Apple product launches have become the stuff of legend.
The iPad sold 300,000+ WiFi-only units on launch day. Within three days, the iPhone 4 sold 1.7 million units. The iPhone 3G sold over a million units on its launch weekend.
Clearly, Steve Jobs knows how to launch a product for maximum sales. You might even wonder if you can capture a bit of his magic to kickstart your own promotions.
And I believe you can. While Apple’s reputation and sometimes-rabid fanbase obviously plays a large part in the success of their launches, there are also a number of strategies virtually any company can employ to make their own product launch a huge success:
1. Put the Focus on the People, Not the Product
Rarely do you hear Steve Jobs talking about the various features of Apple products. Standing on stage, he doesn’t push the speed of the iPhone’s processor or the screen resolution, for example. He knows most people don’t care, and the ones who do can easily find that information on Apple’s website or product literature.
Instead, he goes out of his way to emphasize how the product affects you. He talks about how annoying it is to carry both a phone and an MP3 player and how, with an iPhone, you’re condensing them down to one easy-to-carry device. It’s about simplicity, productivity, style — all things he knows people are interested in.
And it takes discipline. When you launch a product, everyone in your company is probably excited by the technical specs, and all of the different ways your product pushes the envelope, and it’s easy to assume your customer feels the same way. But they don’t. They care about their problems and how your product is going to fit into their life
So, that’s how you have to frame your marketing. Don’t just talk about what your product does or why it’s superior; show them a compelling picture of how it’s going to make their life better. That’s what gets people excited.
2. Get Opinion Leaders On-Board Early
Apple has a knack for getting bloggers and other thought leaders on board before their product launches. What really sets them apart, though, is they get everyone talking months before the product launches, usually before there’s even a demo for anyone to see. No one is talking about what the product does; they’re talking about what it might do.
Obviously, their history helps. Journalists and bloggers know that Apple has a history of releasing innovative and useful products, and they bet on the fact that subsequent product releases will be just as innovative and useful.
But it’s a strategy anyone can use, even if you don’t have a history like Apple. No, you might not have the New York Times and CNN arguing about what your upcoming product is going to do, but you can start working with the media inadvance of your product launch. Even if it doesn’t get you much coverage, it’ll give you something to build on. The media will know who you are, so come launch day, at least you’re not starting cold.
And that can make getting press a lot easier.
3. Be Revolutionary
When Steve Jobs takes the stage, the whole world watches. It’s not just because Apple is a huge company. It’s not just because there are billions of dollars on the line. It’s not just because Steve is a great speaker.
It’s because they know Apple isn’t afraid to change the world. Their products aren’t incremental advances; they are revolutions. They change the way we think about the entire product category, and whole industries have to shift just to keep up. And people talk about it, not just because Apple decided to stage an event, but because it’s real news.
Can you do the same thing?
I think so. Maybe your company doesn’t have quite the reach Apple does, but every company, no matter how small, has the opportunity to revolutionize their business. Do something none of your competitors have ever done before, take a position that’s bold and imaginative, paint a picture of the future that your customers want to live in, and then put your whole company into motion creating that vision.
It’ll inspire people. Right or wrong, the world loves visionary companies with the courage to lead. Instead of fighting to get people to talk about you, they’ll be chasing you to find out what’s going to happen next.
4. Turn Your Product Launch into an Event
When Apple launches a new product, you don’t see some PR lackey trundling out onto the stage to read a press release. They stage an entire event around it, going so far as to even close their online store, so that everyone knows something important is happening and they need to pay attention.
And who do you have at center stage? None other than the CEO of the company, Steve Jobs. He isn’t so much a speaker as a showman, spending days or even weeks leading up to the launch planning his every word and gesture so that it leaves the audience spellbound.
And it works, not just for Steve, but for everyone. If you have the budget for it, throw a big press event for your product announcements. If not, at least have some kind of online event. If you make a big deal about your product launch, both your potential customers and the media are likely to take it more seriously, and it’ll be reflected in your product sales.
5. Take Pre-Orders
This is probably one of the most overlooked launch strategies out there.
Every company that’s been around for a while has a set of customers who will buy anything they release. As soon as you announce the product, they’ll be lining up in droves, eager to get their hands on the first units to be released.
So why not let them?
Apple almost always offers pre-ordering of their new products, and because of that, it’s not uncommon for them to sell hundreds of thousands of units within a week or two of launch. Pre-orders generally aren’t counted until the product actually ships, meaning the orders that came in over a period of weeks all get counted on launch day.
Of course, it’s not always possible. You can’t offer pre-orders until you know what your final pricing will be, for example. But you can still harness the enthusiasm. Until you know your pricing, make sure you at least have a way for prospective buyers to sign up for updates. Then make sure those updates offer a link to pre-order as soon as it’s possible.
6. Release a Product Your Customers Will Want to Show off
Apple knows their image is vital to their success.
That’s one of the biggest reasons they place such a high value on form. People know and expect that Apple products will be aesthetically pleasing. If Apple suddenly stopped launching beautiful products, they would almost certainly see a huge drop in market share.
Don’t underestimate the importance of your product’s appearance. If it’s ugly, your customers won’t want to share it with their friends and colleagues, hiding it away regardless of how useful it is. At the same time, a professional design makes people want to talk about it, and online or offline, it can have a big impact on your product sales.
7. Draw out the Suspense for As Long As You Can
While Apple always makes a big deal about announcing new products, prior to those actual announcements their product lines are shrouded in secrecy. And Apple will do almost anything to protect that secrecy.
Look at what happened when a late prototype model of the iPhone 4 was found by some bloggers. First, Apple denied they had any knowledge of the product, and then when details were made public, they pursued legal action against the bloggers who wrote about it, setting an example to deter future leaks about other products.
To make use of this strategy in your own company, take your hottest product and deliberately release very, very few details about it. The mystery will drive your customer base into a frenzy.
When the iPad was getting ready to launch, the rumor mill was filled with speculation about Apple’s new tablet, but no one really knew anything about it. People went so far as to create realistic 3D mockups of it, hoping to get more readers for their websites and blogs. By the time it actually launched, its reputation had grown to mythic proportions.
The Bottom Line: Plan Your Product Launch
The point of this article isn’t to imply that you have to have as big of a launch as Apple, or transform yourself into as big of a showman as Steve Jobs. No matter how tempting it is, being a copycat is never a sound marketing strategy.
The point is that you need to think through your product launches. Deliberately plan what information you’re going to release and when, who you want talking about you, and how you can turn your product launch into something worth talking about.
That’s what Apple does. No, you may not have whole departments of marketers and PR aficionados strategizing it for you, but you can plan a launch that will impress people, even if the only person working on it is you.