Apple Doesn’t Target Markets. It Targets People

It’s fascinating to watch enterprise adoption of Apple (s aapl) technology given its apparent disdain for this market. According to The Wall Street Journal, businesses are tripping over themselves to justify iPad purchases, just a few years after they resisted the rise of the Mac and rejected the iPhones in their midst.

All without a penny spent by Apple on marketing to the enterprise.

Well, that’s not quite true. Apple has never (to my knowledge) marketed Macs to enterprise customers, and only hired a skeleton sales crew to sell to such customers, but it has been advertising the iPhone and its business-related applications in The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and other business-friendly publications. It’s also added Microsoft Exchange (s msft) compatibility to the iPhone, as well as advanced, CIO-pleasing security.

However, these actions came well after the initial launch of the iPhone, and serve to fuel existing adoption rather than to kickstart new adoption. It’s possible Apple will become more enterprise-centric in the future, but I doubt it. Why? Because Apple doesn’t seem to target markets in the way other companies do.

It targets people. It focuses on users. And Apple lets them decide how and where they’ll use its products.

This sounds simple, but in my experience very few companies think this way. Most startups write business plans that dredge up IDC data on market size, then define their target market (e.g., “Global 2000 enterprises”). Few seem to realize that there are people employed within these target markets, and these people will be the ones who actually embrace or reject one’s product.

Indeed, I’d go so far as to suggest that this is one of the primary failings of most enterprise software today: It’s built for enterprises, not for people employed by the enterprises, a theme echoed by noted developer Michael Nygard.

Not all companies screw this up. The open-source world offers a few good examples of companies that understood their target market was the individual, not the tribe/company.

Marc Fleury’s JBoss, for example, understood its target market was the developer buried within corporate IT. All JBoss’ early marketing was focused on developers, not CIOs, and its product development was focused on making developers happy. Only later did those developers return the favor by pushing JBoss into serious production, requiring the CIOs to get involved.

Along the way, JBoss took its share of criticism for this indifference to decorum and CIO concerns, including accusations that the company “astroturfed” to drum up developer support. True or not, the accusations don’t diminish JBoss’ clear success winning over developers by catering to developers.

The same is true of SpringSource, which fought off the accusation that it wasn’t “enterprise ready” by being “developer ready” from the start, and focusing relentlessly on pleasing its target market: the developer.

This is how great companies are built: they focus on individuals and build exceptional products for them, and let these individuals determine how best to make use of the technology.

The enterprise is now clamoring for Apple products because Apple first solved individual employees’ needs. Apple made complex technology easy, an incredibly difficult task as Gartner’s Brian Prentice argues, and individual users rewarded it accordingly. It is this single-minded devotion to making beautiful products work beautifully that may give Apple the edge in the mobile market over Google’s Android, as Andrew Orlowski opines, and which positions it to continue its march into enterprise computing…without really trying.

So the next time a VC asks you about your target market, remember that every market is composed of individual customers, and build your company around those individuals’ needs, not necessarily their employers’.