It’s a little scary taking the leap of faith to launch a new product out into the world, without knowing for certain if there’s an audience to catch it on the way down, so you should never do it. Remember that marketing exists only to serve the product itself - without the product, you have absolutely nothing of substance to talk about.
Yes, I’m talking out of my butt (again).
The number of ways you can enagage people with your product before it’s available are legion – as are the practitioners of such ‘buzz’ marketing methods. The videogame industry has a lot of practice with this, what with the long production times, multi-million dollar budgets and high expectations of its customers. A huge amount of focus and pressure is put on their preorders and Day 1 sales. How else could sites like Gametrailers, or Gamevideos keep their visitors during the industry’s traditional summer doldrums? Then, there’s a certain fruit company that’s reknowned for inspiring internet-breaking volumes of chatter surrounding its new products (which are usually shrouded in airtight secrecy)…
Tell a story that keeps unfolding
People love a good story – it’s in our nature. Events like the rescue of 33 trapped miners in Chile keep people riveted to the headlines, primarily because of the background, exposition, and characters involved. Similarly, the thing that keeps people interested in a product is the story behind it. Every product has one, and until recently, much of the work that went into bringing a new offering to market was difficult disseminate effectively, and in a manner that was inclusive to the customer. Nowadays, the tools exist to easily share such information, but what kinds of content and methods of sharing get people talking about products they can’t even own or interact with yet?
- Make some material exclusive – Make sure to collect some info from your audience for some or all updates about your phantom product, whether that’s an email address, a ‘Like’ on your official Facebook page, a follow on your Twitter profile, etc. By building this audience, you make them feel like they’re “in the know” before everyone else.
- Give them a stake in the outcome – This can take multiple forms, from the risky-but-sometimes-rewarding crowdsourcing method of seeking customer input on the actual product (see Mountain Dew’s hugely user-driven Dewmocracy campaign), to simple polls about customer preferences, to limited-time live Q&A sessions, and so on. Showing people that they can have a tangible effect on the end of the story allows them to emotionally invest in a successful launch.
- Pace yourself – Make sure that whenever you begin your buzz-building efforts, you have enough content to go the distance until launch-day. Although it may be tempting to publish your prototype photos and chief engineer interview, and press release all at once, restrain yourself, child! You need a slow, steady burn to get and maintain people’s attention. Otherwise you end up with a short-lived community that peters out quickly.
- Be unpolished – I talk about this all the time, I know, but I repeat: it doesn’t have to be perfect to be interesting. Flipcam videos, cellphone camera pics, snippets of interesting conversations, or quick interviews with key people – all of these serve to draw back the corporate velvet curtain and introduce your customers to the people, hours and passion that go into creating the products they love.
- Pay attention to the influencers – Single out those engaged customers who actively comment on and share your updates for special treatment, to make them the envy of the rest. This can be anything from personal responses, to giveaways, or invitations to a VIP tour of your offices, a one-on-one interview for their blog, etc. Give them special perks in the view of everyone else, and you’ll quickly see an uptick in the activity of your audience. Read the case study on the success of the movie Paranormal Activity‘s social media marketing campaign to see what I mean.
- Have a clear timeline – If the bottom line is to keep the product launch date in mind, you should make it clear what that day is – but don’t overemphasize it. People don’t need minute-to-minute updates.
- Go off-topic – You’re human too. Just because you’re representing a product, doesn’t mean you may only communicate about topics related to it, and it alone. Take a look at Zappos’ social media activities (or should I say hijinks) – sometimes, you could be mistaken for thinking they just hooked up a webcam to Crazyworld. Yet people love it, because this makes them human, with human interests, and human ADD. Have fun with it, and people will have fun with you.
- Remember the payoff - Don’t post an update if you have nothing to say. A story that goes nowhere loses people’s interest fast – especially if you cry wolf about a supposed update that doesn’t provide any new information.
How do you guys go about building anticipation for your upcoming products? Leave me something smart in the comments!