Resources: narratives in business

Apple: Leveraging Narratives About Cybersecurity and Privacy for Competitive Differentiation

Background: Following a number of high-profile security breaches and increasing consumer scrutiny of Silicon Valley’s privacy policies, Apple faces a potential decline in consumer trust and confidence. To prevent a loss of market share and shepherd its expansion into new markets, Apple is attempting to make privacy and security core components of its brand. Tim Cook is leading the charge, taking aim at competitors’ privacy policies and attempting to turn TouchID, powerful encryption, and two-step verification into marketing tools. But, is this strategy to “own” security and privacy working? Could it backfire if Apple suffers a major security breach or privacy incident? How can Apple better navigate consumer concerns? Monitor 360 used its Narrative Analytics methodology to uncover the narratives that people hold about Apple’s cybersecurity and privacy, assess the risks and opportunities of this strategy, and analyze what companies can learn from Apple’s experience.


With personal data of millions of users stored across dozens of product lines, the stakes for Apple are high to assure customers that their devices are secure and their sensitive data is protected. Apple’s leadership has chosen to go on the offensive amid increasing cyber threats and heightened consumer concern, by leaning into privacy and security as part of its brand promise. The potential upsides are real—increased customer trust and brand equity, competitive differentiation, and the opportunity to proactively shape a positive security image before a potential breach.[i] The last time a company wants to start considering how security and privacy factor into their reputation is after customer trust has just vanished and shareholders are demanding answers.

This strategy also poses significant risks, especially as Apple expands into new markets like wearables and electronic payments, where data security and privacy are paramount. If it’s not done in the right way, talking more about security or privacy issues could introduce fear and uncertainty that wasn’t present before, tempt hackers and criminals to challenge Apple’s security claims, and leave Cupertino looking hypocritical in the event of a hack or breach.[ii]

Can Apple win and sustain consumer trust and confidence in an era of inevitable discoveries of attacks and vulnerabilities? Are these efforts influencing customer perceptions positively or introducing new concerns? Will Tim Cook’s messaging campaign effectively distance the company from competitors? And, what can companies learn from Apple’s attempts to use privacy and security for competitive advantage?


Monitor 360 set out to evaluate whether Apple’s efforts to use cybersecurity as a core brand differentiator is cutting through the noise of malware advisories, reported vulnerabilities, and the constant scrutiny and speculation about Apple and its products. Using our Narrative AnalyticsTM methodology, we analyzed over 2,100 unique articles, op-eds, and business analyses appearing in national, regional, and local publications over the last twelve months. We uncovered six distinct narratives within the Narrative LandscapeTM about Apple’s cybersecurity and measured their Narrative ImpactTM.*

[i] Security as a Competitive Differentiator

[ii] Customer connect: Using security as a market differentiator

Apple: Leveraging Narratives About Cybersecurity and Privacy for Competitive Differentiation


More than 60 percent of overall media coverage, captured in four of the six cybersecurity narratives, conveyed positive perceptions of Apple and suggest that the company’s efforts to shape its brand identity around security and privacy are having an impact. These narratives include “Intuitive Products, Seamless Security,” “Golden Apple,” “In Apple We Trust,” and “Standing up for Consumers.” But looking closely at the emotional content and resonance of these narratives suggests something notable: security seems more salient than privacy. The most prominent narratives “Intuitive Products, Seamless Security” and “Golden Apple” focus on the security of Apple software and hardware, and project positive feelings toward Apple for applying innovative security solutions to new products like Apple Watch, Apple Pay, and Healthkit. Together, these two narratives represent 49% of the overall landscape. This is in contrast to the two privacy-focused narratives—“In Apple We Trust” and “Standing up for Consumers”—which cover only 18% of the landscape despite the heroic undertones of Apple as a staunch champion of consumer privacy.

Tim Cook’s efforts to differentiate Apple from Silicon Valley competitors, stand up to the government, and extol stringent privacy policies are absolutely influencing the narratives about Apple and perhaps placing Apple on the “right side” of these complex issues in the minds of many of their customers. But these narratives do not generate as much attention as the security features of new products. This suggests that highlighting specific product attributes and concrete details about security features—as the specific expression of the company’s commitment to consumer privacy—resonate more effectively with consumers than broad CEO privacy promises or statements of corporate policy in isolation.


Along with interplay of security and privacy, it’s notable that the two most dominant narratives in the landscape reflect two starkly different attitudes about the company’s push into new markets for wearables, electronic payments, and health data. The most potent narrative of all—“Intuitive Products, Seamless Security”—captures excitement, enduring trust, and optimism that Apple will transform these markets in the same way it has transformed others. In contrast, “Worm in the Apple” reflects broadly held anxiety, concern, and skepticism about Apple’s ability to prevent the kinds of high profile data breaches that have plagued other companies in these markets. These two conflicting narratives about Apple’s next steps reflect a more fundamental, enduring divide between those who believe deeply in the security of Apple products, and those that see it all as a “myth” (“Golden Apple” and “The Security Myth”, respectively).

This suggests that, as companies expand into new markets or launch new product campaigns, they need to understand the role that existing, underlying narratives will play in shaping consumer response. In Apple’s case, negative narratives such as “The Security Myth” have the potential to erode consumers’ trust in the event of a data breach or serious vulnerability in a new product line such as the Apple Watch or Apple Pay. Analysis of the narrative landscape suggests that a minor incident involving consumer health data or credit card information could pierce the security halo expressed in “Golden Apple”—for both new and old products—more quickly and deeply than say, hacked photos.

Intuitive Products, Seamless Security, Impact Score: 100

Apple is a company that prides itself on one thing: beautiful, intuitive design. This commitment to creating elegant, consumer-focused products has grown Apple into the most profitable company on earth. Now, as the company breaks ground in exciting new fields with products such as Apple Watch, Apple Pay, and Healthkit, Apple is infusing their security architecture with the same innovative and cutting-edge design rigor with features like touchID. While new products bring new challenges, Apple has shown time and again its remarkable ability to ensure the security of their customers.

Worm in the Apple, Impact Score: 89

While Apple has shown its remarkable capability to innovate and capture new markets, the company’s foray into healthcare, electronic payments, and wearable technology is a personal data minefield. For consumers, having bank accounts compromised by Apple Pay or health data exposed by Healthkit is a totally different ballgame than having your iTunes hacked. While Apple’s innovation track record inspires confidence, it remains to be seen if Apple can succeed where competitors have failed in these sensitive markets - or if it has bitten off more than it can chew.

Golden Apple, Impact Score: 87

While Apple makes the news every time there is a reported vulnerability or new malware attack, its track record on security speaks for itself. Windows and Android users are subject to a constant onslaught of spam, viruses, and glitches, while Apple operating systems are a true and tested value in an online world full of trolls and criminals. Apple’s closed system is undoubtedly more secure, and Apple users don’t even need sluggish anti-viruses, constant patches or critical updates. While criminals and thieves will try to break into every device, Apple has consistently shown it does a better job protecting your data than anyone else.

In Apple We Trust, Impact Score: 61

Despite Silicon Valley’s soaring rhetoric about the utopian benefits of privacy, Apple alone has a genuine interest in protecting consumers’ privacy. While Google and Facebook shamelessly sell user data to the highest bidder, Tim Cook has bravely stood up and said our most personal information is not for sale. Apple would never put profit before privacy or principle. If there is a formula for earning consumer trust, Apple has clearly figured it out.

The Security Myth, Impact Score: 54

Apple’s security is a myth, no matter how often they describe their products as “magic” or “impenetrable.” After the iCloud hack and ever-expanding list of vulnerabilities Apple users are starting to wake up to the reality that their devices and data are vulnerable too. While Apple may have captured consumers’ hearts it has also cultivated hackers ambitions and only begrudgingly acknowledges shortcomings while showing a preference for keeping technical details hidden from consumers. Apple customers deserve better security, more transparency on vulnerabilities, and faster answers on breaches.

Standing Up for Consumers, Impact Score: 21

US intelligence has been trying to break Apple encryption for years while seeking to syphon user information from across Silicon Valley. Under Tim Cook’s leadership, Apple has said “enough is enough” and is doing more than any other company to stand up for consumers. By implementing the strongest encryption standards in the world and refusing to bend to the government’s demands, Apple has proven to be a leader in protecting digital privacy


What can Apple leaders learn from their Narrative Landscape to increase advantage in the market place?

Attach positive underlying narratives to new market entry.

While foundational narratives like “Golden Apple” underscore Apple’s legacy of producing secure products, the narrative landscape reveals significant anxiety about the company’s push into new markets such as wearables, electronic payments, and health data. The key for Apple is to amplify and connect “Golden Apple”, and the trust and confidence it conveys, to counter consumer concerns about new products. By tapping into the core theme of this narrative—that Apple has consistently done a better job than competitors at protecting consumers security and privacy—Apple can reinforce the optimism of “Intuitive Products, Seamless Security” and counter skepticism and anxiety in “Worm in the Apple.”

Reframe “In Apple We Trust.” While this narrative channels positive consumer attitudes about Apple’s privacy policies, it has significantly less impact than narratives focused on the security of Apple products. Apple can increase the resonance of this narrative by linking statements about Apple’s overarching commitment to user privacy to the specific product security measures that will help ensure that outcome—whether it’s touchID for Apple Pay, or strict developer rules for HealthKit.

Avoid narrative triggers that activate “The Security Myth.”

This narrative is triggered by hacks, reported vulnerabilities, and the perception that Apple lacks transparency and timeliness in responding to security breaches. While perfect security is impossible, Apple can avoid inadvertently triggering this narrative by striving to quickly share new, pertinent information on vulnerabilities and attacks with customers.


What can other companies learn from Apple’s example? Foremost, executives need to understand the full range of security and privacy narratives about their company, their products, or their industry that have the potential to deeply impact their brand and ultimately the bottom line. They should develop a strategy for proactively shaping those narratives to build consumer trust and confidence while neutralizing negative narratives. To that end, they should know what their “The Security Myth” equivalent is, making sure to avoid triggers that could ignite that narrative and the associated negative perceptions. And when companies surface their “Golden Apple” and other positive narratives, they should find ways to amplify and connect them to their brand priorities.

This begins with companies mapping their own Narrative Landscapes in order to develop a brand strategy that identifies narratives to avoid, attach to, or reframe. Firms can then monitor narrative changes over time, measure the impact of communication activities, and adjust tactics to actively shape the landscape for advantage.


Monitor 360 is the Narrative Analytics and Strategy company. We help organizations understand, analyze, and shape the narratives that are most impacting their business. Narrative AnalyticsTM is a listening-oriented approach, combining the depth of social science with the scale of data science. Narrative Analytics utilizes large data sets – ranging from social media, traditional media, blogs, and internal survey data – to surface “beliefs at scale.”

Over the past 10 years, Monitor 360 has identified underlying beliefs in over 40 countries around the world and in complex domains ranging from climate change to cybersecurity. Through Narrative Analytics, we’re now leveraging this narrative expertise to solve clients’ key business problems, including finding unexpected ways for brands to resonate more deeply, managing reputations in complex environments, and developing employee engagement efforts that stick.

Monitor 360’s clients include the Gates Foundation, Charles Schwab, and If it’s a hard, fast-moving narrative problem, we’re probably working on it - whether it’s for a major corporation, foundation, or the White House.

Want more information about how Narrative AnalyticsTM can help you achieve your business goals? Contact Kevin Rockmael at

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