In the early 2000s, when Steve Jobs donned his black polo neck and embarked on a series of seminal product launches, not only did he dramatically change Apple’s fortunes and usher in a new phase in tech development, he redefined the purpose of the product launch itself. It’s no overstatement to say that the event surrounding the launch of a new product is now a critical moment for a brand, particularly in the mobile sector.
Major brands are now acutely aware that a successful product launch is not just defined by the initial reaction of tech reporters and bloggers, but by how it is perceived online. Talking shops like Twitter and Facebook place a product under an unprecedented level of scrutiny in an incredibly short period of time. An underwhelming launch can colour the perception of a new mobile handset and immediately put marketing efforts on the back foot.
For Samsung and Apple, who are locked in a titanic battle across numerous tech verticals, each product launch becomes a battle for ascendency in the smartphone market. It is therefore key for these brands to know not just whether people like or dislike their product, but also why.
The first step is to monitor the volume of product related conversations both before and after a launch. A high volume of online conversations ahead of a launch is a double-edged sword. It indicates both anticipation and expectation. Even if the product is sound and the launch professional, a failure to meet expectations will instantly garner a negative backlash online, drowning out all other conversations. A prime example is the launch of the Facebook mobile operating system in April 2013. Many social media users had expected the unveiling of a ‘Facebook mobile phone’ and were duly disappointed with the OS. It is therefore crucial to monitor these conversations to ensure speculation does not get out of hand. By leaking information in the run up to the product launch, brands can ensure that they deflate the more outlandish expectations of online users.
Analysing the sentiment of the comments will provide a guide 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 a ‘neutral’ response online. It’s 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 was an example of this, with 60% of responses registering as neutral.
Lastly, it is important to place the numbers in context. The best methodology is to compare like for like products and, ideally, launches that take place in a similar timeframe. 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.
In recent years, Samsung has usurped Apple’s position to become the king of successful hardware launches. The launch of the Samsung S5 is a case and point. Announced during the 2014 Mobile World Congress, the device was mentioned online 1,246,000 times, which equalled 44.2% 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 it was unveiled 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.
In marked contrast, Blackberry, a company under severe financial pressures, barely registered a response with social media users with only 250,000 users commenting on the low key launch of its Q20. It’s important to note that the device itself received solid reviews, but the simple fact was that users had not clocked that it had launched, coupled with the fact that the handset itself was not compelling enough to perpetuate subsequent conversations. These two things doomed the Q20 to online obscurity.
In short, when preparing for a hardware launch, companies need to ensure that besides being able to walk the walk, their products need to be able to talk the talk – or rather, create buzz. The key to a successful launch hinges on having a strong product supported by a well thought-out and fully integrated marketing campaign.
Catriona Oldershaw, Managing Director UK of Synthesio, outlines ways in which mobile companies can ensure their product launches generate positive buzz online