Tuesday, February 02, 2010

What the iPad Teaches us About New Product Marketing

When launching a new product, we have to overcome two barriers.  First, we have to make people know that the problem or the solution exists and why it's relevant to them.  We’ll call this “category awareness”. In pharmaceutical marketing, for example, this is critical. Recently, a drug was created to address “restless leg syndrome.” The problem the drug companies had was that no one knew that restless leg syndrome even existed. Before selling the drug, the firm had to make people aware of the problem.  Then, we have the traditional problem of getting people to choose our product specifically over competitive products.  Of course, if what we're talking about is truly new and innovative, we'll have the market to ourselves for at least  a few months.

New product marketing is a very common problem for technology marketers. When new applications or solutions are created, it’s often as difficult to make people understand the solution—and the problem it addresses—as it is to make people aware of specific brands offering the solution.  New product launches are typically ten or hundred million dollar affairs for large firms like Microsoft, relying on expensive media buys to achieve 10 or 20 point jumps in category or product awareness.

Increasingly, though, category awareness is happening virally online. When Apple introduces a new product, such as the iPad last week, Steve Jobs has a press conference. He is a very good presenter, so a lot of press and industry insiders attend. Articles are written about the new product, and on each of these articles, hundreds of comments are posted. These articles are turned into short “bit.ly” links and tweeted around the Internet. People post the articles are their opinions about the technology onto their Facebook pages. In a period of a couple of days, Apple has used social media to ramp category awareness from 0 to 100, at least among early adopters. And, they did this by not spending much money at all, at least for the free press and the resulting social communication.

Apple is really successful doing this, but some other companies are not.  Why is this? I'd argue that the key is making sure that all the most important nodes are plugged in to the initial launch. Of course, this is where Apple has made the huge investment. Over the course of the last 20 years, Apple has made sure that its brand is seen as cutting edge and exciting, ensuring that the most influential media and individuals wait with baited breath for new product announcements. This 20-year capital investment leads to free new product marketing today. Of course, Steve Jobs knows that two or three lousy products or boring presentations in a row will lead to huge damage in his new product marketing asset—which is why he is so, so careful about design, and about that critical initial press conference.

In their book “Will and Vision”, Peter Golder and Gerard Tellis trace almost a hundred years of innovative new products, in an effort to prove or disprove “first mover advantage” in a category. They’ve found that first movers tend to not dominate their markets—rather, second or third movers that are effective new product marketers come in and steal their lunch. In essence, marketing and distribution trumps innovation where really new products are concerned.  This book was written in 2002, and I'd argue that we need a sequel, because I'm not so sure the thesis is holding anymore.
In the midst of our current marketing "innovation curve" (2008-2011?) it is much, much easier to create a viral groundswell around a new category instantly than it was in 1970, 1990, or even in 2000. Apple’s iPad, while not a totally new concept (tablet PCs have been tried before) really is a new category. It’s clear that Apple has already dominated it, in a few days, thanks to the increasingly velocity, breadth, and connectivity of communication.  Could they lose it?  Sure.  But it's their's to lose.

For companies much smaller than Apple, which is clearly the strongest example I could have chosen, the lesson, I’d argue, is this: Make sure your new product marketing strategy is as good as you can make it, leveraging the “new communication” that Web 2.0 has given us, before you tell anyone anything about your idea. It might just be possible for small companies to now become huge literally overnight, with enough careful planning. Understand who the early adopters are likely to be. Get them in your crosshairs. Make sure you know how Digg and FB and Twitter and Technorati and all the other communities work together—and try to get a massive bang in your first week in the market.  It's totally possible, if your idea is good enough and your marketing savvy is high.  This is something that we couldn't do in 2000, and I'd argue innovation is going to be all the better for it.

1 comment:

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