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Pole position: Renowned launcher of things Andy Cunningham on branding, bro culture, her new book and working with Steve Jobs

Andy Cunningham is known best for her role helping to launch the Apple Macintosh, where she worked closely with Steve Jobs. Since those heady days, she has played a key role in the launch of a number of new categories, including video games, personal computers, desktop publishing, digital imaging, RISC microprocessors, software as a service, very light jets and clean tech investing. During a recent visit to New Zealand, she sat down with Mark Godenho to discuss branding, bro-culture and her new book.

Idealog: So, you’ve been involved in marketing and PR for over 30 years…

Andy Cunningham: A long time. Yes. 

What's one of the biggest mistakes people make when they're trying to position their firm, product or service? 

I guess the biggest mistake people make is that they try to come up with a sexy logo first. More often than not, it isn't grounded on anything that is substantially related to the company. Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether it’s right or not, but it's typically done with just the emotional side and not the rational side. 

The word brand seems to be misused these days. 

What does brand mean to you? 

Brand is definitely an overused word, but I like to think of it as the emotional side of the identity of a company. The rational side to me is the positioning side. So, I use brand to refer to the emotional pieces of an identity. 

Which is more important? 

I think they're both equally important. I just wish people would do the positioning before they do the brand. 

Is it easy to go back if you get the order wrong?

Sometimes it is easy to go back. I had a client recently who did all the brand stuff first and created a logo that was very harsh and edgy-looking and kind of a sharp. When we ended up doing the positioning, it was completely the opposite of that so they ended up feeling that their logo didn't match their identity anymore, which is kind of a problem because then they had to do it over. And it was expensive. 

Is it easy to reposition a mature company? 

No, because so much has been invested in what they are today, so much money, so much time, so much product habit. Habit is the worst thing to overcome. So, no, it's not easy, but if you get the commitment of the senior leadership team, then they set the tone and they make it possible for you to push through and re-position. 

What's the biggest difference between doing the positioning of a say, a tech company as opposed to a retail company?

The biggest difference is technology products and services require education in order to sell them because they're typically more complicated. Whereas with a retail store, it's pretty obvious what a retail store does so you don't have to do as much education. So, the process is the same, it's just harder to do the education piece. 

Can you give me an example of a brand that has absolutely nailed it, in terms of both positioning and branding? 

Netflix. That's my favorite example of a company that has the positioning right and the branding right and of course the success right.

What's Silicon Valley like today compared to back in the day? 

There are so many differences but, as a woman, I'll talk about the biggest difference that I noticed. Today there are a lot more men than there used to be … and now we have this bro-culture in Silicon Valley, which has created a little bit of an issue for some women and some companies like Uber. So, yeah, it's not a good development. 

Do you think marketing is easier or more difficult these days, given the social and digital environment we’re living in? 

I think it's easier because we have so many more ways to communicate with people now. The process of coming up with the right answer is still as hard as it always was but now we can broadcast it so much more cheaply. You didn't ask me if it was less expensive. It's also a lot less expensive. 

Do you have an iPhone? 

I do, of course.

Are you going to get the iPhone 10? 

Ah yes. I am actually. My husband says, "You're gonna be swearing at it a lot.' And I said, "Well that's okay."  

What's the best app you've got on your phone? 

I use Facebook Messenger, so that’s probably my favourite app. My daughter lives in Australia so I use it all the time now. Ooh, and the other one I use all the time, although I hate to admit it, is Uber. Waze, that's another one that I use. It’s a fast traffic app so you basically go on and it tells you the fastest way to get from where it is you are to where you're going. So, it's not just a map but it takes in all those cellphone signals from other drivers.

What's your favourite business book? 

My favourite book is Blue Ocean Strategy … it's a book about how you find that wide space in the marketplace before you even begin the act of marketing and matching up your expertise with it.

Speaking of books, your new book is called Getting to Aha! What exactly is Aha?

Aha is the moment that you actually discover you can articulate who you are and why you matter.  

Finally, you’re known for having worked with Steve Jobs. We’ve all heard different things about him, some good, some bad. What’s your take on the man? 

Steve was brilliant and pure and difficult, those are the three words I would describe him with. 

In that order? 

In that order. Brilliant, because he actually could see the future, I believe. He was also pure because he had no other agendas other than changing the world and so you didn't have to worry about him trying to do anything else other than what it was he was trying to do and it made working with him really refreshing, but difficult. That is the third adjective because he was the most difficult person I have ever worked with. He was very much a perfectionist, and it was his way or the highway and if you could help him do it his way he had you on the team. If you couldn't, you were off the team.

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