Selling the Dream: The New World of Product Launches

06 Sep Selling the Dream: The New World of Product Launches

Lately it’s becoming very trendy to announce new products before said products are readily available to the general public.  This is becoming particularly prevalent in the consumer technology industry, but enterprises are not immune.  We’ve all seen it:  Company A announces Product B (usually with a dazzling presentation/light show/concert/circus), gets everyone all hot and bothered, and then…and then…and then!…

…refuses to reveal pricing.  Or a release date.  Or anything very tangible.

ZDNet recently ran a piece on this very trend in light of recent announcements by Nokia and Motorola.  Those two companies spent millions of dollars to introduce new smartphones into their Lumia and Droid lines, respectively.  And while they certainly got publicity, just about every article that was written about these products included the following caveat:  don’t get too excited just yet, because we don’t have any details on pricing or availability yet.

Are We Selling Dreams, Or Products?

It used to be par for the course that when something was announced, consumers, managers and others could go online (or, if you’re old-fashioned, to an actual brick-and-mortar store) and actually purchase it.  That’s a novel concept, but one we don’t see too much of in today’s hyper-competitive environment.  Everyone’s trying to get a leg up on everyone else, which means that, in many cases, there appears to simply be no time to wait until a product is actually, you know, ready.  So organizations are now beginning to start their hype trains not days, not weeks, but months in advance of being able to show tangible, working solutions.  When doing this, these companies are not selling products – they’re selling the promise of products, the dream of what will, one day, be a reality.

As a marketer, I find this to be both intriguing and a bit unsettling.  On the one hand, I am in awe of what organizations are able to pull off during a single launch event.  The amount of coverage can be staggering (a quick Google News search on Nokia today yielded more than 2,000 hits), and there’s palpable buzz throughout social media and blog circles.

However, there are distinct drawbacks.  Remember when Microsoft announced their Surface tablet?  You can be forgiven if you don’t…because it was way back on June 18.  That was more than two months ago, and we still haven’t seen Surface emerge.  Since then, the buzz – oh so prevalent during that precious launch window – has noticeably subsided, overtaken by news about rumored iPad minis, new Amazon Kindles, and more.

Is the Dream Enough…Or Will It Fade Away?

Once these products are finally available there’s generally a “second wind” that occurs, a new wave of publicity reminding people “hey, remember me?  Well, here I am!  You can pick me up now!”

I see the appeal that this approach has for companies; you can, potentially, get twice the bang for your buck.  But I wonder how much enthusiasm remains by the time this happens?  In many cases perhaps not much.

Take a look at Apple.  They’re generally held up as the gold standard when it comes to product announcements.  Unveil a new iPhone one week, make it generally available the next.  Boom.  No lag, no chance for people to forget, no opportunity to be surpassed by something else in the interim.  But that’s Apple, you say – they can afford to do that!   Perhaps that’s so.  Admittedly, less we forget, when Apple announced the first iPhone they did so softly; it took a couple of months for the device to hit the shelves.

But that was when soft launches were mainly the exception, not the norm.  These days the hype…the buzz…the dream is the rule, not the exception.  Jimi Hendrix once said “You have to give people something to dream on,” and I think that’s true, including (perhaps particularly) when it comes to marketing.  I just wonder if it’s a truly effective approach when it comes to product launches.

As they say – time will tell.

– Pete Larmey

Image courtesy 20th Century Fox


Pete Larmey
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