Do a Google search for rumors of Apple Inc.’s upcoming iPhone 6, and you’ll find the work of a Stevens student entrepreneur whose technology review videos have developed a substantial following. And not just because he stabs the screen with a knife.
It's because media outlets like CBS, the Guardian, the Daily Mail, Forbes and CNET have picked up Stevens student Marques Brownlee’s review of what many believe is the new Sapphire screen on the to-be-announced iPhone model.
How did such a hot commodity land in the lap of a Stevens student? It’s partly the result of Brownlee’s relentless effort to promote and grow his business, and partly, as he says in the video, because it’s 2014, and “everything leaks.”
A typical product review from Brownlee’s follows a pattern. He’s at ease talking to the camera; the pacing and editing are tight; and the tone is aimed not at a technical audience interested in the spec sheet, but at consumers wanting a detailed review before shelling out for the latest shiny tech toy. He spends the early part of his video talking about the differences between the previous screen, made of Corning’s Gorilla Glass, and the upgraded Sapphire screen. He even holds the screen over the video camera’s lens to demonstrate its clarity.
Also, he’s entertaining. When he puts the phone screen through durability testing, he does everything from bending it under his sneaker, to scratching it with a set of keys, to stabbing it like Brutus going after Julius Caesar.
“This is an insanely clear, super-high-quality material, and I’m pumped for more phones, or to see the first phone, to have a Sapphire front panel,” Brownlee says in the video, which had nearly 4 million views at last count, and closes by asking viewers to send him questions through Twitter.
Brownlee, who will be a senior in the fall, is pursuing a degree in Business & Technology while he cultivates his tech video business, MKBHD. He has nearly 1.5 million subscribers on YouTube and a Twitter following of nearly 200,000. He performs extensive engagement on social media to interact with his audience, a concept he hit on early.
Viewers, Brownlee said, “would leave comments asking, ‘Hey, that was great; could you maybe make a video about this one thing I’m curious about?’ And so this audience kind of grew slowly.”
Marketing is becoming a key focal area for the School of Business, particularly as technology continues to reshape how businesses can engage with customers, whether through better understanding of crowds and networks or through the latest data mining and analytics techniques. Those are specialties at the Howe School, said Dr. Gaurav Sabnis, a professor who researches marketing and social media.
“Marques’ popularity is a testament to the fact that if you have clarity of exposition and depth of knowledge, you can reach millions using social media,” Sabnis said. “I've seen Marques’ following on Twitter and YouTube grow from just a few thousands to where it is now, and it’s been a triumph of 21st century marketing principles that we’re still fully trying to codify.”
Each video Brownlee records, edits and shares represents as much as a couple of days’ worth of work, which is a challenge to balance with his Stevens studies, “but a lot of the classes have tied into the topics I make videos about,” he said.
Dr. Jeffrey Nickerson, a Howe School professor who taught Brownlee in his Social Networks: A Marketing Perspective course, said his student “epitomizes what we want in our students — this technology depth with business savvy.”
Nickerson, an expert in researching crowd behavior, said Brownlee “really deeply understands the way social media works, and has acquired a lot of experience, and built on it here.”
Brownlee has had a busy summer. In addition to his iPhone scoop, he also was invited to attend Google’s prestigious I/O conference, and was able to demo various wearable tech devices, like smartwatches, at the company’s annual California event.