I read a tweet this morning. It made me think.
a thing that was just said to me “I have decided I will be the John Gruber of Valve”— matt buchanan (@mattbuchanan) September 10, 2012
Ignoring the fact that I’ve been reading Gruber for years, and really enjoy his blog, this is a telling comment. Gruber and Apple are inextricably linked, even symbiotic. But I wanted to think about what that relationship means, for both those involved, and the marketplace around them.
Gruber doesn’t just love Apple, he cares about it. He’s an Apple scholar, someone who has dedicated a truly impressive amount of time to understanding the company, its people, and the fundamentals. He’s also a critic, at times. He’ll call out things he thinks are bullshit, both from Apple, and their competitors. He writes about the company daily, is a trusted source for many, and has access to Apple that most would dream about.
From Apple’s perspective, Gruber is a defender and an advocate. He’ll happily point out the hypocrisy of Samsung or Google, and he’ll dedicate significant effort to trying to understand why even the most obtuse action from Apple could relate to the core strategy that makes them successful.
Gruber isn’t really all that objective, though. He loves Apple, has for a very long time, and is financially linked to his coverage of the company, his advocacy for them, and his role as something of a touchstone for other people who love Apple.
He just isn’t paid by Apple. The thing I wonder about is, is that the important part in getting people to trust and accept the work he does?
It’s important to note that Gruber also has complete autonomy. If he were to maintain that autonomy, maintain the editorial approach and tone that make him so interesting and engaging, would people revolt if Apple sponsored him?
This is the core question of anything related to branded content. We know that brands can create beautiful work, that agencies can work with them to make film and video and writing that resonates with people. But are we capable of trusting sources, if there is a brand behind them in a more literal sense?
I think Gruber and Apple represent, in some ways, the ideal relationship that brands would have with the people building content around their products. One of mutual respect, of some level of trust, but also a hands off approach that doesn’t dictate content.
I think this can be done, even if there’s a financial link. I think it would require an intense discipline that very few companies could pull off right now.
But I think it’s essential if brands actually want to play a role in the cloud of media created around them. And I think having someone who loves your company like an adult, talking about it like an adult (and ignoring the concept of a strategy tax on criticizing decisions) with the access of a team member, and the autonomy of a trusted outsider, could create a new kind of content-based loyalty.
If someone out there wants to be the John Gruber of your company, you might want to consider hiring them, if you’ve got the intestinal fortitude to deal with what doing that right would mean.