Frontline Marketing

Former Apple CEO John Sculley On The Power Of Brands And Marketing

By | July 6, 2017 |

Having served as the president of PepsiCo and CEO of Apple during his career, John Sculley has been responsible in helping build out some of the best known brands in the world today.

After introducing the world to the Pepsi Challenge in 1975 during his 15-year stint for the soft drinks company that started in 1967, Sculley helped Steve Jobs grow Apple from $800 million in sales to over $8 billion throughout his tenure from 1983 to 1993.

The established executive joined AListDaily to explain that there are marketing lessons to be learned from past successes.

“In the days of the cola wars, Pepsi was outsold in the early 1970s by 10-to-one in 50 percent of the country. We realized Coca-Cola was the most valuable brand in the world at that time and they had almost unlimited marketing dollars. So, they owned reality,” said Sculley. “We decided we had to own perception if we had any chance of gaining share in the market on them, and so we created what at the time I called experiential marketing with the Pepsi Challenge.”

That’s what motivated Jobs to lure Sculley to Apple. Jobs wanted to learn all about experiential marketing, which was deeply imbedded in the high-tech world in the end-user experience.

“Jobs was designing the Macintosh for non-technical people to do creative things, an idea that seemed outrageous in the early 1980s, but obviously we take for granted today,” said Sculley. “Those fundamental principles of experiential marketing are still here today. In fact, they are even more relevant today as you see companies like Amazon develop what’s now being called the 360-degree experience with Amazon Prime. You see it with the new technologies like augmented reality and eventually virtual reality.”

When it comes to new technology, Sculley is more optimistic about AR than VR.

“When you can take things like Microsoft HoloLens—and other companies will have their versions of that—and superimpose digital things into the real world, that feels much like the way that desktop publishing became a mainstream application in the 1980s when we first were showing it experimentally,” Sculley said. “People asked why anyone would want to do that, and now everyone knows what a PowerPoint presentation is and we just take it for granted that it’s always been here. My sense is AR will follow an adoption pretty similar to desktop publishing. VR is hard to know—it’s so early in the game. We still don’t have much content with VR that’s really caught on in a mainstream way.”

Back when Sculley was building underdog brands like Pepsi and Apple, there were a lot less opportunities for marketers—and a much easier path to connecting with young audiences.

“It’s all about signal-to-noise ratio,” Sculley said. “There’s an awful lot of noise. So how do you break through the noise and get the signal that will connect? Obviously, personalization is a fundamental factor. We never had personalized marketing back in the days when I was at Pepsi, or even at Apple. It wasn’t technically possible, but now personalized marketing—where you can actually make adjustments based on behavior by looking at thousands of data points per individual—is something that is mainstream now. That means how work gets done in marketing is radically different than the way it got done even a decade ago, and it will continue to change. But the question is who is in control? Who has power?”

With social platforms like Facebook reaching 2 billion people a month, messaging is no longer a one-way street. In addition, new livestreaming technology like Facebook Live is enabling content creators, including influencers, to connect with audiences.

“There’s been a big change in what the roles are,” said Sculley. “In some cases it means that there will be lots of little entrepreneurial companies, even individuals, who can create things things at a very high production level of quality—even at their own desk. On the other hand, you’re going to see massive controls continue to expand with Facebook, Google and Amazon and other companies that have crossed borders to dabble into a little bit of everything.”

One constant in the field of marketing that Sculley hasn’t seen change in over 40 years is starting with an insatiable curiosity.

“Everyone that I ever worked with who made breakthrough changes in marketing always was a curious and hardworking person that wasn’t afraid to take risks,” Sculley said. “You have to be a risk-taker if you’re going to be a really good marketer. You have to be prepared to make mistakes and fail, and you just pick yourself back up and try to figure out what you learned and try it again. Those are identical characteristics in what you see with the best entrepreneurs. That makes sense because entrepreneurs by instinct and design are creative people, and marketing is a creative endeavor. So there’s a natural alignment between the personality of an entrepreneur and the personality of a great marketer.”