The launch of the iPhone 4 has been nothing less than a comprehensive PR lesson for anyone willing to pay attention. From the dangers of launching a product before it’s ready for market to techniques for handling angry customers and so much more, this past month has been full of missteps and a few right moves that each of us should carefully examine and keep in mind.
A Brief Recap
In case you haven’t been following the iPhone 4 launch all that closely, let’s quickly recap what’s taken place to date.
On June 24th, Apple released the iPhone 4. In typical Apple fashion, there were customers lined up all across the country eager to be among the first to get their hands on this new gadget. It was just another example of the fervent Apple brand loyalty we’ve all seen time and time again over the past few years.
Unfortunately for Apple, this excitement almost instantly gave way to a PR nightmare. Within just a day, it was discovered that the iPhone 4 had serious antenna issues. The iPhone 4 would lose signal whenever the user gripped it in a certain way. And this wasn’t just some minor complaint. It was a nationwide problem with every single iPhone 4 that had been released. It was a design flaw, and now, all users had a faulty product in their hands.
What did Apple do? Their initial response was to blame users for holding the phone incorrectly, saying:
“Gripping any phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance with certain places being worse than others depending on the placement of the antennas,” the company said in a statement. “This is a fact of life for every wireless phone. If you ever experience this on your iPhone 4, avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band, or simply use one of many available cases.”
That’s PR speak for: There’s nothing wrong with our phone. There’s something wrong with you.
Needless to say, customers didn’t take too well to being blamed for the design mistakes of Apple. Customers demanded that Apple fix the problem or give them free bumpers that helped overcome the signal issues.
So, what happened next?
Apple’s next step was to say that the iPhone 4 wasn’t losing signal at all. They said only the signal display on the phone was inaccurate, but that the phone still really had strong signal no matter how you held it.
“Users observing a drop of several bars when they grip their iPhone in a certain way are most likely in an area with very weak signal strength, but they don’t know it because we are erroneously displaying 4 or 5 bars. Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place,”
That’s PR speak for: Okay, there’s something slightly wrong with our phone, but it’s not what you think. We’re not going to admit that it’s a faulty product.
Over the course of the next couple of weeks, this game continued. Customers and media continued to try to hold Apple accountable for the buggy iPhone 4, and Apple continued to dance around the truth. In short, Apple’s image was tarnished, and the company had a serious PR disaster on its hands.
So finally, Apple decided to give customers what they had been asking for all along: free bumpers or cases that help boost the signal essentially or a full 30 day refund for customers who don’t want their phones. Now, customers who have an iPhone 4 can get a free bumper from Apple. It’s a bandaid fix, but at least the company finally did something…even though they still say there is nothing really wrong with their phone.
So, what can we learn from this?
There is a lot to be learned from this PR disaster, and there may even be more lessons still ahead of us. But for now, what we can take away from this is:
- Never launch a product until you are absolutely certain it’s ready for market
- Never blame the customer for your faulty product
- The longer you wait to offer a solution, the worse things will get
- PR disasters simply do not disappear. You have to take action.
- Do your best to give unhappy customers whatever it is they’re asking for
- Don’t let your arrogance get in the way of solving a PR crisis
What are some other lessons we can take away from the iPhone 4 launch?
This article is written by Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. Download a free copy of the PR Checklist – a 24 point list of Press Release Dos and Don’ts here: http://www.ereleases.com/prchecklist.html