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October 17th, 2011

What Steve Jobs Taught Us About Loyalty

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I think a few words on the impact Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, had on the concept of customer loyalty – and life – are in order. Consider this a tribute to him and his memory as it relates to all of us in the loyalty business.

If you consider how Jobs thought, you might be tempted to conclude that he was too much a visionary, too much an innovator, to care very much about customer loyalty. Certainly it’s true that he never saw the need for a formal customer loyalty program for Apple, and I’d wager that he’d be dismissive of most “earn and burn” programs.

But according to his own reflections and the stories about his demanding leadership of the teams at Apple and Pixar, when he pushed, prodded, bullied, and inspired them to do something “insanely great” with the Macintosh, Toy Story, iPod and everything else, he was acting not only as a mercurial visionary, but as one of history’s greatest consumer advocates ever. Yes, ever. And he created unprecedented loyalty in doing so.

Jobs’s CAUSE was us–the people–consumers and users of the technologies of computing, communication, and connection. Prior to the 1970′s, people like us were simply not the focus of nor involved in any of that. In Jobs’s worldview, heavily influenced by counterculture and revolution of the 1960′s, those technologies were exclusive province of the monolithic, autocratic, controlling elites in business, government, and education. He came to see his personal mission and purpose to change the world for the better by undermining the foundations of those power elites, and thereby making the technology serve us, the people.

He once told the graduates at Stanford to “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” He himself was inspired by those words. What does it mean to stay hungry? What is “hunger” in this sense, anyway? It is a metaphor for unquenchable desire. Hunger is an appetite, satisfied temporarily with a good meal but always recurring, never fully satisfied. It is the desire for evolution and growth; constant adaptation and change; for the pursuit of excellence to the furthest extent of your talents and in service of the CAUSE.

And why be foolish in this pursuit? I think Jobs meant “foolish” as in the foolishness of the court jester, who was the one person permitted in the Kings’ courts of the middle ages to actually tell the King the truth. To Jobs, it meant COURAGE–the fearless and unconventional risk taking in the service of the cause–at the risk of loss of status and reputation. This he did throughout his career, as you know. In the cause of making the technology serve us, instead of us serving it, the technology would have to be built smart enough to know our language, rather than stupidly requiring us to learn its language. That’s why Jobs required total effort: It wasn’t good enough to be good enough.

That kind of loyalty to the cause, and courage in pursuit of it, comes from only one source: BELIEF. When asked what research went into the iPad, he answered “None. It’s not the job of the consumer to know what they want.” Steve Jobs believed that was his job, his mission. He already knew what we wanted. And most of the time, he was exactly right.

That belief was both attractive and infectious to others. He died yesterday with legions of loyal friends, colleagues, suppliers, developers, partners, customers, and admirers around the globe who mourn his passing. He changed the world for the better by building insanely great and unique tools that serve each of us on a daily basis. We are all more powerful because of Steve Jobs.

We, as loyalty marketers, ought to pause to reflect on these principles in the context of the causes we serve. Are we clear on our mission, our purpose? Do we believe that cause will change the world for the better? Are we expressing that belief in an inspired, relentless, and passionate pursuit of excellence and uniqueness every day? Are we pushing and prodding our teams and our leaders to embrace the cause of our customers as an enterprise mission?

In the end, everything we do will reflect the degree of belief we had in our purpose. Words to ponder in any endeavor, and especially in the pursuit of loyalty.


About the Author

Jim Sullivan


Jim directs the advancement of enterprise loyalty at COLLOQUY, an endeavor guided by his almost 30 years of managing in marketing, strategic planning, business development, innovation, and communications. Jim also assists with COLLOQUY’s loyalty workshops, seminars and conferences, and serves as an academic liaison for colleges, universities and thinking institutions performing research on Enterprise Loyalty. 




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