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TUTORIAL: Creating product launches that sizzle Part II

According to a recent survey on product launches conducted by Eloquent, 69 percent of companies require more than three months to launch new products and spend a minimum of $500,000 per year on product launches. Primarily, companies are relying heavily on face-to-face meetings to introduce new products.

Still, almost 50 percent of Fortune 1000 companies have started to use rich media and Web-based communication tools. The top priorities are reducing time to market, getting a consistent message to sales channels and cutting product launch costs.

Where should a company that wants to use streaming media and synchronised content for a product launch begin? As part of its efforts to expand the market for its product LaunchForce, Eloquent (www.eloquent.com) has developed a best practices guide for applying rich media technology to product launches. Cliff Reid, CEO of Eloquent, says that the guide is derived from careful analyses of more than 250 rich media launches his company has assisted Fortune 1000 companies in since 1995.

One of the six principles of rich media product launches, Eloquent will share with its corporate customers is that content must be tailored to the users. In addition, the content must be maintained and updated with new content as needed and the users notified automatically. To generate these very significant amounts of new content on an ongoing basis using traditional industrial video technologies (and producers, graphic artists and writers) would quickly exhaust an average company's launch budget.

While it is probably not advised to trim corners on video cameras or video capture and digitisation technologies, the production values for different streaming media applications can be adjusted to match the audience requirements. Instead of always using experts for lighting and stage sound, and professional voiceover actors, companies are using their internal subject matter experts to explain the features of the product and demonstrate its uses. It's easy to understand how this technique might be powerful when selling a software product to an IT technician or manager, however, a much wider range of companies are using streaming media for training on new products, as well as to promote the usage of the products by consumers.

In a pharmaceutical industry application, patients using a new product might be taped at different stages in their therapy and compared with recovery to let viewers see the benefits firsthand instead of trying to imagine the results based on reading text or seeing photographs. To simply grab media from videotape, a desktop digitising solution such as Media Cleaner will do the job.

Many live webcasts are recorded and stored on disk for 30 to 60 days or longer. The user's ability to "scrub" the content, or to hop through a table of contents or to explore supporting materials, makes the whole experience interactive and, often, more memorable. Another tangible and quantifiable benefit of delivering product launch content over a network is that networked servers can communicate with databases that help the company's management track the content utilisation, satisfaction and retention, based on performance of online tests or quizzes. By collecting leads quickly and following up on them with a telephone call or e-mail, companies expect to accelerate their return on investment from their new products. Pick Your Solution
Today, solutions for establishing and streaming webcasts, and gathering product launch metrics can be built by internal programmers, purchased by the enterprise in a standard product licensing model, or hosted and paid for on a usage basis. Examples of solutions that are appropriate for internal deployment in an enterprise include Vodium's MediaPod and MediaMosaic, RealNetworks RealSystem Publisher and the recently announced Microsoft Producer product, which is still in beta.

Mike Aldridge, Microsoft Windows Media lead product manager compares the impact Microsoft FrontPage had on Web publishing with that he believes Producer will have on streaming media. Similar to FrontPage's wizards, Microsoft Producer, a complementary product to Microsoft's new Office XP suite, will lead the user through a series of steps towards the successful creation of an integrated dynamic Web site with streaming media, synchronised slides, demonstrations and links to supporting documentation or other on-line resources.

As a result of Eloquent's experience and focus on streamlining the preparation of successful launches, LaunchForce has far more features and functionality for product launch teams than other solutions offer, and is available for both on demand and live events.

Using both consulting resources and its software platform, Eloquent assists the product launch team in using a reliable and proven launch process, something that Eloquent noted was sorely missing. The result of this process is the creation of a Product Information Center (PIC) where marketing and sales can go to obtain the latest, most compelling information and choose from a range of delivery technologies (the intranet, Internet or publish to CD-ROM). One of LaunchForces' other differentiators is that the Product Information Center can automatically determine which content should be delivered to certain user groups.

Having specialised technologies deployed in-house offers control of strategically important internal processes, but with a price tag of $75,000 or more, may take a long time to be amortised if product launches are infrequent. Inexpensive (even free) solutions, such as Microsoft Producer, are much easier to cost justify, but, however, lack some essential components such as live support. For those companies who do not wish to host a product for streaming media launches internally, an ecosystem of vendors is available to offer hosted content creation platforms that enterprises can use to plan or execute their product launches. Activate (now acquired by Loudeye), Raindance, iBEAM, Akamai and Yahoo! Broadcast, are among the well-established names who have ample experience with rich media communications for product launches to widely dispersed audiences.

For example, Yahoo! Broadcast Business Services Division has solutions specifically tailored for marketing, training and corporate communications applications. The marketing solution guides the user through the process of designing a live webcast with synchronised slides, a text chat window for question and answer sessions, and space for supporting materials. The event can then be archived and hosted by Yahoo! for on-demand access. Similar to the LaunchForce PIC, Yahoo! Business Services' platform tracks all activity on the site and provides custom reports. After an event has been webcast to an audience of any size, or at a later point in time, the platform generates qualified sales leads and provides them to the customer in an easy to use format.

Technology is Not a Cure-All

There are many challenges facing the product launch team in today's market. 'Good public relations isn't enough,' says Steve Sarno, CEO, IMPACT Marketing and author of Winning the Product Launch. 'For your product launch to be successful, you need a good strategy, an execution plan, company-wide buy-in on that plan and then an environment that supports a high level of communication and coordination between marketing and sales.' Sarno's research found that unstructured launch processes are very common. 'There are many tools to choose from when developing and packaging a message. Who you have to reach and how much you have to spend tend to be strong determinants of what is possible.'

Technologies can help companies get their messages out to larger audiences, or a greater number of a narrowly defined group, more quickly and cost effectively. By using streaming media, product launch teams can make product information more accessible and memorable than videotapes or documentation. However, experts warn that if the product is not responding to a customer need or is not properly positioned, technology usage -- no matter how entertaining the results -- will not fix the problems.

Hiring a marketing consulting firm (especially one with product launch specialists, such as McKenna Group, Impact Marketing or Holden International) will accelerate the process of developing the right product and bringing it to the right market at the right time. By having best practices guides and fundamental principles of design in mind, as well as seasoned communications professionals within reach, any enterprise will be able to reach their product launch objectives and avoid common mistakes.

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