Countdown to Liftoff: Building Effective Product-Launch Platforms

The business of launching new products and services has becoming increasingly complicated, thanks in part to the proliferation of new media, stakeholder empowerment and the need to understand and reach multiple audiences on a personal level. This amalgamation of challenges may seem like cruel and unusual punishment for PR executives, who are responsible for the logistics of such efforts, but product launches don't have to be torture tests. In reality, it is possible to have a successful "liftoff;" it's just a matter of building a platform that can handle the recoil. As it happens, the most important stage of a launch isn't the launch at all; it's the preparations that will define the longevity of the product or service. Thus, due diligence is required to anticipate every potential scenario, as a launch is a specific moment (a "birth," for lack of a better metaphor) that initiates an entire lifetime. "[Early on], you have to determine your 'AMMO,'" says Ed Markey, VP, PR and communications of Goodyear North American Tire. "That is, your audience, method, message and objective." Markey explains this strategy in the context of Goodyear's "Eagle F1" all-season tire, which was launched during an event at the Daytona International Speedway May 9-10, 2007. Because cameras were rolling and the stands were full, there was no room for error; thus, the "AMMO" was key to the event's preparations. Amanda Glasgow, SVP, deputy consumer practice director of Manning Selvage & Lee, also underscores the import of the pre-launch phase, which she pegs at six to 12 months prior to the launch. "At launch, PR can influence the influencers, enhance or change perceptions of a brand, and build credibility through the endorsement of experts," she says. With that in mind, communications professionals should take the months leading up to the launch to secure these third-party endorsements. But even more integral to a pre-launch strategy than securing third-party endorsements is identifying your key influencers - a requirement for any PR and communications initiative, but all the more important for a product launch. Glasgow emphasizes five types of influencers when planning a launch; hitting all five of these groups and understanding their individual affinities is necessary to achieve the highest level of success (see chart. Source: MS&L). "Product launches are an ideal opportunity to communicate your brand," says Amy Christopher, president of Warschawski. "You must understand the audience for the product offering. Is it a new audience, or reconnecting with brand ambassadors? You have to identify optimal conduits to reach them." Thanks to the boom of digital platforms, these "conduits" aren't too hard to come by. Consider those used by Christopher during the KMS California hair care product: A casting-call Web site: Instead of choosing a celebrity spokesperson, the team asked consumers to submit photos and essays about why they should be chosen to represent the brand. This strategy built community and personalized the ideals of the brand. Viral e-mail marketing campaigns: This incorporated numerous digital communications channels by creating something contestants and consumers could forward to friends and post on their MySpace sites. KMS California and Warschawski weren't the only ones who had success by building a launch around digital platforms. Stephen Jones, EVP of GolinHarris, worked with Nintendo to launch the much-anticipated Wii, and social media was a key element in the team's strategy. However, before the product could even get off the ground, he had to overcome a few challenges. "There was no basis for appreciation of Wii's new value proposition among influencers, media or pundits. Plus, Nintendo was launching products and a style of play considered alien to the traditional consumer experience," Jones says. "Our approach required strategic vision and rationale." Jones and his team used social media to start the dialogue, establish thought leadership and prove the concept; channels included social networking, mobile marketing, instant messaging and consumer-generated media via an online video contest. The success of Wii as been indisputable, especially considering its console sales surpassed the Playstation 3 and the Xbox. But, he says, no product launch comes without lessons learned. He bestows the following wisdom on fellow PR executives: Corporate vision and product development are two sides of the same leadership coin; Enlighten executives early and often for ongoing advocacy; Sustain vision across product brands; and, Maintain the dialogue, establish the concept... beyond traditional boundaries. CONTACTS: Stephen Jones,; Amanda Glasgow,; Amy Christopher,; Ed Markey, 330.796.8801 Aspirationals Thought Leaders Endorsers Catalysts Vesteds Are they credible? Their name Their expertise Their reputation Their networks Inside ?knowledge What's their role? Tastemakers Innovators Standard setters Resources Evangelists What's most important? Status Substantiation Constituency Information Sales How to appeal to them? Help them stay ahead of the trends; pet charities Give them something unique to talk about Tell why their audience cares Help them be 'in-the-know' and 'first-to-know' Give them motivation to speed the word Product Launch Timeline PRE-LAUNCH (6-12 months prior) Identify audience, method, message and objectives Determine key influencers and their individual affinities Secure third-party endorsements to build credibility Generate buzz by conducting media outreach Build a media toolkit with key information Conduct consumer research, message testing and development Make initial contact to influencers to gauge interest and preferred communications channels Craft messaging that ties the product to the brand LAUNCH Disseminate media toolkit Aggressive media outreach, both traditional and digital Product reviews/customer stories Build awareness Differentiate the product from its competitors POST-LAUNCH (Up to 6 months after launch) Gather influencer and media feedback Gather sales data Maintain the dialogue by following up with media and influencers

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