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How not to launch products online in a world of TSA pat-downs.

Twenty years ago, prior to a product announcement, marketers would hit the road and visit all the major publications in their industries.  One on one with journalists, they would pitch the story, answer their questions, and then move on to the next.  At Microsoft in the early 90’s that meant a two day west coast trip, and another day and half on the east coast.

Today, that model of public relations is obsolete. The cost and inconvenience of travel, TSA pat-downs, and the 24 hour news culture are making the press-tour a quaint  relic of the past.  Instead, people are turning to online meetings for press announcements.

Yesterday I spent 20 minutes on a press conference hosted by a company launching a new product on Apple’s App Store.  Now, launch presentations are hard.  I know.  In 2006, iotum was one of the winners at the DEMO conference. That’s the Matterhorn of launch events. Unfortunately, the event I attended yesterday failed miserably.

  • The main presenter mumbled his way through an incoherent and barely rehearsed speech.  To make matters worse, he was speaking in a room with an echo, on a speaker phone.  He lost me within 30 seconds because I could barely make out what he was saying.
  • While the presenter was speaking to us, the Goto Meeting session that was to be used to demonstrate the software was animated, showing a website that had little bearing on the speaker’s words. Cognitive dissonance, combined with bad audio, left me wondering what I was listening to.
  • The demonstration, when it finally came, was excellent.  Audio was good, and the presenter zipped through all the high points of the product.
  • The follow-on Q&A was text only.  I could ask a question by typing it, and the response would be spoken back.  Three questions from the attendees, and then event was over.
  • Nevertheless, I thought the product interesting enough that I signed up for an account, and went to download it from the app store. It’s not there, unfortunately.

The basic problem most people face with launch events is economy of message.  As marketers we want everyone to know all the cool features of our products.  As launch presenters, however, we’ve only got a very short amount of time to make two or three points, and then wow the audience with a killer demo.  If this had been my presentation, I would have:

  1. Insisted that everyone presenting use a high quality headset while speaking.  There’s simply no excuse for bad audio when you’re trying to make a good impression.
  2. Cut the main speaker’s intro to 30 seconds, and then gone directly to demo.  The point of this event was to get people excited about the product.  So don’t keep us waiting!
  3. Presented two or three short slides, following the demo, to reinforce the points made in the demo, then mailed those slides to everyone in attendance.
  4. Used a real online conferencing system that allows for moderator control of Q&A by voice, not text.  Our Calliflower is one, but there are other choices as well. The point is that each of those questions were an opportunity for a short conversation, which was badly missed because of the technology choice made.
  5. Ensured that the product was available on the app store before making the announcement.  Not being ready to capitalize on the news you’re generating has been the biggest failure of many a product launch.
  6. Rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed. None of us are news anchors on major networks, but that’s the standard we have to hold ourselves to for these events.  The only way to get there is to have rehearsed the event 3 or 4 times in it’s entirety.

Bottom line: Launch events are always hard.  To be effective, they have to be well rehearsed, with practiced demos and slick messaging.  Online tools are an attractive alternative to travel.  However, they make the job even harder, so you have to be even better prepared.

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