2 of Apple's Economic MOAT.

Updated: Apr 17

Table of contents


Apple’s MOATs

  1. MOAT 1: Apple’s superpower- their BRAND

  2. How to tell if a company’s Brand asset is as robust as we think they are

  3. Apple products are targeted towards people who are “Different”

  4. All of Apple products are voted to be the best in their respective product ranges every year

  5. “Apple products are just better, don’t @ me" - Apple's consumers

  6. An addressable market for Apple they can tap into: dissatisfied non-Apple users

  7. Apple products provide better personal data & privacy protection

  8. MOAT 2: Switching Cost for Apple’s customers

  9. “We are already cyborgs”

  10. Apple’s Ecosystem- consumers will be trapped

  11. (Great business model): Customer lifespan is actually super long


Disclaimer: This communication is provided for information purposes only and is not intended as a recommendation or a solicitation to buy, sell or hold any investment product. Readers are solely responsible for their own investment decisions.


 

Apple’s MOATs


Warren Buffett thinks Apple is “probably the best business in the world”.
Warren Buffett thinks Apple is “probably the best business in the world”. [11]

Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha who had been long known to avoid tech stocks throughout his whole investing career, started buying Apple stocks in 2016 and subsequently made it their largest stock holding as of 2019.


Berkshire Hathaway’s 5 biggest stock holdings at the end of 2019
Berkshire Hathaway’s 5 biggest stock holdings at the end of 2019 [12]

The man who popularized the term Economics moat, understood the robust potential of Apple’s most important form of intangible asset, and that is their BRAND.



 

MOAT 1: Apple’s superpower- their BRAND


Few of the plenty of hardcore Apple fans who tattooed the logo on their body to display their fondness towards the brand.  I guarantee you will not find as many or any other people tattooing logos of Samsung, Huawei on themselves.

(Image above): Few of the plenty of hardcore Apple fans who tattooed the logo on their body to display their fondness towards the brand.

I guarantee you will not find as many or any other people tattooing logos of Samsung, Huawei on themselves.



Apples’ loyal following goes back to 1990s when Apple was in the verge of bankruptcy,

their devoted fans hung around the Mac section of computer stores to recommend their products to shoppers. [13]


Apple presented as the world’s most valuable Brand in the world by Forbes
Apple presented as the world’s most valuable Brand in the world by Forbes [14]


a. How to tell if a company’s Brand asset is as robust as we think they are:


Here is one way we can identify if a company truly possess a strong and lasting Brand Moat power:


Think of it this way,


If the company’s competitors have as much money as them,


and they are able to replicate or take away the success of the company’s brand

(in other words, use money to buy their fans or build their brand power).


The company’s brand asset is probably not as strong as you think it is. (Note: this does not mean that the brand asset is not strong at all, just that it does not have as much of an edge that you may think it has).


An example would be Nike and its peers,

Nike is currently the leading athletic apparel seller in the world.


And also the most cash-rich amongst their peers in the industry.


Nike's cash in hand vs their competitors'Nike's cash in hand vs their competitors'
Nike's cash in hand vs their competitors'

However, if any of these companies have as much cash as Nike,


They will be able to sign more endorsement deals with superstar athletes.


And overtime when any of these companies have more superstar athletes that outperform the other companies’ athletes,


their brand will end up being the most popular one among the rest.



But up until now, it is very difficult for the other companies to entice athletes to join them over Nike because it is difficult for them to match Nike’s lucrative offers to the athletes.


Take the 3 most popular athletes below for example:


Had Michael Jordan, Cristiano Ronaldo and LeBron James signed with Adidas instead of Nike and proceeded to as successful of a career as they had today.


Adidas would have been a lot more popular than they are today,

possibly even more popular than Nike.


Michael Jordan wanted a shoe deal with Adidas so badly that he went back to renegotiate with Nije
Image source: insider
Cristiano Ronald's $1 Billion Nike Deal
Image source: forbes
Adidas and Reebok wanted Lebron James badly, but Nike made him an offer he could not refuse
Image source: theundefeated


But this is not the case for Apple

and the industry they are operating in,



Although Samsung has almost twice as much short-term cash as Apple,

Enabling them to spend more money on activities like Marketing, Sales and Advertising.


Samsung spends lots of money on Celebrities endorsements, racking up a long list of celebrities to endorse their brands. Blackpink
Samsung spends lots of money on Celebrities endorsements, racking up a long list of celebrities to endorse their brands. (Image source: blackpinkupdate)

Even with Samsung’s high amount of celebrity endorsements and other marketing efforts,

plus their high amount of cash holdings compared to Apple.


They do not have as large and as loyal of a group of followings from their fans compared to Apple.


This is a sign that Apple has created something very unique.



Apple created a culture and movement which is deeply adored by loyal fans around the world over a long period of time. And this is very difficult for their competitors to replicate even though they have access to more resources or cash.


The irony though is that a number of these celebrities sponsored by other brands,

ended up using iPhones anyway behind the curtains.


And these celebrities’ genuine preferred choice is the vote that truly counts. [15]





Social Media following, the new form of currency


The number of followers or subscribers an entity have on social platforms like Youtube, Instagram and Twitter is a form of new currency in today’s world,


Companies are willing to pay a lot of money to increase their number of followers because these group of people are highly influenced by any forms of communication they published on their accounts or channels.


When we compare Apple’s amount of followers with their peers,

we can see Apple is leading significantly.


Apple’s Instagram’s amount of followers alone is more than the sum of all of its peers’ listed above.
Apple’s Instagram’s amount of followers alone is more than the sum of all of its peers’ listed above.[16]

Similarly, Apple’s Youtube amount of susbcribers alone is more than the sum of all of its peers’ listed above.
Similarly, Apple’s Youtube amount of susbcribers alone is more than the sum of all of its peers’ listed above.

“Never bet against a company that has raving fans”



It is very unlikely for the Samsung Brand to be as trendy & fashionable as Apple's.


Albeit Samsung internationally recognized,

it is very difficult for a brand like Samsung, to become as hip and as trendy as Apple.


When people think of Samsung, they may also think of home appliances goods like washing machine, fridge, air conditioning units etc.

which may not be the most fashionable items.



And worst yet, there will almost always be an association of exploding phones with their brand in the mind of consumers,

and that may deter them from purchasing their smartphones for some time to come.


Personal note, even while I was using my Samsung phone, I still dared not answer call on it while it was charging.
Personal note, even while I was using my Samsung phone, I still dared not answer call on it while it was charging.



b. Apple products are targeted towards people who are “Different”.



The competitive advantage that sets Apple apart from their peers goes back to their culture instilled in the organization since their founding days.


Their products were not meant to be targeted towards the ordinary people (nor the mass market).


Apple products were and are targeted towards:

· People who were against the status quo

· People who think different

· People who consider themselves rebels against the system



“Here’s to the crazy ones.. the ones who see things differently” Apple chose prominent figures who were against the status quo to represent their brand.
“Here’s to the crazy ones.. the ones who see things differently” Apple chose prominent figures who were against the status quo to represent their brand.[17]

And this was a movement that is very appealing to many until today


Although the younger consumers may not be aware of the founding story,

Apple’s marketing messages up till today are still revolved around their main slogan of “Thinking different”.

 Apple Files Four Applications covering the Figurative version of their 'Think Different' Trademark in Europe
Apple Files Four Applications covering the Figurative version of their 'Think Different' Trademark in Europe [18]

This strategy works really well because everyone possesses a degree of innate human desire to be unique and different from the others,


be it the way we think, dress, act or what we choose to represent.



And Apple’s products are an opportunity for us to express the idiosyncrasy of our peculiar personalities.


Apple’s products were designed to be a symbol for their customers for combating conformity and asserting originality.



Which is why Apple products will most likely always remain in the premium range,

to maintain their uniqueness and the sense of exclusivity for the brand.


Because if the majority of their products are made affordable to the masses, it will no longer be “different”.


Apple will most probably continue to charge premium prices for their products to maintain their edge over their peers.
Apple will most probably continue to charge premium prices for their products to maintain their edge over their peers.


 

[How Apple will likely maintain their status as a more Fashionable and Stylish brand compared to their peers]:

i) Apple products are heavily endorsed by influential and popular figures


Celebrities, influential figures and themes use Apple products

and it became a pop culture icon.


Apple's 'The Rock x Siri' Cracks Top 10 Most Watched Ads on YouTube in 2017
Apple's 'The Rock x Siri' Cracks Top 10 Most Watched Ads on YouTube in 2017 [19]

along with Mega popstars like Taylor Swift

and Drake


Shah Rukh Khan, Apple’s brand ambassador in India
Shah Rukh Khan, Apple’s brand ambassador in India [21]

A character modelled after Carmen Electra using an iPhone look-alike device in the Grand Theft Auto V poster, a game which was sold over 100 million copies
A character modelled after Carmen Electra using an iPhone look-alike device in the Grand Theft Auto V poster, a game which was sold over 100 million copies [22]

And as mentioned above, even celebrities who are endorsed by other brands ended up using iPhones behind the curtains, betraying the sponsorship agreements.


When many popular figures and themes either endorse or take the risks of using Apple products even when they are not supposed to,


it becomes a social proof to the public that Apples’ products must be superior compared to the alternatives in the market.




Entrepreneurs and popular business leaders use them - creating an association of success & good performance with Apple products in the minds of consumers.)


Some of the most popular entrepreneurs in the world with their Apple products
Some of the most popular entrepreneurs in the world with their Apple products [23]


Apple computers are the go-to-choice for developers around the world.


Not to mention that it is an impressive feat for Apple to develop their own operating system too

And their computers are generally a go-to-choice for developers and programmers around the world.

Some of the reasons why programmers prefer MacOS
Some of the reasons why programmers prefer MacOS [24]


ii) Imitation is the best form of flattery:

Apple being the trendsetter in the industry, it is inevitable that some of the players will be imitating their products and feature designs.


Some of Apple’s designs & features copied by other players in the tech industry over the years.
Some of Apple’s designs & features copied by other players in the tech industry over the years [25]

Some of the players even copy Apple’s designs and concepts shamelessly to the exact.


Huawei’s Matebook x pro series are supposed to be the equivalent of Apple’s Macbook pro version of laptops
Huawei’s Matebook x pro series are supposed to be the equivalent of Apple’s Macbook pro version of laptops [26]


iii) Apple products have become a symbol status


Because of Apple’s premium product price ranges,

along with their influence in pop culture

and endorsement by influential figures.


Apple products users are perceived to be in “higher status”

since their products signify wealth and status.


Apple product users are perceived to be more appealing.
Apple product users are perceived to be more appealing. [27]

“Apple products make consumers feel good about themselves. it’s because they make the consumer feel like they are a better person for having the product”

-Wyzowl[28]






iv) Apple’s exquisite retail stores


Apple probably has some of the best-looking retail stores in the world.



Image sources: Apple

i. Apple store in Pudong District, Shanghai, China.

ii. Apple store in Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

iii. Apple Store in Downtown Brooklyn, New York



Did you know that Apple had the highest amount of Sales per Square foot ($5,546)

vs any other retailers in the world at 2017?

Apple had the highest “sales per sq foot”  compared to any other retailers in the world
Apple had the highest “sales per sq foot” compared to any other retailers in the world [29]

This was of course contributed by the premium prices Apple charge for their products,

It is also undeniable that that their retail stores designs are the most elegant when compared to their peers in the electronic devices segment.


It is obvious that Apple pays a lot of attention to details to their retail stores which gave them an edge over competitors.


They have design patents on nearly everything in its stores, even their shopping bags. [30]



In my opinion even their employees uniforms appear to be more presentable than their peers’ too.
In my opinion even their employees uniforms appear to be more presentable than their peers’ too (Image source: macrumors)

We definitely don’t see other couples taking their wedding photos in a Samsung or Huawei Store. Let alone take photos of their stores when they visit except for testing out the cameras of their devices.
We definitely don’t see other couples taking their wedding photos in a Samsung or Huawei Store. Let alone take photos of their stores when they visit except for testing out the cameras of their devices (Image source: worldofbuzz)


v) Apple, a Marketing Behemoth


Apple is undeniably one of the best Marketing company out there today,


Their quality of their marketing contents (be it products presentation or advertisements) is top-notch and are unmatched by any of their peers in the industry,


which will continue to create a perception of superiority of their products for their audience.


One of the many great ads by Apple, which quality of production in terms of ad script and picture are unmatched by their peers’.



vi) Apple’s ginormous influence in the market maintains their position as the industry trend setter.


“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” And in the case of Apple, they have enough influence power in the marketplace to decide for the crowd what is deemed to be beautiful and what is not.

I am sure there are many times when you see certain product designs from some expensive brands and you think to yourself

“Damn, that is really ugly” or “That is not a good-looking design at all!”


Definitely not one of LV’s best product design, still supported by Beyonce
Definitely not one of LV’s best product designs (Image source: purseblog)

This was also my experience when I first saw the release of the iPhone 12,

I was disappointed because the design looked very similar to their older iPhone 4 & 5 model



iPhone 12 looks similar alot like iPhone 4 and iPhone 5
Image source: trustedreviews

But the iPhone 12 became one of the best-selling smartphones in the market the following quarter.


iPhone 12 Series Captures One-third of Smartphone Industry Revenues in Q1 2021
iPhone 12 Series Captures One-third of Smartphone Industry Revenues in Q1 2021 [31]

Because companies like LV and Apple have so much influence and dominance in the respective markets they are operating in,


They have the ability to decide the trend of the market,

and influence the minds of consumers on what are perceived to be beautiful, trendy or fashionable and what are not.


This is why they can get away with doing things like coming up with questionable product designs, or utilizing previous designs for their new range of products.


And most importantly, people will still continue to buy them.



vii) Apple focuses on being customer obsessed above all else.


Apple was built as a customer-centric company by their late founder Steve Jobs,


and the current management team has done a decent job maintaining the culture in the organization ever since.


They were known to be obsessed about providing the best Customer Experience

and spending little time worrying about their competitors,


Apple chose to focus on the most important party above anyone else- that is, their customers.


Steve Jobs on the importance of being customer-centric above all else
Steve Jobs on the importance of being customer-centric above all else [32]

The result of this is that their products are more User-friendly and RELIABLE,


Apple products are known to:

  • Work right out of the box

  • Be intuitive to use (even for kids and the elderlies)

  • Be dependable

  • Their computers’ performance does not become slow after a while of use- unlike Windows computers,

  • hence no reformatting is required (which is a lot of inconvenience!)

  • their products are less susceptible virus and malwares threats


On top of that, Apple also provide great after-sales services


All these factors mentioned above contribute to ….




c. All of Apple products are voted to be the best in their respective product ranges every year.


Whenever a prospective customer looks to purchase a new piece of electronic device,

be it a smart phone, laptop, desktop or tablet,


they will most likely search for some recommendations

and read up on some reviews on what are the best options available most suited to their needs in the market


Because Apple products have been so well received by customers and reviewers around the world for so many years,


they were regularly recommended as some of the best options in their respective ranges.


Don’t believe me?

Go ahead and find out for yourself .


Type in sentences like “Best Laptops/ Smartphones/ Tablets now” on Google,

and chances are,

you will see Apple’s products appear consistently across all the search results.



Best Laptops

Apple Macbook Air ranked as Best Laptop by T3 [33]

Best Smartphones


Apple iPhone 12 ranked as the best phone by The Verge
Apple iPhone 12 ranked as the best phone by The Verge [34]

Best Tablets


Apple iPad ranked as best tablet by Tom’s Guide
Apple iPad ranked as best tablet by Tom’s Guide [35]

Best Smartwatches


Apple Watch SE ranked as best smartwatch by Techradar
Apple Watch SE ranked as best smartwatch by Techradar [36]

Best Headphones


Apple AirPods Pro ranked as best headphones for true wireless noise cancelling
Apple AirPods Pro ranked as best headphones for true wireless noise cancelling [37]

Best Desktop Computer


Multiple Apple Mac ranges ranked as best computers by Techradar
Multiple Apple Mac ranges ranked as best computers by Techradar [38]


It is almost unfair, all of their products are mentioned as one of the best or the best in their own respective categories,


further making it an easy and obvious choice for their prospective customers (or existing ones) to choose their products over competitors’.



Apple products are mentioned as the Best in all of the categories they are in, win liao.
Apple products are mentioned as the Best in all of the categories they are in, win liao.



d. “Apple products are just better” Don’t @ me – Customers Perception towards Apple as the superior choice



Apple has positioned and marketed themselves so successfully that customers see their products as Innovative, Simple and Stylish compared to the other brands out there.



Furthermore, because Apple products are also more expensive, customers will respond in ways to justify their actions when challenged since human beings are obsessive about appearing consistent with their previous actions. [39] And these actions will further cement their loyalty towards the brand, oftentimes without them even knowing it.

Apple fans when the new iPhone has some slight improvements
Image source: onsizzle

Here are some intriguing videos you need to see for yourself to believe it,


On the exact words coming from Apple’s customers, on how they defend and genuinely believe that their products are just “better” and “cooler”.




A fascinating video interviewing the people in Korea, and even the locals would favor Apple over their home brand Samsung.



These combined with other factors, result in their customers willingly pay for extravagant accessories, like the infamous $1,000 Apple computer stand.


Apple's controversial $1000 monitor stand
Image source: Insider

Apple’s controversial $1,000 computer screen stand [40]



Let's sell the Macpro monitor stand separately evil laugh
$1000 Mac Pro Monitor stand, crazy
What did the Mac Pro cost? Everything
Image sources: boredpanda


Apple does things like these because they know they can,


their customers are so loyal to the brand, and they perceived their products to be much better than the others,


they are willing to pay exorbitant prices for them.

resulting in increased forms of ancillary incomes for Apple.





e. An addressable market for Apple they can tap into: Groups of dissatisfied customers of non-Apple products.



Because Apple products are positioned and perceived to be better in quality for both their hardware and software,



dissatisfied customers of non-Apple products like Android or Windows users who decide to switch or upgrade their devices,


will have a higher tendency to relent and give-in to choosing Apple products


just to avoid the frustration and inconveniences caused in their past experiences (from using other products).


After all, if customers are spending so much money on their electronic devices,


the least these devices should do for them are to be reliable and not bring any form of inconveniences.



Many Windows users will be familiar with occurrences of the infamous Blue Screen of Deaths,

which is one of the most annoying things that can happen when you are in the middle of working on something.


Also, because Mac’s OS are built on Unix platform which are generally more difficult to exploit compared to Windows’,

their computers to be less susceptible to viruses and malware threats [41] which worsens the performances of the devices.



Lebron James who is endorsed by Samsung tweeted by accident sharing that his Samsung phone had a meltdown
Lebron James who is endorsed by Samsung tweeted by accident sharing that his Samsung phone had a meltdown [42]



f. Apple products provide better personal data and privacy protection for their customers


40 years into the digital revolution since the 1980,


We are increasingly facing more threats on how our personal data and privacy are being exploited in many ways without us even knowing,


And this concern is only going to exacerbate going into the future.


 92% of respondents expressed some form of personal data privacy concerns
92% of respondents expressed some form of personal data privacy concerns [43]

And one of the best unique selling preposition of Apple products is that they offer better Privacy protection for their users.


And this is a very valuable feature which customer are willing to pay money for.



 Better privacy protection features for the users will become more valuable in the future when the awareness of personal data exploitation increases. (Image source: apple)
Better privacy protection features for the users will become more valuable in the future when the awareness of personal data exploitation increases. (Image source: apple)

Better privacy protection was one of the main reasons that Android users would switch to the iPhone 12
Better privacy protection was one of the main reasons that Android users would switch to the iPhone 12 [44]

To provide more privacy protection for their users,


Apple’s recent software update disallow apps to access iPhone users IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) by default


unless users explicitly inform the operating system that it is ok to do so.



Apps downloaded on the iOS14.5 and iPadOS 14.5 will now have to explicitly ask for users’ permissions if they were to track their data
Apps downloaded on the iOS14.5 and iPadOS 14.5 will now have to explicitly ask for users’ permissions if they were to track their data [45]


Surely, this update has not been favourable for large companies like Facebook and Digital marketing agencies that depend on targeted advertising.


But this is a great move by Apple to further solidify their position and gain customers’ trust as the choice of electronic device provider which provide better privacy protection for their customers.


Furthermore, the likelihood of Android operating system (largest market share in the world) doing the same thing as Apple is very low


because Google’s business model thrives on targeted advertising and doing so will hurt their business significantly.

Making Apple products’ unique selling preposition of providing privacy protection for their users much more valuable.



Google’s business is built on targeted advertising; hence it would not make sense for them to do the same to Android what Apple did to the IOS. (Image source: Alphabet’s 10-K report 2019)
Google’s business is built on targeted advertising; hence it would not make sense for them to do the same to Android what Apple did to the IOS. (Image source: Alphabet’s 10-K report 2019)


Respective mobile operating system market share worldwide.





 

MOAT 2: Switching Cost for Apple’s customers.




a. “We are already cyborgs” – Admit it or not, we are hooked on our electronic devices and it will only become more common in the future.



In the 2016 Code Conference event, Elon Musk mentioned in an interview that we are already Cyborgs, given the prevalence of our smartphones and personal computers usage. [46]



Electronic devices will only become more ubiquitous and closer to becoming a form necessity in our lives, and this will inevitably increase the total addressable market for Apple.






With the growing addressable market which Apple can continue to tap into in the future,


combined with the switching costs faced by their customers when they decide to switch to other options


put Apple in a very favorable position to continue to succeed in the long run.


 Mike Artell. (n.d.). "Would you please turn that off and hibernate.". cartoon
Mike Artell. (n.d.). "Would you please turn that off and hibernate."



b. Apple’s Ecosystem- consumers will be trapped

Apple Ecosystem
Apple Ecosystem (Image source: ipitaka)


Steve Job’s vision to ‘further lock in’ their customers into their ecosystem when they sync pieces of their products together to create a seamless experience for their customers so they will continue to stay with Apple has been a successful one.



(Video above): showing some benefits customers may experience from using multiple Apple products.



Also speaking from personal experience, seeing how my friends and families who are iPhone users airdrop images and videos to one another during our outings was pretty impressive.

I could not help but feel that I was missing out because the files sent to me later through mediums like Whatsapp compressed and worsened the quality of the files.




c. (Great business model): Apple's Customer lifespan is actually really long



Apple scored very high on Net Promoter Score & Value-for-money for their products.



With Apple’s high consumer satisfaction rate,


Plus when the customers purchase multiple Apple products and

experienced the pleasure of the Apple ecosystem,


the probability of them switching to a competitor’s products will reduced significantly,


resulting in switching costs for the customers.



Apple Net promoter score, Samsung Net promoter score
Apple products and services are promoted higher by both customers and their own employees compared to Samsung’s [48]

And even if they do switch (due to reasons like temporarily experiencing some financial constraints and have to switch to competitors’ products which are cheaper),


there is a healthy chance they will come back in the future when their financial situation improved.