Now launching

Pulling off a successful product launch


In those fairy-tale days when companies spent money freely, you could guarantee that any new product, or even an old product with a new tweak, was celebrated in style. Wine would flow, musicians would play, and maybe the audience would even pay attention when the product was unveiled. Now the media is more likely to receive a press release than an invitation, while consumers might just get an email telling them the news.

So if you’re launching a product now, how do you guarantee it will make the market say wow? Well, the main thing is to develop a product that people want or need enough to pay for. Even then there’s no guarantee of success, since 66% of new products fail within two years, according to Booz & Company, while the Doblin Group says a shocking 96% of all innovations fail to even recoup their investment costs.

Still, if your product is hot and your delivery channels efficient, you have a fighting chance. And you can certainly pump up the possibility of success through a clever launch campaign. It’s not only budgets that have changed, however, it’s also technology, and now instead of reaching a few hundred people with one event, companies can reach millions through social media. That has dramatically altered the way products are launched, says Alan Roberts, a co-founder of Five Star Media.

“I’d create most of your news in social media because that’s the way things are going. Companies don’t have the money for major product launches,” he says. “The motor industry used to have major launches for new models. Now they take motor journalists on road trips and wine and dine them, but it’s not like hiring The TicketPro Dome and revealing the car to 4,000 people. That doesn’t happen anymore.”

Five Star Media recently helped computer company Mecer launch a new notebook designed for first-time users. There was no launch event and no budget for TV adverts, so it was promoted entirely on social media.

“We created an ad that we could break up into six separate 10-second clips for Facebook and Instagram. That stops boredom because you can’t have the same ad running for four months,” Roberts says.

It was so successful that stocks sold out months ahead of target.

If a client wants a physical event, you should still construct a social media package around it.

“You can reach everybody on social media now, but with a product launch you’re reaching far fewer people and you’re hoping they’re going to tweet or Instagram about your event or put it on Facebook anyway. That’s why events always have backdrops with the product logo so you can take a selfie. I think the selfie is the new product launch,” he says.

As part of a social media campaign, companies could encourage people to post a selfie of themselves using the new product for the chance of winning a prize, he suggests, letting millions of people see their friends using the new gizmo.

Amelia Hayes, a director of marketing and events agency Adverb, agrees that social media and diminishing budgets have changed how new products go to market. Whatever a client is considering, the process begins with a brainstorming session.

“I like to brainstorm with the client and see what the product is, understand its target market and the LSM they are aiming for; hopefully they have done all that research and can give us the information,” she says.

Staging one big bash may not be as effective as smaller, more targeted events, Hayes believes.

“Sometimes doing one big event isn’t ideal, so you can split it up and do one for trade, one that’s fancy and one for the media to target different segments, rather than marshalling everyone into one big space.”

Another effective touch is to have a Corporate Social Investment (CSI) angle around the launch, perhaps donating some money to charity for each product sold that day.

“People really like to know their money is going somewhere good,” Hayes says.

Physical events certainly demand a lotof logistics. The style of the venue must suit the product and be accessible to the target audience. You have to take holidays into consideration when setting the date, and even make sure you don’t clash with a major sporting event. The number of no-shows even after people confirm their attendance is also growing, Hayes warns, potentially putting a damper on its success.

The latest additional hurdle is Cape Town’s water crisis, which Hayes believes will slash the number of events being staged.

“The water crisis is a huge issue. The events happening now were booked already, but we’ll definitely see a drop off. We are trying to say it’s ok, we can manage, but a lot of companies are taking a decision not to come.”

Once a launch date is fixed, the company should run a PR and social media campaign for three months in advance.

“Social media is fantastic in terms of accessing everyone, with pre-launch campaigns on email, SMS, Twitter and Facebook giving a clear and consistent message.” says Hayes.

Social media is replacing adverts in the traditional media because online banners and Google Adwords are cheaper and more effective than spending hundreds of thousands of rands on an advert that may not be seen. Since PR is more influential than pure advertising anyway, Adverb also tries to generate articles about the product in the media. Hayes is also a fan of getting ‘influencers’ like bloggers and celebrities on board to share and engage on social media. After an event, it’s important to follow up with the attendees through more social media content, to remind them about the product.

Since technology now allows events to be live streamed and people to attend virtually, Hayes recommends combining the two.

“Setting up an event with a few key people and letting other people sign in is more effective than free food and booze for 1,000 people,” she says. “I’d host a small event for media and VIPs with a live link to reach much more of the market. For a car launch you could hold a street party with all the cars lined up and a stuntman burning some rubber, and add a wow factor like drones filming it to project onto big screens and to stream online.”

A physical launch still has unbeatable value in allowing a company to showcase a product by putting it on display, argues Claire Alexander of Firecracker.

“I believe that tangible engagement with the brand is critical,” she says.

An event can have touchpoints where guests see, hear and experience the product in a way that stimulates an emotional connection.

“Of course you can stir emotions with social media and the rest of the communications mix, but nothing stirs emotions as effectively as when a person is standing right in front of you. So the event comes first, and then we plug in PR and social media campaigns and graphic design and marketing collateral and make sure the message is all the same.”

Firecracker is currently planning an event for the WWF to rebrand itself and mark its 50th anniversary in South Africa, with events in Johannesburg and Cape Town. As a non-profit organisation the budget is a concern, and the WWF also hopes to raise money on the evenings. Firecracker is planning gala dinners where every speaker and entertainer will resonate with a very targeted guest list.

“We need people who want to know about your message,” she says.

Often, a company will present a guest list that’s more like a wish-list of people who the professional planners know won’t come, or aren’t the right audience.

“There’s no point talking to people if they aren’t interested and engaged with your brand. Market research is important – what kind of people want to know about your product? – so we do a lot of trend and market research. You also need the right influencer or brand ambassador who cares about your brand, and we have to educate our clients about that,” she says.

As part of the supporting package, Firecracker often negotiates trade exchanges with the media to get exposure through articles, as a lot of publications are looking for content.

The size of your marketing budget doesn’t have to dictate the success of your product. With the right launch approach your business could be headed straight to the top.


Fast Company magazine says winning lots of customers quickly requires mass reach, and various studies have found that traditional media is still – at least for now – the most effective way to grow a customer base. It’s also an effective touchpoint for prompting an online relationship and e-commerce.

“Even the ‘most viewed’ YouTube videos get their biggest jolt with a mention in mass media. The very thing that can’t be done in social media is what traditional media does best: jump-start conversations. Social media then fuels these conversations,” the magazine says.

Despite the buzz around social media, adding TV to the mix is still the most effective way to boost growth, as TV exposure can drive a potential new customer to search for you even weeks later, the magazine adds.

Which means that adding traditional media to the hype around your product launch may still prove a very smart move.