No, you can’t be like Apple.

If I had a nickel for every time a marketer asked us to help them become the Apple of (insert category name here), I'd, well... still not have enough for a cup of coffee. But it's happened enough for me to want to write about it. It seems like an innocent enough request. And one most branding experts are more than happy to indulge. But our answer is consistently and categorically, "No."

You can't be like Apple and here's why:

You don't have a $486 million marketing budget. (If you do, call me!) You don't simultaneously control both the product and the distribution. You don’t have thousands of developers freely creating applications for your devices. You don't operate in one of the few categories that is actually seeing growth at a time like this. You don't have Steve Jobs leading the way. You don't have Bill Gates to serve as your foil. You don't have free placement of your products in practically everything that comes out of Hollywood with perhaps the exception of Madmen, That 70’s Show and The Flintstones (less maybe the episodes where they visited the Jetsons).

Sure, you may have a few of these things. But you don't have them all. Only Apple does.

Success is a complex brew of a myriad of different factors. Many of which are simply beyond our control.

So beware of those who claim to have a process or formula that will spit out the next Apple (or Nike or Harley-Davidson or Amazon or Google or whomever). It's a lie that has been perpetuated by ad agencies and brand consultants for decades.

If you want your brand to be successful, it doesn’t need to be more like Apple. It simply needs to be a better version of itself.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Everyone knows that guy who tells the same jokes all the time.  It doesn’t matter where he is or whom he’s with, he routinely pulls out his tried-and-true “killer material” which he hopes will evoke the same laughter as it did the first time around. There are three types of reactions:

1.) We can pretend we’ve never heard the joke and laugh as if we haven’t. 2.) Beat him to the punchline. 3.) Or, slowly and quietly dismiss ourselves from the conversation before the joke is finished.

All options make us uncomfortable and none make for a healthy conversation. Consumers mentally cycle through the same options when they hear a familiar brand say the same thing (or slightly “new and improved” version thereof) in the same ways it has before.

Sadly, for decades most marketers have been instructed that the best thing to do for their brand is to say the same thing over and over again.

What’s more important than using repetition to burn a brand into a consumer’s memory is giving them something worth remembering in the first place.  Real financial gains these days are being realized by a handful of what we call "Renaissance Brands" who consistently redefine their product offering, service approach, and marketing style – not beat consumers over the head with the same, worn-out sales pitch.

Warning: Your brand may induce vomiting.

Okay, hopefully not vomiting. But maybe greed, arrogance or gluttony. A recent study reveals that children are more likely to share candy with others when they see Santa’s cap. Apparently it’s a symbol that promotes the spirit of kindness and generosity. The mere site of a Toys ‘r Us logo has the opposite effect.

The best brands actually help bring out our better selves. They have a purpose beyond simply making money. And they understand the need to shift marketing efforts from a consumption-model to a contribution-model.

Don't stop at asking yourself what you want your customer to do. Ask yourself what you think your brand can help them become.

The emergence of mission-controlled companies.

The fruits of our capitalistic society have largely been accrued through the shareholder-centric business model. However a growing number of critics (including CEOs of publicly traded companies) have argued that this model has increasingly kept business narrowly focused on short term earnings. However, a new breed of organizations have cropped up that put social mission at the core of its business. A great article from Strategy+Business dubs these "Mission Controlled Companies." While not pure non-profits, they evaluate employees and initiatives based on their impact toward the organization's mission – not how profitable they are.

Just five years ago, most would have written this off as being too idealistic to work. But times have changed. It used to be that social movements wanted to be like corporate brands. Now corporate brands want to be like social movements. We think that's refreshing.