I’ve witnessed a seismic shift in the way new products are launched over the past decade. As the founder of a firm that helps launch products, services, businesses, and communities, I’ve watched the days of an embargoed launch date and a single exclusive media story disappear. The Internet has changed the launch process—now companies seed products with influencers, leak information to reporters, bloggers, and consumers, live-stream launch events globally, and reward brand advocates with exclusives. The insatiable 24/7 news cycle and the dominance of social media makes launching a new product far easier in some ways—and more difficult in others.
The new launch landscape levels the playing field for brands of all sizes and industries when reaching consumers–yet the ability for consumers to share their opinions freely on social media can provide huge hurdles for brand messaging. Consumers can quickly activate other like-minded consumers to rev up the online discussion to a level anywhere from highly positive to tanking a brand.
When it comes to choosing media to support a new product launch, consider the target market. Schneider Associates 2014 Most Memorable New Product Launch survey found that each generation uses a unique media mix. Seniors, Boomers and GenXers still like to curl up with a magazine. Millennials are turning to Facebook and Twitter, while GenZ, or the iGeneration, is skeptical of brands and places more value on peer-to-peer reviews–even from strangers. Consumers now look to six or more sources for information before buying a new product. This fractured media consumption trend makes it difficult for brands to build brand awareness, earn consumer mindshare, and drive sales.
According to our MMNPL survey, Facebook is now the second-most used source for new product launch information behind TV commercials. Brands are using Snapchat to provide exclusive, limited-time opportunities to fans, closing the gap between virtual and in-store retail experiences. Meerkat, which was the darling of SXSW 2015, allows people to experience anything virtually through live video streaming on their smartphones. More apps of this nature are surfacing every day.
Brands must be creative and nimble in their approach. Here are some tips brand and marketing managers can use to leverage converged media to their advantage:
1. Use social media as a supporting character, not the star performer. Taco Bell got it right with the launch of the Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco, sending customers on a wild goose chase to get the news about this new product. The brand used social media to leak that a flower shop in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District was giving out Cool Ranch Tacos, but only to those who knew the secret “blue bouquet” password. This was a clever use of social media, but not the only launch tactic. Taco Bell supported the social media stunt with a press release, national media coverage and Super Bowl commercial.
2. Use social media to leverage and support an in-person launch event. When wewrote about the Amazon Fire phone launch for Harvard Business Review in June 2014, Amazon missed the mark in disrupting the smartphone market. Why did the Fire phone fizzle? Aside from the lackluster product specs, the launch didn’t have much spark. While Amazon took a page from Apple’s playbook—creating a launch event, some tech blog and online news coverage—they needed to put more muscle behind the launch by activating an integrated social media strategy.
3. Use social media to build or capitalize on a consumer’s emotional connection to a brand. When Hostess declared bankruptcy in 2012, Twinkie fans mourned the loss of the classic American snack. That was until the brand launched “The Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever.” After a hugely successful earned media campaign with widespread coverage, Hostess promoted the relaunch on all social media channels, centering the campaign on creating emotional responses in consumers who had been devastated by the departure of Twinkies. The relaunch generated more than 350 million Twitter impressions and 500,000 new Facebook fans..
4. Use social media to support a launch by knowing your target demographic and their social media preferences. Madonna owned 80’s radio waves, but if you asked a teenager today the question, “Who is the Queen of Pop?” the answer would fall somewhere between Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, and Ariana Grande. So when it came time to launch her new song “Living for Love” Madonna didn’t turn to traditional channels like MTV or radio she used in her prime. Instead, the singer launched on Snapchat’s Discover platform to appeal to today’s pop music listeners.
5. Use social media to host contests that foster loyalty and reward brand advocates. Rewarding brand advocates and fans with the chance to win products through social media drives engagement and repeat fans. New product launches lend themselves perfectly to these contests, because brands can use product samples as giveaways to entice consumers to try before they buy. We help our client Sunstar GUM execute monthly Facebook sweepstakes to boost product awareness, real-time engagement and expand its fan base. The contest benefits? We experience significant spikes in brand reach and impressions that correlate to sales.
6. Use a blogger outreach strategy to help launch your product. Last year when P&G launched its new Swiffer Sweep & Trap, the company needed a fresh way to reach its target demographic–parents and homeowners–through social media. At a New York City “Make Meaning” launch party, P&G invited mommy bloggers to bring their children and make messy crafts, then use the Swiffer Sweep & Trap to clean up. The bloggers took photos of the event and documented their experience with the product on their blogs. Bloggers are key influencers when it comes to launching new products as their loyal followers want to try recommended products.
7. Use a hashtag to create, ignite, and track the conversation on social media. Hashtags are essential to follow chatter surrounding a launch campaign. Wendy’s used the hashtag #PretzelLoveSongs to launch its Pretzel Bacon Burger, asking fans to share their thoughts about the new product. The brand followed responses using the hashtag, chose the best ones, and then activated singers like Nick Lachey to sing the tweets on video. #Success.
8. Use visual social media to give people an inside look at a B2B company. There’s a misconception that certain social media platforms, like Pinterest and Instagram, are meant only for consumer brands. General Electric does an exceptional job breaking this mold as a B2B company, using Instagram as a window into the science behind some of GE’s most cutting-edge technology. Through visual campaigns on Instagram, the culture and history of the 120-year-old company is brought to life and followed closely by brand fans.
9. Use social media to let consumers create the new product. Brands want to create products consumers will buy. Consumers want control. Social media allows for both. When launching a new product, social media doesn’t have to be strictly promotional—it can play a starring role before manufacturing begins. Lay’s did this with its “Do Us a Flavor” campaign, asking social media followers to suggest their own new chip flavors. The brand chose a winner—Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger chips—and made it available in stores. You asked, Lay’s delivered.
10. To maximize effectiveness of a social media campaign, always stay ahead of “the next big thing.” No matter what the product or campaign, build your teams—marketing, sales, advertising, PR, Web development and more—with forward thinkers who enjoy reading tech blogs, industry news sites and downloading the latest apps. Learn about new social apps like Meerkat and Periscope before they hit the mainstream media sphere. You don’t want to waste time, money and passion implementing an outdated launch plan that features yesterday’s social media channels.
Joan Schneider is CEO of Schneider Associates, a Boston-based marketing consultancy, and coauthor ofThe New Launch Plan: 152 Tips, Tactics and Trends from the Most Memorable New Products.
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