To conclude my efforts for the semester in tracking my contact with PR initiatives and marketing campaigns, I will separate strategies for product launches into two categories: college students and other demographics. For each section, I will show my evaluation for different methods and whether they should be of primary or secondary importance in consideration for product launch campaigns:
- Word-of-Mouth: Primary
- Website: Primary
- Promotion E-mails: Secondary
- Facebook Groups and Pages: Secondary
- Product Placement: Primary
Other (Older) Demographics
- Word-of-Mouth: Secondary
- Website: Primary
- Promotion E-mails: Primary
- Facebook Groups and Pages: Secondary
- Product Placement: Primary
In my opinion, product placement is incredibly helpful to product launch campaigns. Hearing about the product before stores sell it, seeing the product just before it’s available to the public, and positive personal opinions can convince me to look for a product in a store, even if I ultimately decide not to purchase it.
I’ve already described my dilemma regarding the new Apple iPad (loyal readers may remember that my tech-savvy friend, Eric, explained to me why I don’t need it and should instead look for alternative products), but I think it’s still a great case study for this problem.
Months before the iPad was unveiled by Steve Jobs in January, speculation regarding the possible new product crawled across the Internet. Techies described what they hoped to see in the iPad, while the rest of the world just waited for Jobs’ new masterpiece’s launch.
Finally, Apple showed the world the new product. Reports scurried to their computers to describe the product and their reactions to it. Publications, such as The Economist, described the iPad as a “game-changing device.” All of this excitement made the iPad seem more appealing and revolutionary.
Stephen Colbert mentioned for weeks in his show that he wanted an iPad for free from Apple. Besides helping him ultimately to achieve his goal (He did receive one for free!), these requests showed his audience, primarily college students, that the iPad was a highly desirable product. Eventually, Colbert featured his new iPad both on his show, The Colbert Report, and during the Grammy Awards:
My personal favorite review of the iPad is that by David Pogue, a columnist for The New York Times. Pogue gives two separate reviews (one for the common folk, and one for techies) of the iPad, listing its various faults for both demographics. Ultimately, he explains his satisfaction with the iPad, convincing the reader that it is a worthy product.
My evaluation? Product placement and buzz are essential elements of a successful campaign. Speculation before the product even appears in public helps across demographics, as audience members, whether college students or no, wait anxiously for product leaders to release more information. Opinion leaders and diffusion theory are central to successfully implementing this strategy.
Until today, I thought that I largely relied on Facebook groups and pages to follow services that I already use. After looking through my own profile, however, I’ve noticed that there are several pages that I regularly follow that feature products I didn’t know existed until a friend invited me to join.
For example, I regularly check the page for AirTran U because of a promotion they have offering certain discounted flights to college students. They also have a weekly competition to win a free round-trip ticket. That said, though, I still haven’t actually purchased anything from AirTran or its partners because of the page.
More successful, I think, are time-sensitive pages promoting films.
Hot Tub Time Machine, for example, has a Facebook page with over 125,000 fans and a fan accessory shop. Most of these fans were members of this page before the movie was even in theaters, though I could easily imagine that the film’s aggressive television ad campaign played a larger role in making Facebook users aware of the film’s impending release.
I’m going to keep this post short because in my opinion, Facebook users are a demographic unto themselves, without the same distinctions between college students and working adults as other channels of communication require. It is therefore likely that most users will generally respond in the same way to particular pages and Facebook campaigns.
My evaluation? Facebook pages are useful for continued promotion of a product (and especially for promoting product updates) among those who are already aware of the product’s existence. Pages should not be the sole form of communication, however, when launching a new product.
I’ll admit right now that I never delete e-mail messages that pass through my Gmail Inbox. I trust Google so much that I’ll read (and save) anything that manages to make its way past the Gmail spam filter, but if an e-mail doesn’t make it through – too bad. I will likely never even know the e-mail was sent.
American Eagle, Bath and Body Works and Amazon easily find my eye because I already know those brands and have purchased things through their websites. The other day, though, I noticed a few products that didn’t quite make it past the spam filter: Viagra, AARP Membership and ProActiv.
I really appreciate that Gmail isn’t letting through e-mails promoting Viagra and AARP Membership to me, a female college student. ProActiv, however, is a product commonly used by people of my demographic: My sister, an undergraduate at the University of Houston, swears by ProActiv. But I know that she only heard about ProActiv from my mom, who regularly checks through her e-mail account’s spam folder and found the promotion there.
My evaluation? Organizations seeking to promote a product or service to college students should not use promotion e-mails as a primary channel for product launch because of highly sensitive spam blockers. Promotion e-mails are more successful with individuals in other demographics who are less trusting of spam blockers and regularly check for product deals, offers or launches.
Last week, I realized that I would never purchase a product that did not have a website. Almost any television advertisement targeted toward college students includes a URL, so clearly PR professionals have noticed this trend as well. I think it’s particularly interesting, though, that as target audiences have become more knowledgeable about the Internet, even infomercials, such as that for the Slap Chop, include both a telephone number and a URL at the end of the commercial:
When I initially noticed this trend, I wondered whether it would also apply to television ads exclusively targeted to an older audience. The AARP, for example, showed many different advertisements throughout the long debate about health care. Since AARP members are usually retired and much older than the average American, I thought URLs would not be as prominent in AARP ads. I was wrong! The ad below features only a URL and no telephone number:
Why would commercials contain a URL? It’s because the Internet offers an easy, accessible way for organizations to feature products, services or arguments in a media-laden way. Individuals using the website can choose which pages to view. In addition, inviting the audience to visit the website might also lead to the audience using Google or other search engines to learn more about the product through reviews or other websites. Someone who calls a featured telephone number given in a commercial expects only to hear the positive features of a product, while the Internet by nature seems more trustworthy since many voices have a platform.
My evaluation? Creating and maintaining a product website before launching the product in other channels such as television advertising is crucial to the product’s success, no matter the demographic. Telephone numbers and references to outlets that sell the product are less important but also helpful.
I spent about two hours the other day going over the pros and cons of the iPad with my friends Eric and Abby. Eric is the obvious opinion leader of my group when technology’s involved, but it’s interesting to see the differences in opinion between him (a computer science major) and Abby (a pre-vet student). Eric initially thought the iPad looked amazing, and then became increasingly disappointed as more details came out, while Abby’s opinion conversely changed.
Admittedly, Eric convinced me. He knows a lot more about computers (and even smaller) devices than I do, and my loyalty to Apple extends only to my MacBook Pro and iPhone. Why would I need something that lies in between the two? Eric also pointed out that there are a couple devices produced by other companies that will come out soon, such as the new HP Slate. He forwarded me an article on the Slate featured on dvice.com, and I later found this amazing commercial by HP on YouTube:
I know Apple’s notorious for its fast-paced, user-friendly commercials, but HP’s Slate video seems exciting and new. I never would have even heard of the Slate yet, though, if it hadn’t been for Eric. A few other products in my life have only entered my knowledge through word-of-mouth as well – I can’t imagine my life without Facebook, Twitter or Gmail, but I was invited to those through my friends.
I’m well aware that life is slightly different for my parents, though, in terms of word-of-mouth. My dad hears about new products every now and then from his friends, but he refuses on principle to purchase anything until he has read a review of it on The New York Times.
My evaluation? A product launch plan should incorporate word-of-mouth strategies early in the launch process, particularly when the target audience includes college students. For other demographics, using reviews and product placement to promote new products is more important.
For Spring 2010, I’ve decided to focus on the role of public relations and social media in launching new products. Because I am currently a Boston University student, I will evaluate the success of different messages from the perspective of a college student. I think it’s also important, however, to consider how a product launch should vary if working adults are the target audience.
“With high expectations, over 33,000 new products are introduced each year, supported by billions of R&D, manufacturing and marketing dollars. But more than 75-90 percent of all new products end up in failure! So what’s the problem?”
- Joan Schneider, New Product Launch – 10 Proven Strategies
Ms. Schneider’s quote from her book’s jacket sets up an interesting dilemma. In an ideal world, the best products would reach consumers, while flawed products would either improve over time or fade from the market. This means the burden of launching new products to the right audience falls to public relations professionals.
New methods of communication have developed over time; the most alluring now include social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. Other channels, such as e-mail and product placement, remain important as well. Throughout this semester, I will strive to evaluate each channel as I perceive it as a college student at Boston University to decide which channels are the best to include in product launch plans.