Way, way back in 2004, I wrote a column about how to effectively build anticipation for a product or website launch. The gist of it was that we can use the launch of a product as a CRM tool. Instead of simply turning on the new version of your website one day, or launching a new product, smart companies provide sneak peeks. This is especially true for products (like sleek laptops), and less common with websites. But giving sneak peeks and letting users sign up to be the first notified when the site or product launches is a great way to build a database of your brand zealots.
I followed up that column with one in 2005 that talked about how Apple failed to do this in the early days when it was launching new iPods. Everything from Apple seemed obsolete because you never knew when it was going to release an upgrade. Nowadays, the rumor mill pretty much nails exactly what products Apple will be releasing and when, so this isn't as big a deal.
Having written about Apple's poor track record in its early days, I really have felt the opposite about the company lately. It seems to be doing everything right, and everything it touches seems to turn to gold. But this week Apple launched Final Cut Pro X, and the tides turned again.
The audience for this column is not film editors, so I'll skimp on the details that are not interesting, but the general point is that Apple followed the rules of building anticipation, but by telling only half the story, it failed in its launch.
A couple of months ago, Apple previewed the new version of Final Cut Pro. For those who don't know, it's professional video editing software. The demo looked amazing and got cheers from the audience. This is a great way to build anticipation for a launch: show everyone the great new stuff coming and get them excited about it.
When a new site or product launches, there is a natural assumption that everything that was good about the current version will persist, but new things will be added to make it even better. This was the assumption with Final Cut Pro X: that it would include everything from the previous version but reimagined so that it was easier to do everything. There was no reason to assume this was not the case, as Apple didn't say anything in its pre-launch campaign to make us think differently.
The new version of Final Cut finally launched this week. If you log in to Apple's own App Store, you can see the results: the majority of reviews give the product one star. Reading through the reviews, you can feel the betrayal felt by loyal users. The new product isn't really an upgrade to Final Cut Pro. It's an upgrade to iMovie, Apple's consumer program. It can't even read existing Final Cut Pro project files (it does read iMovie project files)! Almost every "professional" feature has been removed or dumbed down to the extent that no professional could possibly use this product in the field.
Apple promised updates, but it can't un-ring this bell. Clearly, it didn't vet this new release with people who actually use Apple products. And if it did, it didn't listen to them.
But you don't care about video editors, most likely. Let's bring this back home. Are you launching a new version of your site, or a new/updated service for your users? The entire premise behind "building anticipation" is that you have built a product that users will actually be satisfied with. It assumes that you have done your user research and know what problems need to be fixed from the previous versions, and how your users interact with your services.
If you have not done that, your product will fail. It adds insult to injury if you then build a pre-launch campaign that shows two to three sexy new features to get the masses all riled up in excitement, and neglect to tell them that none of the features they are all expecting are still there. It's negligent, arrogant, and a huge marketing mistake.
While following Apple's lead is usually a good thing, make sure you don't make the same mistakes it did. Ensure the new version of your site/product fulfills your customers' needs and grows upon your existing feature set. Don't remove things your users depend on. Finally, create a pre-launch campaign to excite your base customers but don't lie to them, or try to hide things under the rug. They will discover these flaws sooner or later, and will chastise you (probably in an article in a business magazine) if you have made them look like fools for buying into your negligent hype.
Thoughts, comments? Leave them below!
Until next time...
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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.
December 12, 2013
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