Here is a the stock chart Apple Inc (aapl). and Adobe Systems (adbe) for the last six month. What’s wrong with that picture?

AAPL – ADBE (last 6 months) – Source Google® Finance

Apple has recently been on an unstoppable fame streak with its mobile products (iPhone and iPad) and laptops line, not to mention the most stable operating system ever made and that runs a “sweet” software library.

Adobe has been also doing great with it Creative Suite line. Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, are by far the industry standards. Some of its software titles became generic words. You “photoshop” an over exposed photo, you “Pdf” a contract to your client, or you “Flash” your website. Having myself been an Adobe user since the first versions, I can’t help but notice the amazing stability and reliability of the programs, not to mention the incredible creativity boost they provide.

Adobe has been widely distributed and available across both leading computing platforms. When Apple had trouble selling to non-graphic business, Adobe turned its Acrobat line into an indispensable tool. When some narrow-minded enlightened still believed that Apple computers are toys for graphic designers, Adobe had it’s Illustrator, Photoshop, and other software selling to PC users like candies. They even decided to totally port their audio-visual editing software exclusively to the Windows platform. Adobe has managed to reach users across hardware and operating systems.

Here’s my humble opinion.

When Illustrator, Photoshop and Acrobat’s golden age was at its peak, Adobe was the household name of the computer age. Adobe, as a brand was recognized by even non-users and non-computer-literates. Then, Adobe, and its software lineup became a given and taken for granted. It became the Microsoft Office of graphic design. People simply forgot about Adobe.

Today, Adobe migrated to the Creative Suite line of products. On a branding level, this was a strategic mistake. For a short period of time, the brand visibility of Adobe rose again upon the launch of the CS family. After a short period of time, things went back to cruise speed. The strategic mistake – once more according to my humble opinion – was that by bringing the CS to the limelight, Adobe has contributed to the slaying of its heroes, Illustrator and Photoshop. Users now speak about using the CS3 or CS4, and not anymore about Illustrator or Photoshop.

After over 20 years of building the brand equity of its heroes as well as its own, Adobe simply trashed everything to the benefit of more sales. Now that’s a paradox.

AAPL – ADBE (last 5 years) – Source Google® Finance

Yes, everyone still buys and uses Adobe products. Yes, Adobe is still the number one graphic software company. Yes, Adobe is still the most respected software company in the world but… only when we remember it…

So, on one side, sales go up, while on the other, brand visibility and stock go down. That’s another interesting paradox.

It has been proven through research, that heavily branded companies are far better performing on the stock market than weakly or unbranded ones; actually up to 35% according to research by FutureBrand.

And that’s where Adobe went wrong.

Apple is not a computer company. It never was; well maybe for a short period of time during its dark ages of the early nineties, after Steve Jobs was ousted and a bunch of “salesmen” CEOs’ took turns at massacring it.

Steve Jobs had realized something very important; brands make products. He understood the importance of our perception of things, and how brushed aluminum on a minimalistic body could add to out own image as much as it adds to our computing experience.

When Adobe cared less about its user interface, Apple made it its holy grail. When Adobe worried about Béziers curves, Apple worried about pressing for an awesome slow-motion effect. Why would I need a slow-motion minimizing effect? One might ask. Why do you need a Mont Blanc pen? A Bic could suffice…

Apple sales are up. So is it’s image and stock.

Product placement was never an issue for Adobe. Virtually, every movie today has an Apple product cameo(s) appearance. Before those cameos were about displaying a futuristic image. Today they are about displaying an “image” full stop.

The iPhone success was never about technology. Come to think about it, it did not have half the needed technologies in a cell phone. Who seldom buys a phone without MMS,  or Bluetooth transfer capabilities? Who needs a phone the battery of which can’t be changed? Everyone does!

In less than a couple of years, the iPhone became the standard, surpassing all the giants who spent years establishing grounds. The iPhone managed to become an icon rather than a cellphone. Everyone complained about bugs, lack of features… on their way to buy one.
No other cellular phone made headlines on CNN. No other cellular phone created miles of waiting lines starting dawn. It never happened to Adobe, yet it really deserves it too.

When Apple launched the iMac back in the late nineties, it was about which color? Bondi or strawberry! This is so odd and funny. iMac became a furniture topped by a wonderfully performing personal computer. Since then, every Mac that comes out of an Apple factory is a piece of furniture topped by a wonderfully performing personal computer.

Yes, Apple is a hardware company and Adobe is a software company. Apple has more opportunity to “show off” whereby Adobe is confined to the guts of your hard drive and the real of your screen. But then again, years ago, Adobe was known, loved and respected for more than Apple.

What has changed today? Apple is still into hardware and Adobe into software. Right?

Wrong. Today it’s the opposite. While Apple worries about the software that goes inside your Mac, and how it matches the hardware excellence, Adobe is worrying about hardware platforms, software authentication, professional features, migration.. and forgetting about what really made the magic of Adobe. When it had the chance to build on “PhotoShopping” being a generic word like “Xeroxing”, it simply preferred to create a plethora of Creative Suite flavors and bury Photoshop – and other software – deep inside it. I am not debating Adobe’s business strategies here, but merely it’s brand vision.

Adobe and Apple are at the end very similar. Both are innovators, both became standards, and both are respected beyond debate.
The difference?

Adobe chose the mind.
Apple chose the heart.
And you know how the saying goes.

©2010 – Ibrahim Lahoud


  1. 1 Hania
    March 10, 2011 at 17:12

    interesting analysis!

    And as always, you end your posts with a memorable moral =)

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