The greatest challenge facing any new product is the FUD Factor—Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. This holds true whether you’re trying to influence analysts, editors, prospects or customers. Effective public relations not only eliminates FUD, it earns your product the dominant position in customer minds.
In PR, like many areas of business, the 80-20 rule applies. In this case, 20 percent of the market influences the other 80 percent of the market. In his book titled “The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding” author Al Ries says, “The birth of a brand is achieved through public relations, not advertising.”
When your product is first in its category, effective PR not only brands your product, it can make that entire product category synonymous with your product’s name. For example, if I say, “a candy with a hole in it,” it’s likely that the first thing that pops into mind is “Lifesaver.” Other recognizable examples are the first adhesive bandage, Band-Aid, the first cable news network, CNN, the first portable personal computer, Compaq, the first microprocessor, Intel and the first cotton swab, Q-Tip.
Effective PR informs, educates and influences editors by providing them what they most want to provide their audience—what’s new, what’s first and what’s better. We have found that the best way to make news, if you truly have a new category, is to be the first new product in that category.
Lotus Notes was a great example of this. It was promoted as the first successful groupware product. The analysts and editors loved the new category and they ran story after story on the new groupware concept. Because of that, Lotus got the lion’s share of publicity and IBM eventually bought Lotus for $3.5 billion. So being number one in a product category is something you can really leverage and take to the bank.
Even if you’re not the first product in your market category, the effective use of PR will still make the difference between successfully launching a product or watching it languish on the shelves. Savvy marketers follow eight critical PR steps whenever launching a new product.
1. Identify early beta customers and make sure you can use them as references. Companies often wait too long to do this. Make this a priority because this is where you make your imprint on the 20 percent who influence the other 80 percent of the market—editors and analysts. If you don’t have the right types of customers here, you’ll give the editors and analysts the wrong impression and if they can’t talk to someone who has used the product, the FUD Factor is incredibly high.
2. Prepare to take your show on the road. This is where you influence the influencers.
- Start by providing your executives media training to ensure message consistency. If you tell someone 20 things today, he’ll likely remember none of them. But if you bridge back to your top three points, he’ll probably remember those. Always identify the top three things you want to leave with an editor and then follow through on message.
- Clearly identify the critical 20 percent of editors and analysts who will drive your product into the marketplace. Concentrate your efforts on these market makers. If you can get this group on your side that drives your market space, then you will win in terms of the actual events of the product launch.
- Realize that in early markets this definition of who these market makers are will not be crystal clear. In this case, select technologies that are like yours. When you start talking to the analysts and editors, you’ll figure out who they are.
3. Create a crisp presentation which will easily lead the analysts and editors through your market positioning and product strategy. Be able to explain your product or company in the time it takes to ride up in an elevator. Realize that editors and analysts are extremely busy and only allocate time to people who offer what they need—truly compelling information that will be valued by their audience. Concisely describe how your product solves a market need, why it’s different than competitors and how you intend to make it dominate that market niche.
4. Practice. Hone and crystallize your messages with all process stakeholders to ensure your message is simple and clear. This helps align all personnel with the common goal.
5. Prepare a simple press kit which can be used as a leave-behind for press and analysts. The press kit checklist:
- A pocket folder
- Company background
- Corporate bios of principals
- Collateral—data sheets, corporate or product brochures
- Reprints of feature articles, case histories and white papers
- Most recent relevant press releases
- Client list with reference-able customers
- Slides or photos
- Business cards
6. Prepare a briefing book for executives to use on the tour so they can focus their presentation to each analyst/editor. The briefing book checklist:
- Calendar chart listing times and places of meetings
- Contact information
- Background on publication/research firm
- Background on editor/analyst
- Topics covered
- Sample articles
- Travel directions from one meeting to the next
7. Look at the press and analyst tour as free market research. The analysts and editors bring a healthy dose of market reality and research to the table. Be open to feedback but realize that certain analysts and editors have their own agendas. Validate new market feedback with other secondary research. Don’t be surprised if you adjust your market positioning after coming back from the tour.
8. Markets evolve, so must your positioning strategy. Unlike consumer marketing where a candy with a hole in it is always a Lifesaver, technology marketing moves at the speed of light. Positioning in high technology is dynamic—always stay on top of the market by reading the trades, listening to customers and talking to analysts and editors. Your PR department and agencies aren’t magicians—we can’t create the market reality—we can only reflect the market reality. So if your positioning doesn’t stick, come back and take a look at the market feedback and adjust to that feedback.
Can you pass the Elevator Test?
Can you explain your product or company in the time it takes to ride up in an elevator? If not, this exercise will help you to define your position based on the target market you intend to dominate it with. The following formula will help you to get all the important information down on paper in two short sentences and help your company and products pass the elevator test.
- For (target customers)
- Who (statement of the need or opportunity)
- The (product name) is a (product category)
- That (statement of the key benefit and compelling reason to buy)
- Unlike (primary competitive alternative)
- Our product (statement of primary difference)