When Microsoft Office 2007 was released a few years ago, my husband and I were invited to a launch event at our local convention center. It was exactly what we expected… live product demos showcasing new features, thousands of people in attendance, and goodie bags loaded with free software. Microsoft pulled off a highly professional event and managed to make office productivity software seem exciting in a time when many people saw no reason to upgrade from Office 2003. This event was replicated in dozens of cities around the country. Microsoft's goal was to make sure IT people and enthusiasts had access to the software with the hopes they would push upgrades out to their organization. Years later, and I still run across a majority of people using Office 2003. This begs the question… is a high-end product launch worth it?
When Windows 7 launched, I received no invitations for a public product launch. Instead, they saved millions of dollars of that cost and asked Windows users to host "house parties." No doubt you've seen the video, it's rather ridiculous and that led it to go viral. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cX4t5-YpHQ
The cost of this to Microsoft was negligible in the big scheme of things. They sent a copy of Windows 7 Ultimate to the house party host along with some generic streamers, banners and some suggested party games. They outsourced this entire operation. Did house parties drive adoption? The effort was aimed squarely at end-users. Most consumers will wait to buy a new PC that has Windows 7 preloaded so Microsoft has the challenges of turning out a solid product and making it attractive enough that someone is inspired to buy a new PC. Would house party hosts be able to carry forward Microsoft's critical messaging? Probably not.
Microsoft then built retail stores, probably with the thought that if it works for Apple... yet, the products are still not very interesting and end-users don't replace their hardware and operating system all that often. Microsoft stores are empty, while Apple stores are packed to the rafters. When Office 2013 was released, nary a whimper.
Meanwhile, Apple announces products during one hour live keynotes that scores of bloggers and reporters cover live and in real-time. A couple of hours after the announcement the video is available for download in iTunes. Without exception, there is a media frenzy with this approach… mostly because Apple makes interesting products, has a loyal following and has an outstanding pitchman as their CEO. The cost of this effort runs into the millions and takes months to organize. The beauty of it is that the Apple rumor mill speculates wildly ahead of time, adding fuel and excitement to whatever announcements are being made and often creating lines at the Apple Store.
If you sell a technology product for business, you must have both IT and end-users on your side. I see so many companies fail because they have ignored the market and the needs of their client base. Companies with weak product development alienate customers by forcing upgrades with end-of-life announcements or by raising the cost of support to a painful level. The focus of your product work should ensure the functionality is what users need and that you've eliminated any major obstacles to upgrading. This includes making products backward compatible, easy to install, stable, with a low total cost of ownership and so on. End-users want functionality that makes them more productive and their jobs easier. This is where an outstanding user interface designer is essential.
It's not always about packing in a lot of new features…sometimes customers just want what they already have to work better. It's up to us as to provide legitimate and compelling reasons to upgrade.
So, if you're gearing up for a product launch, spend some time to consider the following:
- What audience must we reach?
- Who are our early adopters and major influencers?
- What media attention must we capture?
- What messages does the audience need to grasp?
- Who is the most compelling person to deliver the message?
- What are we offering that makes a behavioral change or upgrade vital to our customers?
In addition to the standard market research you must do for any product development, the answers to these questions will help you engineer a successful product launch.