How to launch like Apple!

As we prepare for another Apple product launch I thought I’d write a short post about the company’s product launch playbook.  I’m surprised that more companies haven’t tried to copy the company’s model;  for those that do, here’s a look at the key elements.

  • Know your audience: nobody knows its audience better than Apple – it’s built its brand on its knowledge.
  • Create pre-event hype: easy to do if you’re Apple, you might think, but every company can do this.  It takes time, strong relationships, a plan, and passionate product advocates.  It could be argued that Steve Jobs started this process when he launched the first Mac in 1984, but it’s clear that it has definitely been part of the company’s game plan since he rejoined the company as CEO in 1997.  15 years on and the hype generated by Apple fan boys and girls before product launches is self-perpetuating.
  • Make product launches a big deal: in a generation where there are the tools to communicate non-stop, Apple keeps quiet about launches until the invites are sent out to a handful of high profile technology journalists. It makes sure that there are enough rumours floating around that the launch doesn’t come as a complete surprise, but the data and focus of the event are kept secret until the very last minute.
  • Establish a launch pattern: Apple traditionally announces product launches at particular times of the year.  Whether it’s software, Mac hardware, iPad, iPod or iPhone, Apple has established a rough schedule throughout the year that updates its product portfolio.  This helps consumers plan their technology investments and gives journalists something to write about regularly.
  • Ensure absolute secrecy: Apple guards it’s new product information fiercely… at least that’s what it wants you to think.
  • Simplify your proposition: rather than listing every new feature or function of a new product, Apple picks a handful and focuses on them.  Why? Because it knows which features and functions will sell its products quickest.
  • Write the headlines: whether it’s, “The world’s thinnest notebook”, “A whole new vision for the notebook”, “1,000 songs in your pocket”, “This changes everything. Again.” or “There’s an app for that”, Apple gives journalists a ready to print headline that tells its audience exactly what it wants them to remember.
  • Support your launch: Apple supports its product launches with PR, advertising and in-store promotion.  By the time the media leaves the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts tomorrow afternoon they’ll be surrounded by product messaging for Apple’s latest products, TV ads will be ready to run and the Apple homepage will be proclaiming another new product.
  • Demonstrate: one of the most important parts of any Apple launch is the demonstrations – it’s all very well talking about why a new product or service is better than your competitors’, but showing why will leave your target audience in no doubt you have a winner on your hands.
  • Make it available: the majority of Apple products are available within days or weeks of the launch – and your should be too.  If a product or service isn’t ready to be launched, all you’re launching is a concept.
  • Use partners: Apple is known for having a string of high-profile partners present at product launches.
  • Be clear on price: if you can’t put a price on a product or service, how do you expect customer to buy it?
  • Be prepared for things to go wrong: despite the best laid plans, things can – and will – go wrong – so be prepared.  How you deal with things when they go wrong can make or break a product launch.

Explained: Why #BB10 Won’t See #RIM Through The Next 10 Weeks

Since I wrote that BlackBerry 10 [#BB10] won’t see the company through the next ten weeks, let alone the next 10 years, as CEO Thorsten Heins claims I’ve been accused of not knowing what I’m talking about, misrepresenting what Heins said, and of being naive.

So, here’s a summary of why I think BlackBerry 10 will – for all intents and purposes – be dead on arrival.

  • The iPhone 5 will, and apologies to Apple, ‘Change everything. Again’.  The new iPhone will raise the bar on what customers expect from their handsets.
  • RIM is marketing its phones to the wrong audience. BlackBerry calls its users ‘hyper-connected’ and “people of purpose” – “not the average smartphone user”.  But, by chasing iPhone customers, RIM is targeting its marketing to the average smartphone user.
  • The fact remains that BlackBerry handsets are seen by most consumers [both B2B and B2C] as a business tool – not a consumer device. RIM believes that BB10 will help make it compete with the iPhone for consumers affections. It won’t.
  • RIM’s proposition is confusing. Its adverts say ‘tools, not toys’, but it’s focus – using Heins’ BlackBerry Jam presentation as evidence – is that BB10 is primarily about toys.
  • BlackBerry still has around 77m subscribers – most of them, I’d argue, use BlackBerry handsets primarily for business.  But, as Bryan Glick – Editor of UK IT trade magazine Computer Weekly – points out in a recent article ‘RIM / Blackberry is just one upgrade cycle from oblivion‘ this could change quickly.
  • Consumers, ultimately, don’t care how good the OS is technically – that’s just the geeks and nerds like me.  Consumers [B2B and B2C] do care about whether their phones allow them to do what they want to do, quickly and easily.  It won’t matter whether BlackBerry 10 is technically better than iOS and Android if the user interface is perceived to be inferior, and a shortage of apps mean handsets will likely fail to deliver.
  • Apple’s new iPhone will be available within days of their launch. By the time devices running BB10 are released [sometime in Q1 2013] many consumers will already have chosen an iPhone or Android device rather than a BlackBerry.
  • Apple gives its customers [and prospects] what they want.  The iPhone 5 will likely deliver what consumers want – even if they don’t yet know what that is. RIM, on the other hand, is still trying to figure out who it’s target audience is these days.

If you need more evidence to support my position, I offer Nokia’s recent experience.  On the day the company launched its new Windows Mobile 8 handsets – the 920 and 820 Lumia devices – which were supposed to help the company out of the smartphone wilderness, its share price fell 13%.  Couple that with admissions that the main  functional advances had been simulated for demonstration purposes and… well, the talk is now that a new feature phone for developing markets may save the company.

In my industry, there’s a saying – “Perception is Reality”.  Unfortunately, regardless of what the reality of BB10 is, the perception that it’s ‘too little, too late’ will likely mean that it will be dead on arrival.

Lance Armstrong: crisis communications master stroke or madness?

I’ve been asked whether I think Lance Armstrong’s latest move in his long drawn-out battle with those that accuse him of doping is genius or suicide so I thought I’d post about it.  It’s potentially both, but based on what I know of the case, having read Armstrong’s statement and knowing the rider’s history – I’ve ridden bicycles continuously since I was first given one – I’m leaning more towards genius!

Let’s assume for the purposes of this post that he is innocent. Given Armstrong has always maintained he has is clean and has never failed a test, despite having been tested hundreds of times and, to date, no evidence has been presented that disproves his position it seems only reasonable!  Armstrong’s withdrawal from the process puts the pressure back on the his accusers – in this case the USADA – to show the evidence they have against him. If they are unable to do so [and I mean evidence that would stand up to scrutiny in a court of law] then this quickly becomes a PR disaster for the US anti-doping body.

Armstrong’s withdrawal from the situation has already raised questions over the legitimacy of the USADA to strip him of his seven Tour de France titles despite its assertion that it is “confident” it does.  The event is sanctioned by the UCI [Union Cycliste Internationale] – cycling’s world governing body and, on its own website the USADA describes itself as “…the national anti-doping organization for the Olympic movement in the United States. The U.S. Congress recognized USADA as “the official anti-doping agency for Olympic, Pan American and Paralympic sport in the United States.” Olympics… not Tour De France.

On the other hand, if the USADA can provide credible evidence – as it claims it can [but has yet to provide] then Armstrong’s move initiates the death throes of his career, legacy, foundation…

While we’re on the topic of crisis communications here are a few tips on how to manage a crisis:

Know what you’re dealing with before you say anything. Make sure you have a full understanding of what did and didn’t happen so that you can develop a strategy that deals with the real crisis.  It’ll also ensure that you can’t be accused of misleading

Understand the relative jurisdictions involved.  Are there legal issues? Personal matters? It’s important to be clear what relates directly to your organization so that your communications strategy focuses on these issues and not on those that fall outside of your responsibility or sphere of expertise or legal jurisdiction.

Keep statements to the facts.  Don’t comment on things that aren’t directly related to you or your organization and don’t get drawn into commenting on rumour or speculation.  In some cases a holding statement is the best strategy: expressing shock, offering condolences or apologies, or giving assurances that a full investigation will be conducted and a more detailed statement given once this has been completed.

Control the timing. In today’s real-time internet world journalists [and their readers/viewers] want to know everything… NOW.  Don’t let your strategy be driven by either traditional or social media.  Using holding statements can provide a valuable tool here enabling you to provide updates on progress and setting timescales for a more detailed statement.  If you need to inform shareholders, investors or others before making a statement [either through courtesy or regulatory mandate] then it’s important to ensure that this is done prior to a statement being made.

Be transparent. Being open and honest is always the best strategy.  Honest mistakes [if that’s what they are] will likely be forgiven more quickly if they are taken responsibility for, than if your audience thinks you aren’t being upfront.

If you have any questions about how to manage a crisis we’ll be happy to help you build a crisis management plan that will serve you well in the event that it is needed.


Stories like this one in the Seattle Times are making Lance Armstrong’s strategy a very good one.

How To Avoid Audio Killing Your Video Star

I’ve been working on a few video projects for clients recently.  One thing I’ve seen time and time again as part of my research is companies that have spent thousands on creating videos with television-quality video production values… but with audio that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to watch.

With video an increasingly important part of  modern communications strategies [and growing evidence that online videos are listened to, rather than watched] it is vital that you don’t let valuable content go to waste because of a poor audio track.  Here are a few tips to ensuring that the sound on your video does the rest of the content justice:

  • Invest in a decent microphone.  Spending a few hundred dollars on a professional-grade piece of kit will return your investment within a few weeks.  One of the most common problems is indistinct audio [echo, background noise, ‘popping’] and investing in a lip mic like the the Coles 4104 will solve these problems.  It was created for use by BBC Radio sports commentators to minimize the amount of background noise so that listeners could  focus on what was being described.
  • Listen to your own voice.  Investing in a decent pair of headphones will make a real difference to an audio recording.  It blocks out unnecessary distractions and provides an accurate experience of the audio track your audience will hear.
  • Create the right environment. Too often web audio sounds like it was recorded in the bathroom.  This is because most buildings aren’t designed for audio recording, so sound bounces off walls, glass windows, fixtures and fittings and wood flooring.  If you don’t have an audio studio to record in [how many companies do?!] then find a space that has as few of the things mentioned above to record in.  One tip is to stand in the corner of a room, where your voice will only ‘bounce’ off of two, solid, surfaces.
  • Script it.  Too often web video is not scripted – webinar presenters are particularly frequent offenders.  I’m not suggesting that all web video should be scripted, having a framework for a webinar presenter to work from will help to make the whole thing sound a little more professional.
  • Turn off all electrical devices.  Yes, I mean EVERYTHING, and I mean OFF.  One of the most common background sounds on B2B web videos is electromagnetic   [it’s the whirring sound you hear].  Obviously, in some cases, like live broadcasts, it’s not practical to turn everything off, but if you’re recording a track to accompany a produced video then you’ll hear a dramatic improvement to the audio by following this tip.  Even if you put your cell phone on to silent you’ll still hear it ring when you play back the recording.
  • Practice.  One of the most over-looked parts of most audio tracks.  People think that if they can read it, they can record it.  It’s a much used adage, but true… practice DOES make perfect.  Practice will also iron out the most common unwanted additions to an audio track… the ‘err’ and the ‘umm’.
  • Slow down.  In broadcasting there’s what is know as ‘reading to time’ – a pace at which it is easy for the listener to take in what is being said.  Broadcast journalists write to time to ensure that they have just enough words to fill a particular slot, and not too few,working to a three words per second rule.
  • Stand up. Standing up changes the way your voice sounds [try it now and you’ll hear the difference].  Want to sound authoritative, knowledgeable, full of energy?  Standing up helps convince your listeners that you are all of these things.
  • Scream and shout.  Before you start recording… not while you are recording.  Having a good old shout releases the tension from your voice, making it sound much more authoritative, calm and collected – its especially good if you’re nervous too.
  • Use silence as a tool.  Dead air scares people… but it shouldn’t.  In the same way that a dramatic pause in a presentation can add real value, so stopping and letting your viewers/listeners think about what you’ve said can be a very effective tool in communicating your message.  Very few firms use it – by doing so, you’ll stand out from the crowd.
  • Understand your audience.  This is, perhaps, the most important piece of advice I can offer.  If you know your audience it’ll help guide the content, tone, language and length of your audio/video.  It’s also the most overlooked part of any audio/video recording.

What other things do you do to improve the quality of your audio and video presentations?

10 reasons why the future of the PR industry is doomed!

I don’t usually read industry magazines or websites, but today I made an exception.  I should know better. Two articles on Ragan’s PR Daily caught my attention.  The first, by Nicole Rose Dion is called 10 mistakes and the lessons learned from the PR world.  If you work in PR and this is how you run your client accounts then you need to go do something else.

Some of Ms. Dion’s “mistakes”, (in addition to writing this article), include:

  • “… admitting [to a client] to a mistake in an email”.  Nicole suggests talking to the client about it on the telephone because, “You never want to give your client or contact hard (written) evidence to use against you.”.  If your client relationship is so fragile that you can’t own up to a mistake, and worry that by admitting it you give them ammunition to fire you down the line then you really shouldn’t be working with them.

Lesson learned: Honesty counts for everything in a client/agency relationship – on both sides.  Owning up to a mistake and explaining how you’re going to fix it is, in my book, always preferable to having a ‘quiet chat’ that can be denied if necessary.

  • You tried to help.  Nicole’s lesson learned is “No matter what your intentions, don’t try to help in a situation when you don’t have to.”  She advocates you “let it go” if a journalist or client is “having a meltdown or is complaining to your coworker about something and you think you can help”.  Either that, or letting your boss deal with the problem.

Lesson learned: Understanding the cause of the “meltdown” is critical. It’s the only way it can be resolved quickly and to the satisfaction of the client.  It’s worth noting that my advice is actually to take steps to avoid the problem in the first place, but simply passing the buck to a colleague or boss won’t do anything for your long-term credibility with the client or journalist.  I know my approach is old-fashioned, but it’s also effective.

  • You didn’t BCC people in a mass email.

Lesson learned: If you can’t work Outlook then you really shouldn’t be allowed near a computer let alone working in PR.  HR failed if you can’t, and they let you!

  •  You sent your client your media list. Nicole suggests this is a bad idea for two reasons.  They might start contacting journalists, or you both might end up looking stupid if you contact the same person.
Lesson Learned: It’s about account management.  If a client is contacting journalists rather than having you do it [after all, they’re probably paying you to do it] then it suggests you’re not doing it right.  If you are both calling journalists and can’t agree who calls who… you shouldn’t be managing PR accounts for clients.  As for sharing media lists with clients, the list should be compiled and agreed with the client and reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that it remains relevant. More on clients and media lists in a future post…  

The second article that caught my eye today is called 7 Signs your PR efforts need a reboot by Dorothy Crenshaw, one of PR Week’s 100 Most Powerful Women.  But, more about that later!!

The Paradox of Customer Engagement

Some companies measure the effectiveness of their customer service agents by the length of time a call lasts. The shorter the call, the more effective the agent is perceived to be.  These same companies also spend tens, or hundreds, of millions of dollars trying to reduce churn or persuade customers to buy their latest, greatest products.

Hang on a minute…

I was recently talking with a company about how they could build an efficient, cost-effective mechanism for establishing and maintaining long-term relationships with prospects and customers.  It’s the Holy Grail in communications circles. What if you could create a way to turn customer service [perceived as a cost to a business] into a way to sell more?  That’d be cool, right?

Now, while it might sound like rocket science, it’s actually not as difficult to deliver as it sounds.   It’s just that very few companies are doing it right now, and even the ones that are, aren’t doing it very well.  The customer experience is still ‘clunky’ and there’s often no way to have a conversation with an organization across multiple channels.  Every time you tweet, email, call or ‘Facebook’, you end up having to talk to a different person, you have to explain the history of your conversation, and you end up being at the mercy of the organizations often compartmentalized customer service process.

But, what if there was a way for a customer to have a conversation with a whole company? In the days of email, social media, telephone call-centers, etc. it is possible to have a multi-channel conversation with an organization that starts in customer service and ends in sales [or vice versa].  You just have to know how to do it.  So, if your business would benefit from an integrated customer engagement strategy, that made it easy for customers to talk with you – and for you to talk with them – drop us a line.  We’ll be happy to discuss what your social engagement process might look like, how it can be delivered and why it’ll add value to your business from day one.

10 years?! #BB10 won’t see RIM through the next 10 weeks!

RIM CEO Thorsten Heins has been quoted recently as saying that he believes that the handset maker’s new BlackBerry 10 [#BB10] operating system, now slated for release in early 2013, will serve the company for the next ten years.  I have no doubt that he believes this, but I don’t think it’ll serve the company for the next ten weeks – let alone the next decade.   If, as has been predicted by the technology press, Apple releases the iPhone 5, running iOS 6 on September 12th, BB10 will be dead.

iPhone 5 aside, Apple will have launched 10 versions of its iOS operating system in just over 5 years.  Google has released the same number of versions of its Android platform since it was launched in September 2008. BlackBerry, on the other hand, has launched just four versions of its smartphone OS since 2002.  If, as Heins predicts, BB10 will serve the company for the next decade it will have updated the foundations of its mobile business just five times in 20 years.

Aside from the technical folly of this approach, the marketing impact is huge.  Both Apple and Google have had ten high profile opportunities to tell customers [and prospective customers] about new functionality and how they’ve fixed existing bugs.  They’ve had ten opportunities to woo the press, set out their vision, communicate key messages and build strong relationships.  They’ve had ten opportunities to create a sense of anticipation in the market: Apple whips fans into near frenzy in the run up to a new product launch based on rumour and speculation alone!  RIM has had just five of these opportunities… in ten years.

Even if RIM survives long enough, #BB10 arrives on time and it is the technological leviathan that Heins claims, it’s a one shot chance.  A once-in-a-decade chance to turn the company around… what are the odds? My bet is that Apple will announce all of the key, ‘killer’, functionality planned for BlackBerry 10 when it launches its new iPhone early next month and RIM’s revolutionary new OS will be dead on arrival.

Sad but, likely, true.

Update:  Now James Faucette of analysts Pacific Crest agrees

Read my other posts about Research In Motion here