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  • Manfredi Sassoli

Marketing lessons from the iPhone 11

I have always loved the iPhone, I remember getting my first iPhone at the NY Apple store in early 2008. The phone had some cool features, it looked awesome, but it was generally a fairly average product.

In 2010 I was consulting Apple on digital marketing and I got to work on the launch of the iPhone 3 in EMEA. That phone looked beautiful, the back was black and rounded and it felt so smooth in my hands. By then 3G was fast enough, websites were becoming more mobile friendly and that’s when the smartphone really became a mass product.

For the past three and a half years I have been saying that the iPhone is getting boring. The product innovation is marginal: more memory, longer battery life, better resolution, more megapixels in the camera. Sure all these things make the product better, but not significantly better. Not 30% more expensive better. When this happens it means the product lifecycle is reaching the top of the S curve and history tells us that when this happens it leaves room for disruptive products to come in. (This is explained in more detail and looking at wider implications in a recent piece by Benedict Evans).

The most recent iPhone 11, is similar to the iPhoneX, with significant improvement only on the camera. But….why?

The camera has 12 megapixels, it can take pictures in the dark, it can do slow motions back and front, it uses image recognition to merge frames and more. It’s a phone that has five, (five!), lenses. As an amateur photographer I know that one can take good pictures with 2 megapixels and rarely one needs more than 8 megapixels unless it’s for professional use. So….why?

The answer may be obvious and it’s because more and more people do use the camera on the phone for work. Platforms like Youtube, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat have created a new profession: the influencer. There are big influencers, small influencers, micro influencers and wannabe influencers, (with varying levels of actual influence). These people mainly create content with their phones and they want their content to look as good as possible.

The iPhone 11 allows for slow motion videos on the front camera: this has already been called “making a slowfie”. It may sound silly, but it will inevitably create a new type of content, and people who see it will know it’s made with the iPhone 11, and people who make it will talk about it and while not all influencers are influential, they are in general a very influential group of people.

The iPhone remains a status symbol. Its intangible value is what justifies the price tag, as there are many phones that are just as good and cost half as much, buying it is an irrational decision. In his great presentation NYU professor Scott Galloway explains how to build a multi billion dollar organisation a brand must be clear on which basic instinct it's targeting. Apple appeals to our reproductive organs: the more expensive brand is a signal to the opposite sex, (this explains why we make the irrational decision when we buy the iPhone and Apple's profit margins).

I think there is more to that now.

As humans we have the innate desire to express ourselves, it’s been like this since we lived in caves, (there is proof). The new Apple iPhone 11, is not just a phone, not just a computer, but it’s the ultimate tool of expression and it’s designed to appeal to some of the most influential people out there.

Not bad marketing. I would say it's product marketing at it's best.

Having said that I will keep my iPhone6 :)

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