By now, almost all the western world — and a good chunk of Asia and Africa — have all heard of Apple’s latest breakthrough product, the iPad.
The sheer number of impressions this launch has generated is in itself impressive. But what is even more impressive is the use of early adopters and key influentials to drive the story, enthusiasm, excitement and buzz for Apple, not the company itself.
Remember that Apple is not a company that is that into social media, yet check out the Twitter hashtag #ipad and end user blogs to get a sense for the mountain of coverage and interest generated for the iPad.
How does it do this? Good old-fashioned smart PR and a communications strategy that relies on the magnification effect of early adopters and influentials to amplify launch noise via traditional PR, Word of Mouth (WoM) buzz and aspirational excitement.
Here’s some of the ground rules:
1. Carefully pick and choose your hero product(s) for the year and put as much wood behind these arrows as you can. The iPad was THE launch of 2010 for Apple. The company maintains ongoing influencer relations, a thorough reviewer’s program, and ongoing engagement for other products, like their laptops, iPods, etc., but the focus was iPad and later this year iPhone OS version 4.0. That’s it. Laser-like focus, picking and backing your product bets, not spreading the wealth across a wide product range that all cry out for PR support, even though they may be close to end-of-life (EOL) and have reached the downward side of the S-curve. The other products bask in the halo of the hero products. See what the iPod did for Macintosh sales post launch? See what the iPhone has done for iPad sales?
2. Focus on long term influencer and early adopter relations and engagement. These are your natural allies. Cultivate them, let them talk for you because they ultimately carry far more weight and credibility than your own Press Releases, blog posts or advertising. Engage with not just technology influencers, but with business, social and celebrity folk that give you brand cache and style. It’s no accident that Stephen Fry is an Apple fan boy, so is half of Hollywood, thanks to decades of engagement with product placement on set and off set, with the stars themselves. Every episode of Seinfeld has a Macintosh and a small statuette of Superman in the background. Check it out next time re-run comes on. At one point, Jerry Seinfeld had a Mac too (and probably still does even though he did ads with Bill Gates last year).
So how does this translate into the iPad launch? How do these uber-strategies map with launch tactics? Well, here’s a synopsis:
The iPad launched officially on April 1, but embargoes were set for March 31. This means a wave of launch buzz and hype 24 hours prior to people being able to buy one (not counting the rumours and speculation in the prior nine months).
Key influencers were seeded with Product Verification & Testing (PVT) units three to four months out in some cases, depending on when these units were deemed stable enough and of sufficient quality to pass muster for people that will forgive non-production machine foibles because they love the technology and because they consider themselves Apple-insiders. These units went to key Apple business partners/friends (remember Google CEO Eric Schmidt got a pre-production iPhone and not so surreptitiously flashed it at Davos, where it stole the headlines rather than dry economic prognostications?), celebrities, technology gurus, etc. Also note that they all honoured the strict Apple NDAs — no insider wants to be ostracized and get thrown out of the club.
Journos/key bloggers in the US (a very select few, high impact folks) had their iPads under NDA for a week prior to launch, enough for them to play and enjoy, but not enough time for them to be too heavily critical. Launch reviews reflect that and it’s commonsense when you think about it. The shine always rubs off the shiny new toy the longer you have it. This early enthusiasm sets the tone for the launch coverage, providing the initial launch gestalt.
Celebrity Twitter-ers helped fuel the social media buzz. Stephen Fry was on the US West Coast at launch (funny how that happened) and put up video of the un-boxing of his iPad. He openly Tweeted he had one a day prior to the rest of the population. Robert Scoble did the same thing, except for the video of the unboxing (he later went out and bought two more iPads because his family kept hijacking his — and Tweeted about it). Reviews popped up the day before the official launch by Walt Mossberg and David Pogue in the US — two of the most highly respected tech journos in the country. Surgical media placement and engagement for maximum impact rather than a broad ‘hit as many as you can’ approach most companies take.
Foreign (that is, non-US) media got flown to a glitzy New York event and even if there was no pricing for their markets, they got to play with units at launch in salubrious surroundings and with high profile Apple execs. They in turn also had the opportunity if they were keen enough to buy their own units in the US, which judging by the coverage, a good few did, thereby continuing the buzz momentum.
And the result is, as you can see, a wave of initial great coverage that drives WoM, then sales and sets the tone.
More importantly its a self-reinforcing cycle of clever, surgical market engagement that fuels Apple’s mystique as a cult rather than as a technology company.
And the interesting thing is that other companies with ‘insanely’ great products could be doing the same to build their own mystique and stories. Mass communications doesn’t have to be massive, just smart.
Postscript: The iPhone OS 4.0 was announced a few days ago. Only Apple developers are supposed to have the beta code for testing. Stephen Fry, who last time I checked can’t cut a line of code, Tweeted yesterday that he had just installed it on his 3G iPhone. General availability for the masses is not expected until the northern hemisphere summer/autumn (fall).
We (Ogilvy PR’s tech practice) often hear from business to business technology marketers and tech PR professionals looking for a better understanding of Government – selling to it, benefiting from stimulus spending, and how the regulatory environment may evolve. I want to share a great piece that our Ogilvy Government Relations team has developed. Having access to thinking like this is one of the things I love about working at a full-service firm that knows tech PR but thinks far beyond.
For any of you with an interest in marketing products and services to the federal government, please take a look at these tips on how to build a stable and thriving federal sales market.
Selling to the Federal Market: Complications and Opportunities
With declining commercial sales and an uncertain economic climate, many tech and IT companies are looking to the one certain growth market in today’s economy – the federal government. Given the growth in federal spending projected over the next four years in every area from healthcare to border security, there is no doubt that federal agencies will continue to procure record amounts of IT services and equipment.
However, selling in this market can often be a frustrating dead end for companies not attune to doing business with the government. Most adventures in government sales for the uninitiated bear little fruit for many years. The most frequent refrain from disappointed vendors is that the government could not “see the wisdom or merits of their technology or services.”
There are ways to build a stable and thriving federal sales market, but it takes commitment, time, money and savvy to realize that goal. Below are a few tips for those looking to break into the federal market or to significantly expand their presence.
1) Know Your Market and Capabilities – Whether it is health IT, communications, data storage and retrieval, or complex systems integration, you must have active intelligence of federal opportunities before word hits the street. This task requires active knowledge of agency plans for future budget cycles, agency requirements and Executive Branch and Congressional Initiatives. Furthermore, you must know whether your technology aligns with that particular need and is either competitive or can represent best value to the government.
2) Be in Your Market – Simply coming to Washington from the home office, armed with minimal intelligence to meet with a government official is totally ineffective. At best you will get a meeting. At worst, you will be regarded as an outsider with an unproven track record. Government purchasers are loathe to trust the untested and unknown. Without a consistent physical presence in Washington, you will never gain the trust of careerists whose futures depend on making the right decisions.
3) Staff Up – To be successful at both step one and two, a company must have a dedicated federal sales force and a lobbying team to open doors and provide intelligence on an almost daily basis. In addition, the company must have employees who have experience in the complex world of government contracting and requirements, and relationships with agencies that they have worked for or with in the past. This is a particular type of expertise that is no different from that of a software engineer or other technician and it can prove invaluable in winning contracts.
4) Team Up – Often the easiest way to win government business is to team with larger corporations or trusted government service providers who already have large, flexible contracts in place with agencies. Going after large contracts with major players as a sub can get the company in the door and begin building relationships for future opportunities.
5) Brand, Brand, Brand – As noted above, lack of familiarity in Washington breeds contempt. A company in the federal market must be able to tout not only its name and technology, but its past and present performance as a government contractor. Again, without the commitment to advertise and use public relations in the federal sales arena, few government purchasers will feel comfortable enough to take a chance on an unknown vendor.
According to a new book released by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, journalists face “two years of carnage”.
Titled “A report, Life in the Clickstream: The Future of Journalism”, the book also revealed it’s very possible that the biggest media companies in the US will come crashing down due to cost-cutting and reduced quality, while five in 11 newspapers will vanish in Britain. After all, more than 12,000 journalists around the world lost their jobs this year.
Media Alliance federal secretary Christopher Warren said that usually, journalism has traditionally “thrived on the emergence of disruptive technologies even as economic models have changed”. The Australian newspaper spoke to Christopher and filed a story yesterday.
In the article Warren says: “Like all crises, the challenges journalism faces are rewriting everything we thought we knew about the news media and causing us to question the basis on which the industry has survived and flourished.” Whilst journalists are using technology to find new and progressive ways to keep the public informed, in the report 70 per cent revealed they’re now experiencing increased workloads due to a shrinking of the workforce.
As to the future, 19 per cent said they were excited about the future of journalism, but 35 per cent said they were pessimistic about their prospects.
Just like the PR industry has to modify the rule book in terms of how it uses social media and the Internet to help its clients participate in conversations and reach new influencers outside heritage media; by the same token journalists and publishers face even tougher challenges to retain relevance, especially as audiences continue to fragment the world over and chose multiple sources for information. Add to this the financial crisis now sweeping the world and further cost pressures will only amplify the speed of change.
The Australian article looks at what might evolve if mainstream news organisations collapse, citing research from the City University of New York. That says an organic news organisation could evolve – based on bloggers, video shooters and photographers, it would be augmented by community managers, program developers artists and run by just a handful of editors, all on an annual budget of $2.1 million.
On a brighter note, and to update on my last post about PC Magazine’s decision to cull its print title, Roy Morgan has just released circulation figures in Australia for the last 12 months. The good news is that PC magazines did remarkably well. PC User’s readership climbed from 281,000 to 313,000 while APC went up from 275,000 to 280,000. PC Authority went up from 154,000 to 158,000, and PC Powerplay up from 111,000 to 115,000. Netguide was the only tech title to record a fall, dipping from 106,000 to 99,000. For even more analysis, check out last year’s results to compare.
Some good news to end on.