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Can we do content like Apple does hardware?

A thought that’s been germinating in my head for some time: People want content that does the same thing. If you can produce online content – text, ebooks, video, whatever – that makes folks want to read it the instant they glance at it, you can get a major internet marketing win.

Apple’s example

Apple sells gear that almost everyone wants. Every laptop, phone and other gadget they design has… something that just make folks happy when put their hands on it. No one can say exactly why, but I suspect a lot of it is the fact that their devices are designed and built with a very specific user in mind. They cater to that user, tailor the entire design around her, and then launch the product.
The iPad is a perfect example. I own one, but I usually skip it in favor of my Kindle – I’m more of a hardcore reader. But I’m not the user Apple was thinking about when they designed the iPad. They were thinking about folks who don’t need a full-fledged laptop, want an easier form factor and touchscreen simplicity.
They designed it carefully, released it, and now it sells in quantities that would make Bill Gates jealous.
So, can we do the same thing for content? If we could, it’d be a lot easier to gain rankings, get attention and maybe even get compensated for the stuff we produce.

Truly premium

Getting there starts with the writing, but it extends to:

  • Smart typography
  • Logical page layout
  • Appropriate graphics
  • Smart use of lists, headings, etc.
  • Great headlines
  • Fantastic interface design

So, here’s my question: Is anyone producing the same kind of “I must have this” response with their content as Apple does with their hardware?
Please point me to some examples, if there are any. And no, Demand Media doesn’t count.

It’s late, but these are related

CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at LinkedIn.com/in/ianlurie.

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  1. Hey Ian,
    I have a million blogs in my Google Reader and RSS Feeds. I only have two on my Google Homepage.
    Those are the only ones I think “hell yeah, a new article to read!”
    The two blogs I have are (wait for it…)
    1. Conversation Marketing (you may have heard of it)
    2. Tim Ferriss’s 4 Hour Work Week. (http://www.fourhourworkweek.com)
    I love your stuff. I love your writing. I love your rants. I almost always get your random pop-culture or sci-fi references. Reading your blog has helped my business in so many ways. I just know reading it is going to be very valuable. I signed up for the Fat Free Guide the second you launched it. Seriously, if I wasn’t the first person, I must have been in the top 5. I’ll read, purchase, subscribe, and spread anything you put out there.
    Tim Ferriss’s Blog. I am his target market without a doubt. When he wrote that book he wrote it with me in mind, very similar to the way Apple designed the iPad (I’m not the Apple target market, FYI). I hang on every word he says. I’ve read his book twice, and have already implemented health strategies in his new book (due out December 14th). I’ve already pre-ordered the book, and I know I’ll love it.
    That’s it. Those two blogs/books/content are my guilty pleasures. For me, you two are writing content like Apple designs hardware. But maybe it is because I have a big fat bull’s eye on my forehead, and I feel you both are in my head writing directly to me.
    Thanks for everything!

  2. I can’t think of any, but I can think of something else Apple does well: Leave things out. Doing so makes the products simple, in the best possible sense of the term. Examples:
    No internal drive on some laptops
    No video out on their first Macs
    No replaceable battery on many units
    No Flash in their phones
    No buttons on their mouse
    Hell, they made an iPod with no screen and no buttons (which proved to be a bridge too far, but still took guts!)
    What websites have enough courage to leave things out?

  3. @Travis I’m blushing 🙂 I’m glad you find all this stuff useful. I aspire to truly great, minimalist, stripped-down content that’s also super-useful. I’ll keep working towards it – it’s an asymptotic kind of thing – close and closer but you never quite get there.
    Thanks for your support!

  4. Wonderful topic! Creating elegant, Apple-like content really ought to be our goal every time we attempt to attract and persuade. I suspect we could get closer to “magical content” given an equal amount of man hours lavished on the iPad. How cool would that be: one post a year, collaborated on by a hundred or so people.
    To answer your question, as far as pure power of message, Seth Godin and Merlin Mann consistently blow me away. Both always see into the core of their topic and nail it. Godin, in a few hundred words (sometimes a few dozen!) with precision and empathy. Mann, in gigantic rants and 20+ minute videos. But if you can keep up with his bare-knuckle rides, you will be rewarded.
    Both guys, by the way, consciously avoid any visual trappings, at least in their posts. Which works for them.
    As far as adding a visual layer in service of the message, the manifestos on changethis.com do a good job. Flipboard is doing some cool things, visually, aggregating content for the iPad. And I believe within the next 12 months we’ll see the promise of Apple-like content realized on tablets.
    Which will raise the bar yet again. Gird your loins, all of you!
    I also appreciate your voice very much. Thanks for this post.

  5. Curious what your thoughts are about e-publishing in general. I mean, how does one go about sifting to find “the good stuff.” Do you just happen upon it? I wonder what you think, too, about the way Google is going to change the way it searches for things, using personal preferences as new metric for ranking “stuff.” Sorry if this is a little bit off topic, but I’m really curious!

  6. Ian, it’s funny you mention 37Signals in your reply to Rob…when reading Rob’s comment, I was thinking the exact same thing.
    I find myself wondering if 37Signals would have been nearly as successful as they are if, early on, they gave in to the pressure to include more bells and whistles. Probably not.
    Keep up the great work…it’s the only thing that keeps me sane!

  7. @DK I think it’s all about personal recommendations – you have to go with the stuff you trust. You can also buy from companies you admire – that’s worked for me in the past.

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