The launch is the most important moment in the life of any product. It’s the moment when the entrepreneur gets his or her first notion of whether the idea is going to fly. After all the months and years of development, after all the dreams of striking it rich and drowning in cash, the product is available and customers are starting to buy. The money is coming in at last. But while a launch marks day one in the life of the product, it’s actually just one more day in the life of the product’s development – and in its marketing too. The success of the launch might depend on the quality of the item itself, but it depends no less on the anticipation built up before the big day.
That anticipation is a key element in any sales strategy. The route to a purchase usually passes through awareness and recognition before it reaches a desire strong enough to lead someone to part with their cash. The market has to know the product is going to exist before it can decide that it wants it.
The real master of this kind of anticipation-building is Apple. In an article in MacObserver recently, John Martellaro, Apple’s former senior marketing manager, described how he was sometimes asked to make controlled leaks, despite the company’s official policy of not discussing unreleased products:
The way it works is that a senior exec will come in and say, “We need to release this specific information. John, do you have a trusted friend at a major outlet? If so, call him/her and have a conversation. Idly mention this information and suggest that if it were published, that would be nice. No e-mails!”
Those leaks though are used to do more than whet the audience’s appetite. According to Martellaro, Apple also uses leaks to solve problems. They could be used to give a slow-moving partner a push; to test market reaction to a price point; to confuse a competitor; and also to create expectations about a forthcoming event so the right sort of people are in the audience.
For large companies – especially those that generate as much interest as Apple – leaks can always be effective at building pre-launch interest. But small firms bringing out their first product will struggle to get press attention even with widely distributed press releases. The Web’s self-publishing tools though make it possible to skip past the mainstream news outlets and bring snippets of information about what they’re doing directly to their market.
Twitter’s Anticipation Platform
The easiest way to do that is through Twitter. The microblogging site allows a company to shoot out quick bulletins about the project it’s working on, creating curiosity with each post. In the days before blogger Darren Rowse released a new photography ebook, for example, he posted the following tweets:
Releasing a new E-book on DPS in 36 hours, entering into the ‘frenzy zone’
getting ready to launch a new DPS photography e-book – am in a prelaunch frenzy – amazing how many windows I’ve got open right now
Those tweets are clearly about Darren and his life, rather than the product, which is the way that Twitter works best, but there’s no question that the followers that Darren has already gathered would have had their interest piqued by the posts. They’d want to know what the book is about and whether they should be buying it. The tweets themselves might have been small but the effect they can have on the anticipation before the launch can be massive.
But that depends on having an audience ready to receive those messages in the first place. Again, this is something that Twitter makes simple. Creating a large follower list can take a little time but it mostly involves lots of active tweeting and chatting. It also helps though to have a popular website whose readers will also migrate to Twitter in order to pick up more information from a source they trust. If Twitter is one way of providing small pieces of information about your product to your market then, a blog is another.
The problem with a blog though is that there’s no reason not to spill the beans completely. When space is unlimited, it’s possible to use a blog post to describe exactly what your product will contain and what it’s likely to do. Claiming the need to protect confidentiality is unlikely to help; audiences will care little about your need to protect yourself, and far more about its own desire to know what you’re doing. Tweets though have to be small and because space is strictly limited, you always have the perfect excuse for providing only the smallest of glances into what you’re doing. You get the anticipation but because you don’t provide the audience with satisfaction, you also get the curiosity that means they care when the launch happens.
So how you deliver the information matters. What sort of information you deliver matters too.
Darren Rowse’s tweets revealed nothing about the product but did describe the work that went into making it. That’s always one useful approach: bring people behind the scenes of your business and you connect them to your business. On Twitter, that happens personally: Darren Rowse’s followers saw not how a company was creating a product but how he was working on it. That’s a much closer connection.
Apple though has been building anticipation about its tablet not by taking people behind the scenes – officially, nothing was said at all – but by leaking sneak peeks of the product. Letting them try a little, then taking it away, can be an even more effective way of getting an audience excited about a product before it launches.
The launch day might mark the first opportunity for a market to meet a product but it shouldn’t be the first time buyers hear about it. There’s plenty of groundwork that can be done in the days and weeks before the product is released, and it all helps to determine whether the launch and the product will be a success.