Steve Jobs Wasn’t Always a Great Storyteller

Actually, one of his most notorious failures was the Lisa computer.

In 1978, Jobs was trying to create the first computer to use a graphical user interface aimed at businesses. There were so many development and technical problems along the way that by the time it came to market, the price was set at almost $10,000 (around $25,000 in today’s money)!

While the price made it exceptionally difficult to compete with IBM, Jobs felt the superior capabilities and advanced features of The Lisa would be enough to convince the business community to invest.

His strategy was to advertise The Lisa by taking out an eight-page ad in the Wall Street Journal.

It was a laundry list of features and capabilities — hard drive, interface, memory… etc.

Page after page of technical jargon.

As you might expect, the ad didn’t help sell units. It was uninspired. No story being told.

  • It didn’t address the business audience. It didn’t speak their language.
  • It didn’t address any of the audience’s needs, wants, or concerns.
  • It didn’t make the audience imagine themselves using it.

What it was, was a classic marketing blunder of talking about features not focusing on solutions through storytelling.

Steve Jobs made the conscious choice to be a great storyteller.

After he was removed from Apple in 1985, he began exploring new areas to invest his time and money into, eventually becoming CEO and majority stakeholder at Pixar.

Under Jobs, Pixar went on to set the standard for animated storytelling—winning 10 Best Animated Feature Oscars. Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling have become essential for anyone looking to improve their storytelling skills.

When he returned to Apple in 1997 as CEO, he continued to develop his skills. 1997 also happened to be the year that Apple unveiled its iconic slogan: Think Different.

While not the mastermind behind the slogan, his impact was immediately felt.

“While Steve Jobs didn’t create the advertising concepts, he does deserve an incredible amount of credit. He was fully responsible for ultimately pulling the trigger on the right ad campaign from the right agency, and he used his significant influence to secure talent and rally people like no one I’ve ever seen before. Without Steve Jobs there’s not a shot in hell that a campaign as monstrously big as this one would get even close to flying off the ground…it got an audience that once thought of Apple as semi-cool, but semi-stupid to suddenly think about the brand in a whole new way” — Forbes

It was in 2001 that Jobs’ new storytelling skills really flourished.

Leading up to the iPod launch, he personally managed the process of deciding on both the name and the message of the product.

What’s most interesting about the lead-up to launch is that Steve decided on the story he wanted to tell before Apple had even named the product.

“1,000 songs in your pocket”

This is one of the most genius stories ever told in marketing.

At the time it launched I was still using a clunky, awkward Discman and I carried a sleeve full of CDs.

His simple message resonated with me and millions of others because of a few simple reasons:

  • It focused 100% on the customer — YOUR pocket
  • It addressed the problems that the customer faced — instead of carrying around clunky items and CDs, it was 1000 songs in your pocket
  • It allowed the customer to tell their own story — wherever you are, you have 1000 songs — it didn’t matter if you were commuting, jogging, laying on your couch

Over the years, others came out to market with more advanced products — ones with better battery life, higher resolution screens, even more memory (cough, Zune, cough) — but not one came close to capturing our imagination.

Without the success of the iPod, it is difficult to see how the iPhone and iPad would be as prevalent as they are today, and how Apple would be the most valuable tech company in the world.

Yes, Steve Jobs is a genius.

Yes, ‘1000 songs in your pocket’ is genius.

But this wasn’t because Steve Jobs had an inherent ability no one else had — it was because he set the goal to be a great storyteller and kept working to become one.

What’s to stop you from doing the same?

6 years ago I was homeless, unemployed, and signing divorce papers. Honing my storytelling skills, marketing, and remote work saved my life.