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First the Beatles...
Back in 1966 the Beatles claimed that they were "bigger than Jesus", understandably a hugely controversial thing to say at any time, but it seems there's a new pretender to this title in the evangelically rectangular form of an iPhone. Turns out that when viewed under an MRI scanner, the brains of Apple fans show the same response when looking at Apple products, as the brains of people of faith when looking at religious imagery.
There's also evidence that, in many areas, the church are embracing this new technology to their benefit too. The Bishop of Buckingham prefers to read the Bible on his iPad and pointed out the similarities between Apple and a religion in a BBC documentary.
There's just something about those iDevices that calls to people to make them want one. But what is it?
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Do You Think I'm Sexy?
While it's true that Apple has a dedicated following, and Apple Stores can be seen as the Mecca of Gadgets, there's just something that makes their products so desirable. Even if you know you'll be replacing it in a couple of years, and you know there's only so much you can do with it, you see an Apple product and you instantly want... need it in your life.
Although fanboys can bore you about the technical specifications, you haven't even got to thinking about that, you almost don't care, it's the outside that draws you in. Yes, we judge our books by their covers and our gadgets by their shells. It's simplistic but it's true. An Apple-fan friend of mine is drooling over mocked up pictures of the iPhone 5 and already wants one. Before we even know if that's what it will look like, and certainly before we know what's in it. He's just got to have one.
I must confess to being draw in to the sticky Apple web too. They are beautifully designed, and have a sophisticated look to them. There's nothing showy about an iDevice. The only things of note you will see on there are the single home button, and a small Apple logo on the reverse. Everything else is just glass, aluminum and curves -- they are particularly strokeable gadgets that feel wonderful to hold. In a world of imitators and cheap produce, you know that Apple is giving you quality all the way, and you get that feeling the minute you pick one up. Let's face it, these are sexy products -- another part of our brains getting satisfied.
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So are iPhones addictive, and that's what keeps us coming back for more? Even if the call quality isn't great, the camera doesn't work, and your screen's a bit broken (after only a year or so of having it), you still want another one. It's almost like a drug.
Apple has the most astonishing iPhone retention rate of 89 percent, and 4 percent of the remaining hadn't yet decided what their next phone would be, so potentially the actual retention rate could be a lot more. Now that's sticky!
Loyalty is very much key to Apple's future success. Sure they might be able to pick up the odd percent or two of growth from the failing BlackBerry brand, but Android's rate of growth is increasing at an astonishing pace and sales of flagship Android devices are overtaking new sales of iPhones in many areas of the world. So, with newbies to the smartphone scene seemingly opting for Android, keeping that brand loyalty and addiction to their products up there is hugely important to Apple.
There are other points here that have been overlooked too, besides the desirability of the products and the uplifting, almost religious, satisfaction you get from using them. Apple is more than a brand to its customers, it's almost a statement of who they are. iPhones are seen as being the best of the best, therefore using them must mean that you are the best of the best. You are a part of something, a movement, rather than just buying a rather nice product.
I should also point out that Apple's customer service is second to none of any other organization I've encountered, so keeping you happy once you have an iDevice in hand is truly important to them, which could be another reason for the high retention rate. You definitely get the feeling you are valued as a customer, rather than just being A N Other who bought just one of the millions of iPhones out there.
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More Popular Than the Son of God?
Given all this evidence, you may still be skeptical about iPhones being more popular than the son of God -- they are but a gadget after all. Well, more than 40 years on from John Lennon's infamous statement it seems that Jesus is actually bigger than the Beatles -- though if we'd had Google stats in 1966 it may have been a different picture. So perhaps John got it wrong, but Google search data points very conclusively to the fact that iPhones are more popular than Jesus in search volume... by a long way. Google Trends show that for every person searching for Jesus, around seven are searching for iPhone.
Although this data proves iPhone's popularity it doesn't show us why they retain that popularity to keep customers coming back for more.
I think Apple's brand loyalty is definitely due to a cocktail of reasons, as although the attractiveness of the products might be what gets you to purchase one, there has to be something very strong to keep you worshipping at the Apple altar. It definitely keeps part of your brain satisfied that religion may do, but then a lot of brands might claim that to be true about any gadget, or even sports team.
Perhaps it's also the promise of newer and more wonderful gadgets to come, that makes you want to stay with the Apple congregation, just in case you might miss something. Like a second coming.... or even a fifth.
Caramel Apple: onlinecandleshop/photobucket
Ceiling of Apple Church: kanewai/photobucket
iPhones, Apple, http://www.apple.com/iphone/gallery/
- Beatles 'bigger than Jesus' on Google, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/the-beatles/6214263/The-Beatles-bigger-than-Jesus-on-Google.html