Build Anticipation... Responsibly

  |  October 21, 2005   |  Comments

When to build anticipation, and when not to.

I wrote about the importance of building anticipation when launching a product or Web site a year ago. Anticipation allows your customer base to get excited about the launch and builds interest in the new product or Web site. There's another side to this issue, which we'll cover today: when to build anticipation -- and when not to.

Oh Look, Another iPod

The human collective is in love with Apple products. The iPod has changed everyone's life, either directly or indirectly. I finally succumbed and bought an (overpriced) 60 GB iPod almost three months ago. Though everyone knows technology (like a new car) is outmoded once you leave the showroom, I'm a little angry Apple released the new video iPod in the last couple of weeks.

There was no buildup at all. Sure, if Apple had created an anticipation campaign, current model sales might have slumped. However, most companies offer discounts on "old" inventory to make room for new models. A prelaunch campaign could have served three purposes:

  • To rally die-hard fans around a new product.

  • To prepare existing customers for the change.

  • To introduce a price break on older models to a new segment of customers who can't afford the latest model. Apple could even introduce a marketplace so current users can sell their gear to people who can't afford the new gear.

But Apple didn't do that. If it released products on a set schedule, say once a year, this wouldn't be so bad. But it releases so many new products that make the old products obsolete, they make buying something new scary. Since I bought my iPod, both the iPod nano and the new video iPod have come out. It hasn't even been three months. Give me at a little time to have pride in my purchase!

Building anticipation with a pre-launch campaign can accomplish a lot of good will among the customer base. BMW's Owners' Circle program gives sneak peaks to its customer base. It makes BMW owners feel as if they have inside knowledge.

Apple could do the same. It could give a heads up to current owners, maybe even offer an upgrade path. Ardent Apple fans would feel like they have the inside track. Currently, they just feel Apple bombards them every couple months with new products, showing no regard for them or their purchases.

When Not to Build Anticipation

There are times when you don't want to build anticipation or create a pre-launch strategy. Everyone laughs when Microsoft delays an operating system's launch date. Though we've come to expect this from large corporations, there's a larger CRM (define) problem with prelaunch campaigns for vaporware (define).

There are several small software houses (with good reputations) that have announced new software versions too early. A company I work with announced a new version of its software was to be released in April. It still isn't out. The release date keeps getting pushed back, and customers are becoming irate. The company's message boards are full of angry posts.

To be fair, the company really is great. But it made the mistake of setting expectations and building anticipation without the ability to follow through. Customers were in love with the company before this happened. Now, they're angry. Their hopes were raised with proposed new features. Their existing software now seems to fall short of their needs.

This is the desired effect of a pre-launch campaign; to make people salivate for the new product. But you must deliver!

Conclusion

Anticipation campaigns can get people excited about a new product and placate those who can make more informed buying choices. They can help introduce older products to new segments (via discounts) and prepare existing customers for obsolescence.

Yet once you've got people salivating for a new product, you must deliver it. Otherwise, you risk losing your core customers.

Thoughts, comments? Let me know!

Until next time...

Jack

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jack Aaronson

Jack Aaronson, CEO of The Aaronson Group and corporate lecturer, is a sought-after expert on enhanced user experiences, customer conversion, retention, and loyalty. If only a small percentage of people who arrive at your home page transact with your company (and even fewer return to transact again), Jack and his company can help. He also publishes a newsletter about multichannel marketing, personalization, user experience, and other related issues. He has keynoted most major marketing conferences around the world and regularly speaks at Shop.org and other major industry shows. You can learn more about Jack through his LinkedIn profile.

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