Successful product launches have the power to generate interest from consumers on a grand scale. Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs revelled in set piece product launches, turning them into annual events of pomp and anticipation. Competitors such as Samsung and Microsoft have since followed suit, with each player hoping to launch their latest flagship offerings with the same level of panache.
However, not every launch is guaranteed to elicit a warm consumer response. The development of social media has magnified the importance of product launches. They are now subjected to an unprecedented level of scrutiny. A bungled launch can, in some cases, ensure a swift burial for a new product.
The success of a launch can usually be determined by a number of factors. Firstly, the sheer number of product related conversations which take place, both before and after a launch, are a good indication of the level of anticipation and interest. For example, upon launch, the PS4 received three times the amount of online comment generated by the Xbox One launch, and as of March this year the PS4 has outsold the Xbox One by almost two to one.
Secondly, analysis of the sentiment of the comments will provide a guide as to how the product has been received. Obviously, if negative comments outweigh positive comments, chances are the launch will be deemed a failure. However, in some ways it is more damaging to have a product that receives an almost universal 'neutral' response online. This is the social media equivalent of a shoulder shrug and can indicate that a brand is so out of favour that consumers simply don't care what it has launched. The response to the Nokia X handset at Mobile World Congress is a case on point, with 60 per cent of responses registering as neutral.
Lastly, it is important to place the numbers in context, for example, a smartphone launch is not directly comparable to a gaming launch. For example, the launch of the Samsung S5 generated around half the amount of comments of the GTA V launch, however, it would be wrong to argue that GTA's launch was twice as successful. The best methodology is to compare like for like products, and ideally, launches that take place in a similar timeframe. For example, smartphone launches during Mobile World Congress, or gaming titles and consoles during the run-up Christmas. This will give the statistics greater weight by minimising the impact of variables such as the news cycle on a given day, and allow for direct competitor analysis.
Once we know what a successful launch looks like, it's relatively easy to see what makes a product launch work.
In recent years, Samsung has become the king of successful hardware launches. The launch of the Samsung S5 is a perfect example of this in action. Announced during Mobile World Congress, the device was mentioned online 1,246,000 times, which equalled 44.2 per cent of all brand led online conversations around the event. Feedback was also largely positive, with online users being particularly impressed by the S5's camera and display. This built on the successful launch of the company's S4 last year, which netted almost 90,000 social media mentions within just one hour after its launch, and which for many signalled the growing popularity of the brand.
Samsung's success can be attributed to both the strength of its product and the multi-million pound marketing campaign which supported the launch. In the case of the S4, consumers were encouraged to interact across Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and comment about the product using Samsung's assigned hashtags. This resulted in strong engagement, spreading Samsung's message far and wide.
In marked contrast, the Facebook 'phone' is a fairly recent example of a product launch falling flat. In this case there was a very clear disconnect between what consumers expected the announcement to be about and what was actually revealed. In the run up to the announcement, many people expected a brand new Facebook 'phone' to be announced, rather than a new operating system. This resulted in a rather subdued response online, with the initial announcement resulting in only half the comments secured by the Samsung S4. Ironically, unlike Samsung, Facebook failed to fully engage with social media users and therefore failed to convert potential consumers. Also, unlike Samsung, the product simply wasn't strong enough, with many users reporting a poor user experience.
By drawing direct comparisons between the respective launches of the Microsoft Xbox One and the Sony Playstation 4, we can further understand the fundamentals of a successful launch. The Xbox One was launched amidst a flurry of concerns and mixed messages relating to privacy and user control. Its Kinect technology and 'always-on' feature sparked many worries amongst would-be buyers who feared that their game console would be collecting a little too much information from them. In marked contrast, the PS4 avoided any privacy issues with its messaging boldly focused on its value for money and advanced gaming experience. The online buzz around the two consoles reflected the impact of the two launches. Following its release, the PS4 generated 40 per cent more online discussion than the Xbox One. Furthermore, the proportion of positive comments about the PS4 was three times higher than for the Xbox One.
When preparing for a hardware launch, companies need to ensure that besides being able to talk the talk, their products are also able to walk the walk. The key to a successful launch therefore hinges on having a strong product supported by a well thought-out and fully integrated marketing campaign.
In the cases of the Samsung S5 and Sony Playstation 4, the strengths of both products were effectively communicated to consumers and the media. The ensuing snowballing of social media conversations and online discussion then resulted in heaps of positive PR. Whereas the Facebook phone and Xbox One were both beset by negative comments relating to each product's failings. In the case of Facebook, the negative comments around the product dominated its product launch, resulting in an embarrassing headache for the company. In short, a successful launch should present a clear and engaging narrative extolling the virtues of a product and if necessary be able to deflect any criticisms.
Catriona Oldershaw is the UK Managing Director of Synthesio.