TUTORIAL: Making brand launches sizzle Part 1

Consumers are bombarded with a continuous flood of information, receiving some 610 marketing impressions every day with that number predicted to rise to 950 per day by 2005, says Jupiter Media Metrix. Given this barrage, it seems most of the information people receive is perceived as peripheral - even irrelevant - to them and ignored rather than absorbed and retained.

Facing an increasingly noisy world, many companies are looking for ways to have their messages reach more focused audiences with more impact, hoping for higher retention and ultimately prompting people to purchase a product or service. The challenge of moving audiences to action is particularly acute when launching a new product.

According to Winning a Product Launch, a market research report documenting product launch successes and failures, companies launch anywhere from one to dozens of products each year. Companies studied for the report spent an average of $3.5 million to develop a product and $700,000 to launch it in 1999.

Communication with key audiences is vital for successful product launches, and companies employ a variety of methods to achieve this goal. Trade shows are popular venues for launching products but attendees and press are often inundated with a slew of competing announcements. The use of 'road shows' - live presentations to sales offices and partners - increase the impact of product launch information. But the associated costs of travel and accommodations delay the launch date for a product, both of which have negative impacts on the product's time to positive ROI.

Despite these challenges, everyone would like their product announcements to reach audiences in a timely way with consistent, engaging information that is personalized for their needs. For an increasing number of products and audiences, streaming media is an attractive option to communicate memorable messages inexpensively to audiences of any size.

Technology to the Rescue?
Conventional thinking would predict that large companies are likely more successful in using the Internet effectively in product launches. But Pam Kline, a partner with technology consulting firm McKenna Group, has observed slow adoption among Fortune 500 companies in product launches.

'The use of technology is uneven,' says Kline. 'We have seen spikes in certain phases.' For example, some companies with very large audiences (from thousands to tens of thousands of people) use technology in the development of content for broadcast media. Elements of a broadcast media campaign have a great deal in common with streaming media. Kline and others believe streaming video, as an alternative or supplement to television and satellite broadcast media and printed informational resources, will play a more important role in product launches in the future.

Other sources concur. Companies interviewed for Jupiter's market research report on streaming media in the enterprise showed that just under one third (29 percent) of these early streaming media adopters have used the technology in a product launch and an additional third (35 percent) plan to do so by the end of 2002.

The two primary reasons streaming video is used in product launches are: 1. To increase the impact of messages with engaging, credible and demonstrative content, especially with complex products, and 2. To reduce the costs of reaching dispersed audiences vis-รก-vis more traditional forms of knowledge transfer, such as videotapes or face-to-face meetings.

When General Electric Medical Systems launched its new imaging system, the Discovery LS, in June 2001, the objective was to make sure that physicians and researchers learned about the product and obtained specifics on what it can do in the early diagnosis of cancer. Patrick Jarvis, media relations manager at GE Medical Systems, says that GE customers get their news primarily from the media and industry trade publications. In addition to trade publications, Jarvis needs to reach the financial industry media who cover GE and the consumer media, because a cancer detecting system is newsworthy to the general public.

'You can't get that many diverse audiences into one room on one day. The reason we produced our press conference with a streaming media element is that our audience is very diverse,' says Jarvis. 'Our target was to have the right people, not the most people attending. With the webcast, we were able to invite select journalists in advance. We could give a Web page where they registered and could submit questions after the prepared remarks. There were many cameras in the facility where we held the press conference. Having a streaming media element just involved one more camera and otherwise a relatively small incremental effort.'

When the product a company is bringing to market is complex or unprecedented in functionality, it is difficult for people to imagine how they will use the product. Regularly, the uses must be explained or demonstrated. When the functionality of a product is perfectly clear (e.g., a vacuum cleaner, a book or a travel portal), streaming media can also enhance a buyer's interest. Video testimonials or rotating figures (models) also help purchases.

Orbitz, a new online travel resource, received a record number of hits to its reservations portal following its launch on June 4, 2001. Pre-launch buzz and promotional campaigns translated into the biggest e-commerce launch since 1999 with 2.07 million unique at-home visitors to the site during the month of June. 'We used streaming media for our CEO's announcement on launch day to ensure we could reach a worldwide media audience when it was timely,' reports Dawn Dotty, manager of PR at Orbitz. 'It was a good way for us to communicate consistent messages using a short time window due to a demanding launch day media schedule.'

Executive addresses, testimonials and case studies are key to positioning most products. For instance, executives of large companies can be videotaped singing the accolades of a product or strategy. By cutting in short segments of an authority figure making recommendations to the viewer, the producer lends credibility to the information that ensues - be it text, images or multimedia - making it more persuasive. This is one example of material that lends itself well to having a talking head on the right or left of the user's screen and graphic or demonstrative content nestled in a window on the opposing side.

Holden International builds and provides PowerBase Selling, a business development methodology to help sales people to be more effective. 'Without good knowledge transfer techniques that make messaging memorable and stable, sales people have had to invent positioning on the fly,' says Holden International VP of Marketing Terry Ledden. 'Sometimes they are exaggerating the capabilities of a product and at others omitting important applications.' While Holden is not a technology company, it assists many companies to develop highly targeted messaging for well-defined audiences. It then may implement networked solutions for the customer's online sales and marketing processes. 'Since the sales people need to remember many compelling applications for many products, it helps retention to make the case studies memorable with video, graphics and PowerPoint presentations,' says Ledden. Other tools that can be useful in the sales process - including price lists, contracts and competitive information - can be supported more efficiently with technology as well.

'Too many product launches focus on the product for the sake of the product. Not enough emphasis is placed on the applications or the business impact that can be driven from the purchase of a product,' remarks Ledden. 'Although companies have not in our experience used it very much, the opportunity to use streaming media to weave a 'human touch' into the product launch and product sales training processes will increase the likelihood that the original positioning developed by the product launch team can be transferred to the sales audiences.'

Vertical markets such as high-tech, telecommunications, financial services and pharmaceuticals have a high proportion of companies with the need to communicate quickly about complex products, and they face resistance to change. If the answers to common questions or concerns - such as how to migrate from legacy systems to the new product, or how to transfer funds from one security to another - can be explained visually, time may be saved and the answer retained longer.

When calculating the cost of using streaming media in a launch, one must estimate the size of the target audience that is enabled to watch a particular piece of content. Audiences in these industries already have some of the technology necessary to use streaming media in product launches today. Other industries that promote high ticket or prestige items, such as real estate, automotive and leisure, are potentially big users of streaming media for product launches when their target audiences have greater access to high speed networks.

(Coming up in the next week on streamingmedia.com: Part 2 of Making Product Launches that Sizzle, which further examines the players and the market.)

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