Home opinion-and-analysis Core Dump Apple tops for brand loyalty: report

Apple tops for brand loyalty: report

The good news for Apple keeps piling up. Earlier this year the company moved into the number three spot in the US PC market, it recorded stellar figures in a customer satisfaction survey, and now a new report says it has the highest brand loyalty among PC vendors.

While Apple largely missed out on the growth of the PC market during the 1990s as shown by its declining market share figures, it has always been the beneficiary of strong customer loyalty.

More recently, the so called "halo effect" from the iPod and iPhone, plus the "I'm a Mac" ads have contributed to an Apple resurgence. What's more the company has managed to deliver good profits at the same time as improving its market share, in part by staying out of the bargain basement.

Gartner's estimates for the second quarter of 2008 gave Apple an 8.5 percent market share, behind Dell and HP, but slightly ahead of Acer.

Since Gartner's "PC" category includes x86-based servers, its numbers most likely underestimate Apple's strength in desktop and notebook computers. While Apple does offer the Xserve, Dell and HP sell servers in huge numbers.

The most recent American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) compiled by the University of Michigan's National Quality Research Centre gave Apple a market leading score of 85 - the highest ever recorded for a company in the personal computer industry.

Second-place Dell only managed 75, and that 10-point difference between Apple and Dell was one of the largest between first and second in any industry measured by ACSI.

And now a new report from MetaFacts shows Apple customers' brand loyalty is at an all time high. How high? See page two.

"Apple continues to command the strongest repurchase intent of any PC brand. More than four in five (81 percent) of households with Apple as their primary home PC plan to buy the same brand - Apple - for their next home PC," said Dan Ness, principal analyst at MetaFacts.

That's not really surprising. Switching from a Mac to a Windows based PC is a bigger decision than replacing say a Dell with an HP. But in practice, the true brand loyalty may be even higher.

MetaFacts found that the more computers there are in a US household, the more likely one of them is a Mac.

"Like the camel slipping its nose under the tent, Apple is reaching into American households as the second or third home PC," said Ness. "Where Apple shines is as the third PC, ranking fifth with 8 percent of third home PCs, and ranking fourth in notebook PCs, also at 8 percent of the installed base."

So even if you consider a Mac to be your primary computer, planning to make your next PC purchase from another brand does not mean forsaking Apple completely. For example, you may be thinking of buying a netbook - a segment where Apple does not (currently) compete.

MetaFacts also noted that Apple's strength in notebooks is visible in public spaces. "If you look around at a Starbucks or cybercafé, you might think the whole world's gone to Apple," said Ness. "Apple users are very active and use their notebooks in more locations than Windows notebook users."

What proportion of Americans use their Macs in public? Find out on page three.

When it comes to home computers, 21 percent of Macs are used in public places, compared with 12 percent of Windows-based systems. Since Apple is selling approximately three notebooks for every two desktops (including servers), that's not really a surprise.

For the industry as a whole, notebook sales are just about level with desktops, though in July, Mika Kitagawa, principal analyst for Gartner's Client Computing Markets group, noted "Home mobile PCs continue to have momentum in the US market... US professional units look to have been affected by tightening IT budgets as U.S. business responded to growing economic uncertainty. Desk-based PCs gained traction among some professional users."

MetaFacts also found that Apple households are different: they are younger, more highly-educated, and have higher incomes. When shopping, you're more likely to see them in Barnes & Noble, Borders or Target than non-Apple owners, and less likely to be in a Wal-Mart.

I suspect those shopping habits are linked to the demographic factors and have nothing to do with using a Mac. Wouldn't you expect bookshop patrons to be on average better educated and with a higher income than customers of a store that bases its pitch on low prices?

And MetaFacts says Mac owners use their computers differently, too - "more often for web content creation, graphics and personal activities." Throw in the finding that people using Macs at work are predominantly in five occupational groups - teacher, artist/designer/performer, management, clerical, consultants - and there's still life in the old stereotypes.

MetaFacts surveyed more than 10,000 US adults by phone and online, with respondents selected to be representative of all US adults and households. The company has been conducting its Technology User Profile surveys since 1983.


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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.