An American icon has passed. Now, Tim Cook, the new CEO of Apple, finds one of the most successful brands in American history facing a sluggish economy and an increasingly competitive consumer electronics market. Can Apple switch leaders and still compete, without the golden touch of one of the nation’s great modern innovators?
Ravi Chitturi believes they can. Chitturi is an associate professor of marketing at Lehigh University and an expert in innovation, design and customer emotions. Before devoting himself to teaching and research, he was a leading consultant in Asia and America’s hi-tech industries, focusing on innovation and product design.
Chiturri studies the emotional wants and needs of consumers and thinks Apple is uniquely poised to continue its dominance with a secret weapon: Customer Delight. Chitturi has spent years researching why customers make the decisions they do and he continuously points to Apple as a company that “gets it” by building products with the right mix of function and form.
“Great products strive to delight their customers by design,” said Chitturi. “The goal of achieving customer satisfaction is not, in fact, the driving force behind customer loyalty. It’s delight. Delighted customers are loyal, significantly more loyal than satisfied customers, because in the end consumers do not buy products, they buy and consume emotion.”
The more functional product is not always the one that makes customers happy, or entices them to part with their hard-earned cash, even when it’s the cheaper option. Tablet computers are a fine example, with the iPad costing twice as much as other products with comparable functionality. “Apple understands that there are competing dimensions of good functional design and aesthetics. Aesthetics provides that excitement and cheerfulness that embody delight, creating the emotional impact that staves off the guilt and anxiety that also come with a purchase.”
Apple’s up and down history bears this out. Low points include Job’s ouster as CEO in the ‘80s to their near-demise in the face of Microsoft’s PC dominance. The company turned things around by building more expensive, not less expensive, aesthetically pleasing and customer-friendly personal computers before embarking upon transformative consumer technology. Their products are more than smartphone or media tablet. They’re water cooler talk.
“Steve Jobs is gone, and I hope that he has not taken delight with him,” said Chiturri. “Cook has to retain and enhance the emotion of delight in Apple products. This is the key to Tim’s and Apple’s future success.
Chitturi joined Lehigh’s marketing department in August 2003 after 10 years with Intel and IBM. A member of the Intel Microprocessor design team and the IBM PowerPC Microprocessor design team, he helped transform IBM from an engineering-driven company to a brand-driven one. He has published in the Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research and leading research publications on topics such as Form Versus Function and Emotions by Design.
His latest Lehigh course offering is “Creating Breakthrough Innovations” for MBA students and executives.