September 20, 2004
Excerpts: The Cult of Mac - Part II
In the mid- to late 1990s, Apple might have gone out of business if it hadnt been for a crusading army of evangelists led by a charismatic marketing executive. The executiveGuy Kawasakiwas an early proponent of what has come to be known as evangelist marketingturning your customers into messianic proponents. Kawasakis primary tool was a popular Internet mailing list called the Mac EvangeList. It not only had a profound influence on Mac culture, it arguably saved Apple.
In the mid-1990s, Apple was the biggest computer maker in the U.S., but increasing competition from Microsoft, as well as a series of botched products and business blunders, led to a long string of heavy losses. Apple appeared to be in a death spiral, from which it couldnt pull out. Its hard to kill a company as big as Apple, but in 1996 and 1997, it looked doomed.
A big part of the problem was negative press. Bad news about Apple became a self-fulfilling prophecy: stories about Apples decline made customers nervous. They bought fewer computers, and the trouble deepened. Realizing this, Kawasaki launched the EvangeList in July 1996 to provide a daily stream of good news about Apple. The whole reason that EvangeList was started was because the press was so negative, said Kawasaki recently. I decided that instead of trying to convince the press, we would become the press.
The EvangeList, sent out daily, was a breezy mix of news, tips, queries, and job postings. Thanks to Kawasakis sharp wit, and often hilarious diatribes against Microsoft, the EvangeList quickly became popular. At its peak, the EvangeList boasted 44,000 daily subscribers, although Kawasaki has suggested the list actually reached about 300,000 Macintosh fans, because it was so widely passed around in email, newsgroups, bulletin boards, and Web sites. Kawasaki eventually archived the list on an affiliated Macway Web site, which is now gone.
As well as news, the EvangeList had a big activist component. Kawasaki urged subscribersknown as EvangeListasto proselytize the Mac by engaging Windows PC users in debate. EvangeListas were urged to wear Apple-logoed T-shirts and baseball caps to show the world were not crawling into holes and dying. He recommended leaving Macintosh magazines in doctors waiting rooms and seat pockets on airplanes. And he suggested asking store clerks why they werent stocking more Macs, fixing up neglected machines, and talking to potential customers about buying a Mac. Many subscribers spent their weekends as unpaid salespeople at CompUSA, steering customers to the Mac section.
But the list was most famous for marshalling a formidable force of Mac fanatics when it appeared that the platform needed defending in the press. Kawasaki urged subscribers to educate wrongheaded journalists who wrote negative stories about Apple; and he often provided the appropriate email address. Write a letter to the publications that publish stupid, insipid, inaccurate, and unfair stories, he wrote. Most journalists are insecure and perceptive: after the 300th flaming message, theyll get the picture. Kawasakis 300 flames was conservative: some journalists got hundredssometimes thousandsof angry, abusive emails. This was in the early days of the Net, before spam, when most reporters got a handful of messages a week and dutifully responded to each one.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.