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Death of a Showman

As we anxiously prepare for the launch of Apple’s next generation iPad, I can’t help but reminisce about previous launches I’ve experienced, and specifically the anticipation leading up to those keynote presentations.  My nostalgia for these presentations is due in large part to a key element which will be absent from the stage Wednesday.  That key element is Apple’s legendary showman, Steve Jobs, who was known for his remarkable stage presence as well as his familiar attire.  The appearance of Apple’s former CEO and frontman on stage in his signature black mock turtleneck, blue jeans, and New Balance sneakers became a staple at these highly publicized events.  The charisma and command of the audience Steve Jobs elicited while on stage can only be compared to perhaps a Kennedy or a King. Without his showmanship, these events can seem less exciting or stellar.

As consistent as the recent increase in Apple’s stock price has been, so too has the success in generating demand for new products due to these performances.  As the new torchbearer takes the stage on Wednesday, I seriously doubt Apple’s current CEO Tim Cook – a soft spoken southerner who spent most his career outside the spotlight – will be capable of delivering the same captivating and impacting performance that has become the norm for these product presentations.  Tim Cook is no showman and that has been evident each time I have had the opportunity to watch him speak.  He is effective at delivering a clear and concise message, but in no way connects with the audience in a way that leaves them hanging on his every word the way Steve could.  This was never clearer to me than after watching the iPhone 4S announcement with Tim on stage in Steve’s place.

The purpose of these events being planned, choreographed, and conducted has not changed over the history of Apple product launches.  It continues to be staged to serve two primary purposes — to build excitement and create demand for the product before it is available to consumers.  The artfulness of Jobs past deliveries can clearly be correlated to creating demand for the product being showcased.  The excitement produced from these events was due in large part to the delivery and audience engagement which were true gifts that Steve possessed.  The efficacy of generating hype for the iPad 3 now falls in the hands of Apple’s new leadership, and I will be watching very closely to see if any changes in style have been addressed since Tim brought us the iPhone 4S.

There is no possible way to ever duplicate what Steve accomplished during these events.  Some stylistic changes will be necessary for Apple’s new leader if he hopes to effectively serve those two primary purposes for hosting these events.  Building a buzz that translates into lines of customers waiting days, paying hundreds of dollars to get their hands on Apple’s next hero product requires something magical to take place.  In my opinion that magic starts on the stage where these events are hosted, and requires flawless execution by the event hosts.

I’ll be there with a critical eye, watching Tim’s performance.  What I hope to see is a significant leap in Tim’s ability as a showman.  The future success of Tim’s presentations may need to rely on a combination of two skills — communication and connection.  Achieving this level of connection with the audience will be central for Apple’s new leadership to generate the desired effect from these events, after the death of their iconic showman.

This time, we will see an iteration of an already successful product, but what will it take when Apple’s leadership is faced with delivering something totally new?  By the time we see the next new Apple product none of us realized we could live without, Tim better emerge as a true showman to present it to us for the first time.

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2 thoughts on “Death of a Showman

  1. Brian I agree. The era of Steve is over, and no one will ever replace his style and grace on the stage. Good luck to Tim but I very much think that there will be an absence on that stage on Wednesday.

  2. Kennedy or King? Thats a bit of a stretch. Steve did do an amazing job of marketing a product we didn’t know we needed until we owned it. Both he and Bill personified the american dream, while doing good for us all, but he was not a statesman.

    Bring on the next gadget!

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