the perception of innovation.

10. Build in time for savoring.

Imagine you were to book a Caribbean vacation today and were leaving in 2 months. For the next two months, you will likely spend time planning and thinking how much fun the trip will be.  This time period of anticipation (savoring) has customer value. Part of Apple’s successful innovation plan is designed to get you to wait in anticipation.  Apple leaves several weeks to heighten affective expectations, moods, and imaginations with how this new iPhone X will enhance your life. Disney does this extremely well.

11. Appeal to customers inner needs.

Apple appeals to our inner needs of safety, social belonging, and self-esteem by showcasing the iPhone’s features in action. Apple maps directly to our inner needs from using Face ID to keep our information safe (security), to communicating with friends with aniemojis (social belonging), and using the front facing camera for superior selfies (self-esteem).

12. Make information contextually relevant.

50% increase in chip speed. OLED. Ok, so what? Apple keeps their technology relevant by contextualizing their innovations: “40 million songs at your fingertips” and “2 hours more battery life.”

13. Pricing decoy effect.

In psychology, the decoy effect involves introducing items into a choice set to sway the purchase. For example, by adding 2 more expensive iPhones (iPhone X and iPhone 8) the jump from iPhone 7 up to 8 is much more tolerable. However, Apple seems to have created a new take on the decoy effect…

Whether eating your favorite food or playing your favorite game, with repetition and time, everything loses its lust as we experience a decline in pleasure.  And that goes for the iPhone as well. Understanding how to overcome satiation by fueling irresistible desire can help unlock new customer and brand value.

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Jason Martuscello

Jason Martuscello

Jason lives and breathes behavior change. His personal transformation losing over 100 lbs drives his curiosity to source the latest science to deliver cutting edge solutions. His work cuts through the jargon, to provide unique insight, and applied solutions to today's most pressing business problems. Jason holds an MSc and an MBA.

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