This case study is a comprehensive case study of Apple’s copywriting prowess, with copywriting tips from Apple, supplemented with screenshot examples, that propelled them to become one of the world’s largest tech companies.
Apple sold over 45 million iPhones in Q4 2016, generating more than $28 billion in sales revenue. This doesn’t even include sales revenue from Macs, iPads, Watches, and other products.
Many businesses can only dream of having Apple’s monumental success and unshakable global reach.
15 Copywriting Tips from Apple to Win Hearts and Minds
It’s easy to see why Apple is so successful just by visiting their website.
Note how their website looks. It’s clean. Simple. Sleek design with generous white space. Appealing to the eye.
No big, technical, or clever words anywhere. Only simple words any six-year-old can understand.
Yet, put all together, visiting Apple’s website is a seductive and hypnotic experience. Like magic.
Even the toughest customer with deep contempt towards any whiff of a sales pitch cannot help but admire Apple’s masterful design, innovation, and craftsmanship.
It’s no wonder Apple makes truckload after truckload of money — day in and day out.
How do they do it?
There are many factors that contribute to Apple’s success. They’ve spent decades meticulously building their brand and honing their unorthodox marketing strategies while improving their product lines and constantly improving the design of individual products.
Apple’s copywriting is only one factor out of many, but an important one. Here are 15 ways, with examples, Apple seduces their customers to not just buy their products, but also become raving fans anticipating the next big release.
1. Grab Attention With One Simple Idea
The most important part of a piece of copy is the headline. People look at the headline before anything else, even the picture. The headline determines whether or not people continue reading.
People have developed sophisticated defense mechanisms to protect their minds from information overload with all the marketing, advertising, social media noise, and businesses vying for an ounce of their attention.
For this reason, the headline should focus on one simple idea.
This one idea should encompass everything the product or service is about. But the headline is never about the actual product — it’s about the benefit; what’s in it for the reader. It should get just enough attention to draw the reader in.
After nine years of iPhone’s global reach and living through versions 3, 4, 5, and 6, the anticipation for the next version reached a fever pitch. In only three words, Apple has crafted the perfect headline telling the world that the next big product has finally arrived.
The number 7 has a universally positive connotation that implies good luck, viscerally evoking good feelings in the reader’s mind. Put together, the big arrival of a hotly anticipated product was distilled into one simple idea:
This is 7.
This is analogous to planting a seed in the target reader’s mind. And letting it grow.
Even if a reader has a perfectly functioning iPhone 6 and decides not to upgrade now, the sexy iPhone 7 will be marinating within the reader’s mind. Subconsciously, at least. It may be a week later, or a year later, but the reader will eventually see his own iPhone 6 as archaic and want something new.
The simpler the idea, the more powerful the headline. The more powerful the headline, the more readily it penetrates the reader’s mind — bypassing its information overload protection mechanisms.
2. Know Your Target Audience
In some of Apple’s landing pages, there is no “buy” button. For example, Apple’s iOS 10 page is purely informative and even offers a free upgrade to iOS 10 at the bottom.
In these cases, Apple’s landing pages aren’t about getting the customer to buy. Instead, they display their craftsmanship to build excitement and legitimate hype — and putting the customer right in the middle of it.
At the top of the iOS page, an impressive display of multiple phone screenshots surrounds the words “iOS 10” in the center: a refined Maps app, an improved Messaging app with cartoon emojis, news apps showing NASA’s Juno probe entering Jupiter’s orbit, sleek calendar reminder notifications, and more. As you scroll further down the page, there are even more visuals with captions showing how much more you could do if you upgrade to the latest iOS.
This page is targeted only to customers who already own an iPhone and speak the Apple lingo. If a reader sees this page and decides to get a new iPhone, that’s great. But that’s not the goal. It is to show how much more existing customers could accomplish using the latest iOS version.
Plus, Apple is not selling their new operating system. They are selling a new and improved experience. That is what their customers want, and Apple understands this.
To properly target your landing page to the right audience, these five questions will help you hone your strategy:
- How will people find this page?
- Is this page for existing customers or for prospective customers?
- What is average user’s experience before they find this page?
- What do I want visitors to do after they read the page?
- How will the average user’s experience improve once they find this page and take action?
Once you answer these questions in detail, you have enough information to create a well-targeted landing page with a powerful call-to-action.
3. Write Memorable Sound Bites
With attention spans as short as ever, people usually process information in short and snappy sound bites. People rarely think in complete sentences.
Writing in a way people actually think — using sound bites — is the best way to get ‘in tune’ with your audience. Sound bites are easy to remember. They stick.
Apple’s copywriters are masters at writing sound bites that convert both new and existing customers into loyal fans. The following examples demonstrate how Apple uses sound bites to entice customers to buy their products.
During the holiday season, Apple shifts their marketing strategy to get in tune with holiday shoppers. In this page, Apple is marketing accessories for the iPad Pro. The sound bite here is Presents for their present.
This is a loaded one. What makes this stick is the rhyme and repetition. In just four words, Apple is showing options for a perfect holiday present for a friend or family member who already owns an iPad.
Here’s another example of a sound bite involving the iPhone SE, a redesigned 4-inch iPhone.
Many people still use older and smaller iPhones with 4-inch screens, showing a sizable market remains for smaller phones. Not everyone wants a bigger phone like the iPhone 6+. Knowing this, Apple reinvented the smaller iPhone with a more powerful chip, a retina display, and a better camera with higher resolution, while keeping the size the same as the original 4-inch version.
In just five words, Apple says all this with another thought-provoking sound bite: A big step for small. Plus, there’s another sound bite tucked within the copy below: “… an iPhone that looks small. But lives large.”
One who still uses an old 4-inch iPhone would understand he can have an iPhone of the same size that is just as powerful as the latest iPhone.
4. Boost Credibility By Sprinkling Your Copy With a Few Technical Details
One of the cardinal sins of technology copywriting, especially in B2C, is getting overly technical.
But rules are meant to be broken. Knowing when to do so is an art in and of itself. Very few copywriters can do this and get away with it. Apple’s copywriters are among those few.
Using numbers and technical jargon in marketing copy is generally a major no-no. But used wisely, it can actually help increase clarity and boost credibility with your target audience.
Let’s see how Apple does this:
The copy for MacBook Air is loaded with technical jargon:
- Fifth-generation Intel Core i5 and i7 processors
- Intel HD Graphics 6000
- 0.68-inch unibody design
- 2.96 pounds
Do most readers care what ‘i5’ or ‘i7’ mean? Or whether it is 5th generation vs 4th or 6th? Not likely. How about knowing what the “6000” after Intel HD Graphics means? No. Should readers care? No.
And why not say “less than 3 pounds” and “just over half an inch thick”? Why must Apple be so precise, to two decimal points, about the MacBook Air’s dimensions?
The point here is the reader would be more impressed with Apple’s precision and attention to detail than the actual specifications. If Apple is so meticulous with the precision of its product’s design and pays diligent attention to detail, then this product must be worth buying.
If the reader happens to be technologically savvy and is a loyal consumer of Apple’s products, he would know that this product is an upgrade over older versions just by looking at these specs.
In some cases, some strategically-placed technical jargon, used sparingly, establishes you as an insider who speaks the same language as the target audience.
5. Persuade With Problems and Pain Points
One of the tenets of effective copywriting is to hit your ideal customer’s pain points hard and draw your customer in with problem-solving benefits.
Many technology copywriters make the mistake of listing the features of a product without showing the benefits, and their copy reads flat and boring. Benefits are more enticing.
In short: features tell, benefits sell.
Many MacBook Air users have complained of short battery lives and needing to recharge every few hours. Apple addresses this pain point in the following example:
Just saying the battery lasts 12 hours on the new MacBook Air is not enough — it is a feature, which by itself does not sell.
The benefits of the 12-hour battery life are you can Make big things happen. All day long. and It won’t call it a day until you do. Apple is saying you’d never have to worry about your Air’s battery dying while you use it. That sells.
6. Make It About the Customer, Not the Product
The best converting copy is not about the product or service, it is about the customer. Customers are not just dollar signs. They are people with friends and families. They have emotions, thoughts, and dreams.
During the holiday season, Apple not only markets to their customers but also to customers looking for gifts to give their friends and family.
In this case, Apple does not use the word “you” or “your”; instead of using “them” and “their”. The above copy is a masterful market expansion campaign that kills three birds with one stone:
- Apple is not just selling the iPhone 7. They are selling the ability to capture their most epic moments and to let them relive the experience in perfect detail.
- Apple is targeting the existing customer’s friends and family members to gain additional market share.
- Apple gets customers into the spirit of holiday season gift-giving; not just making it about the customers, but also their friends and family.
The bottom line: Apple doesn’t sell products. They sell experiences revolving around the customer.
7. Create Anticipation For What’s Coming
Apple spent years developing their brand and nurturing customer loyalty. Their use of version numbers and product comparisons, with technical specifications, creates anticipation for what is coming in the future. There were plenty of rumors and buzz about the iPhone 7 for months before it came out.
Now that it is finally here, Apple put up a comparison sheet with the iPhone 7 versus the iPhone 6 and iPhone SE models.
Apple shows for each model which colors are available, memory capacities, screen sizes, types of display, processing chips, and their dimensions. From right to left, the model specs seem to get better and better — from the small iPhone SE to the largest and most powerful iPhone 7 Plus, enticing people with older models to trade up.
And we’re already hearing rumblings about the iPhone 8…
8. Place the Product in People’s Lives
People buy products for emotional reasons. Attempting to rationally convince a person to buy a product isn’t as effective as appealing to their emotions because a potential buyer could come up with valid objections or logical reasons not to buy.
Apple bypasses this by placing the product in the person’s life, thereby “assuming the sale”.
In the context of photos, everyone is astutely aware that memories fade over time. For that reason, they are constantly saving and organizing their photos into photo albums.
Apple is not selling a brand new upgraded camera or an app to organize your photos. They are selling the chance to keep your best memories and to quickly sort them without spending hours on a computer organizing photos.
The most clever piece of copy isn’t in the white space above. It is in the photo on the iPhone display: “Best of Summer”.
These three words are a clear and concise demonstration of being able to retain and view your best photos within the Memories feature. It stands out. It’s crystal clear. It appeals powerfully to the typical iPhone user with several thousand photos and no easy way to sort these photos.
Apple’s usage of the word “Summer” is no accident. They know not to use “Winter” or “Autumn” because the weather is cold and people tend to stay inside. “Spring” isn’t used either because people don’t take vacations in the Spring as they do in the Summer.
More aptly put, placing a photo organization feature in a person’s life is not about pictures or photo albums. It is about memories.
9. Write Inclusively
Usually, the rule of effective copywriting is to sell the product to a specific segment of a target audience and write accordingly.
Apple shatters this rule by writing to a very broad audience: everyone.
In this example, writing inclusively as opposed to exclusively works in Apple’s favor for two reasons: 1) brand recognition, and 2) familiarity with the product. Everyone knows who Apple is, and everyone knows what an iPhone is.
However, this strategy is best effective for companies with huge followings, strong brand recognition, and/or have products or services that fulfill a universal need.
10. Make It Personal By Using the Word “Personal”
Another reason Apple’s copy is so powerful is that they break down the invisible barrier between a huge multi-billion dollar corporation and the individual “little guy” consumer.
How do they break this barrier down? Simply by using the word ‘personal’ in their copy. This makes for a powerful connection between the product and the consumer’s feelings.
For instance, someone who uses the iPhone 7 could choose a color for his phone’s case. Apple displays the available colors for a leather case or battery case for the customer to choose from.
But they don’t stop there. They use the tagline: Make it even more personal.
By adding a case with his favorite color, he is adding a personal touch to his own iPhone 7. This evokes feelings of uniqueness and a deeper connection with the product.
11. Create a Compelling Call To Action
Without a call to action, a piece of copy is nearly worthless. One of the most important sales maxims is ABC — always be closing— that is, to always ask for the sale. However, it helps to not be too pushy with the call to action.
Apple does this by offering two actions for the prospective customer to take. One is to buy the product. The other respects the possibility that the customer isn’t ready to buy, and offers the chance to read more about the product before buying.
There are two things to note here:
First, Apple’s call to action is succinct and to the point. Apple doesn’t try to make it too catchy or clever. In this case, the word choice is dead simple — and brutally effective.
Second, it offers two actions for the prospect to take: 1) learn more, or 2) buy. A great call to action doesn’t try to force the customer into buying by presenting it as the only option. Offering to learn more about the product gives the prospect an “out”, relieving the pressure to buy. The additional content builds the all-important trust with the prospect.
To write an effective call to action, keep it simple, concise, and to the point. Whenever applicable, give the visitor an option to read more about the product before buying.
12. Use Power Words to Captivate Your Audience
Technical writing tends to read dry and boring because it lacks power words — words that invoke emotion in the reader.
There are two different kinds of power words. The first includes words that refer to the first person — the reader himself: you and your. The second includes vivid and emotionally-charged words such as imagine, power, vision, touching, new, and choose.
In the above example, Apple’s iPad Pro copy is loaded with power words.
Words like your fingertips and you choose, get the reader to visualize the product in their hands — by choice.
People want the best computing they can afford, and Apple strategically uses these words: anuncompromising vision of personal computing and incredible power.
To apply this to your own copywriting, focus on the reader more than the product. Use the word you or your more frequently than the product or brand names. Help your reader visualize using your product. Use vivid words or active verbs. If you’re selling an upgrade, emphasize its newness and list the ways your customers benefit from the newest features.
13. Write Clear, Concise, and Witty Copy
With people scanning websites for headlines and keywords, it is vital to keep copy as clear and concise as possible. Using definite and concrete language without any unnecessary words is most effective. Long-form content, while valuable, need to be split up into digestible bits for the brain to process.
Sometimes Apple takes this to the extreme, adding a little wit on top.
Note the clever use of punctuation in this tagline:
Light. Years ahead.
Without the period after “light”, it would read “light years ahead” and it would not make much sense in this context.
Instead, these three words are broken up into two sentences. The first sentence says the MacBook is lightweight and easy to carry. The second sentence implies the device is ahead of its time in terms of design and power.
Apple condenses all this into just three words with a witty use of punctuation — all without seeming like they’re trying too hard.
14. Show and Tell
Not only does Apple use screenshots and sleek images of their products, they also use video to get visitors to imagine using the product themselves. Video compounds the power of the adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words” thousands of times over.
Research has found that product videos can increase conversions by up to 80%, and the shorter the video, the better.
The following video about iOS 10 from Apple is only less than 1 minute long but is packed with new and exciting information about the new iOS.
By demonstrating the product in action, visitors will be able to easily imagine using it themselves. This effectively acts as a shortcut towards a successful sale.
15. Antagonize the Competition to Make Your Product Shine
The iPhone’s biggest competitors are Google Nexus and Samsung Galaxy, fighting tooth and nail to steal Apple’s market share.
With such stiff competition, it sometimes pays to antagonize the biggest competitor by comparing the products — feature by feature, benefit by benefit — showing why your product is better than the competition.
There are a few ways to accomplish this:
- A comparison table with several competitor products can be helpful as long as it is objective.
- A more aggressive approach of systematically beating the living daylights out of a villain — real or manufactured — can be effective as a powerful contrast to your product’s features and benefits.
- A specific competitor isn’t always necessary. It can be well-known pain points such as red tape, inefficient bureaucracies, server outages and downtime, fad diets that don’t work, poor Western nutrition, etc…
The Bottom Line: Find a Strategy That Works Best For You
While it is true that a portion of Apple’s copywriting success can be attributed to their brand, the above principles of copywriting can be applicable to a small business, a startup, and even the individual blog or affiliate marketer.
Indeed, Apple can get away with getting cocky by telling people to purchase their products just because ‘Apple is awesome’. However, they did not get to be so successful with lousy copywriting skills.
The underlying copywriting techniques used are subtle, but if you know what to look for, you can see it in Apple’s copy. Once you see it in action, understand how and why it works, you can then begin applying these techniques yourself.
And now I’m going to take another look at that iPad…