How Apple is brilliantly using a 100-year-old persuasion strategy

Apple MacBook Pro
The Apple MacBook Pro

Full disclosure: This article was written before we engaged with Apple as a client, so it isn’t influenced or informed by our relationship with the company.

How do you persuade your prospects of your products’ quality? Use this strategy: Show the work that went into creating the product.

This can take two forms:

  1. Show the work that went into inventing the product.
  2. Show the work that goes into creating each individual product.

For example, if you were selling Rolex watches, you could tell the story of how the watch was designed, or you could describe the painstaking process by which each individual watch is manufactured. Or you could do both.

How this technique was used to sell beer 100 years ago

Advertising legend Claude Hopkins used this strategy to revolutionize the sales of Schlitz beer in the early 1900s. He did so simply by being the first to describe how beer was made. He toured Schlitz’s operations and noted down all the interesting aspects of the company’s process. In particular, he highlighted those that supported Schlitz’s main claim: that its beer was pure. The campaign was a huge success. Within a few months, Schlitz went from fifth place to being tied for first in the market.

Even if you’ve heard the story before, you probably haven’t seen any of Hopkins’s ads. Here’s one of them:

Ad for Schlitz beer

Apparently, the techniques he describes in the ad were common to many beers; Hopkins was simply the first to mention them, thereby implying that the techniques were unique to Schlitz.

How Apple is using this technique to sell laptops

Hopkins’s ads now look comically out of date, but the technique is still as fresh as a daisy. Here’s a fantastic modern-day equivalent—the following video shows the work that went into creating the body of Apple’s MacBook Pro laptop:

(You need to watch only the first three minutes of the video.)

If you’re too busy to watch it—and we recommend you do—here’s what happens: Apple’s Senior Vice President of Design passionately describes—and shows—how the body of each MacBook Pro laptop is carved from a single block of metal. According to Apple, this increases the reliability and robustness of the laptop and allows it to be lighter and smaller. It’s a brilliantly persuasive piece of marketing.

Unlike in the Schlitz example, Apple’s manufacturing techniques do appear to be unique to Apple, which makes the video even more effective.

At Conversion Rate Experts, we have had great success with this technique, having incorporated it into winning webpages for clients in weight loss, B2B products, and health supplements, and achieving conversion improvements of 67%, 101%, and 114%, respectively.

Why does it work?

This strategy works for several reasons:

1. It adds credibility to your claims. When you describe the work that went into creating a product, you are providing supporting evidence for the product’s features. Many breweries were claiming that their beer was pure, but Schlitz was the first to give justification as to why its beer was pure.

2. It is concrete. People struggle to think in terms of abstract concepts. “Pure” is a vague, abstract concept, whereas “beer being dripped over frigid pipes in a plate-glass room” is concrete.

3. It tells a story. People respond well to stories. Stories can be considered the “native programming language” of the human brain.

4. It gives you something new to say. In some mature markets, it’s hard to think of anything new that can be said about a product.

5. It gives you something to say when the product’s benefits or features are not easily discernible. If you’re selling bottled water or luxury watches, it’s hard for prospects to discern the benefits—and the benefits themselves aren’t even particularly interesting. The background story can be the most compelling aspect of the product.

6. It can give “romance” to the product. People love to associate objects with romantic pasts. For example, which guitar player would not like to play Jimi Hendrix’s guitar? Don’t underestimate the power of romance in your copy, particularly if you’re selling something that doesn’t have many logical benefits.

So, how can you use this strategy?

  • List the main benefits of your product.
  • Presumably, you go to extreme lengths to create these benefits. Would your prospects be impressed if they could see the work that went into creating the product or service?
  • Remember, you are likely to underestimate your own achievements. Even if a technique is commonplace, it may still be impressive to your prospects.
  • Bring your process to life. Tell the story. Feature the people who worked on it—and show the passion behind it.
  • Be highly specific: Lexus is smart to say its Certified Pre-Owned cars go through a “rigorous 161-point checklist,” rather than just saying “a rigorous screening process.”

When will this strategy not work?

Clearly, this strategy will work only to support a particular claim. If Apple’s prospects didn’t care about quality and elegance, the video would have no effect on their behavior. If certain prospects were PC users, and their main objection was that they didn’t want to learn a new operating system, the video would not affect conversion.

If you didn’t read this article out loud…

…then you missed out on saying the word “Schlitz’s.”

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