Applying the iPad product launch to every day business.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably aware that last week Apple announced the newest addition to their lineup, the iPad. After months of speculation, leaked specs, pricing suppositions and hundreds of leaked photos and imagined renderings, Steve Jobs came on stage and showed off what he calls a “magical and revolutionary” device. The initial response was mostly ho-hum at best and the throng expecting a life changing device was left mostly unsatisfied.

Personally, I was initially excited and intrigued when Steve first showed off the device, but as he went through his demo and brought game developers on stage to show off their work, then highlighted items I found to be extremely dull (I’m looking at you iWork) I found myself less and less interested in the device and instead thinking about “what could have been.” Judging from the response I’m seeing on most gadget focused websites, I’m not alone.

But then I took a step back, this is a company that is forecast their Q1 revenue at over $15B, so obviously they’re doing something right. In looking at their product launch, there were many elements that jumped out at me at that I can apply to my business process. These elements fall on the agency side as well as on the client side. Let’s take a look at some of these.

Build a buzz

I’m not breaking new ground when I say this, but no one knows how to build a buzz better than Apple. If you follow their activity closely, you’ve probably been expecting a table announcement for several months. There are literally thousands of websites who do nothing but speculate on what Apple is going to do next. Apple of course never addresses any of these items publicly (as anyone who has ever asked an Apple Genius knows firsthand) but more importantly, they never try to stop the speculation.

The even more amazing part of their buzz building is that when it comes time to finally announce their newest product they don’t do a press release, or send out an email, they build an entire event out of it. The pictures from today showing crowds of invited guests standing in line, anxious to come in and hear what Apple had to say were unbelievable. Even though every single person in that line was 99% sure of Apple’s announcement, they still waited with bated breath as Steve Jobs stepped up on stage. More unbelievable, Apple manages to do this time and time again.

Now, I’m not saying that your business is going to build the kind of buzz that Apple does, but the takeaway here is that you should attempt some buzz building techniques with your own product or service.

Do you have a new product launching next month? Send out a few prototypes or samples to some key bloggers in your arena with a personalized note letting them know they are getting a first peek and that you would appreciate their feedback.

Is your agency offering a new service starting next week? Drop some semi-obvious hints on your twitter stream and encourage followers to re-tweet with promises of discounted pricing or even free service once it’s launched.

Are you finally wrapping up that 6-month website redesign for your client? Use facebook as a launching pad a few days (or even weeks) prior to the live launch. Introducing your audience to a beta version (even if it’s just a sneak peek at a few pages) will yield you some valuable feedback.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. From experience, I can tell you without a doubt that building a buzz prior to a launch (whether it be service or product oriented) will always result in a more active initial response when that launch finally takes place.

Curb your expectations

This particular piece falls more on the client side than the agency side. As I read comments on engadget’s live blog, it seemed like everyone was upset that the iPad didn’t have “this feature” and “that feature” and was “tied to AT&T” and so forth. I felt the same way, but the thing I was overlooking was that Apple had just released a beautiful new gadget that did a lot of things well. Everyone had built up this unrealistic idea in their minds of what the final product would be, to the point that no matter what Apple presented today, they were likely to be disappointed.

Being on the agency side of business for so long, I’ve seen this same reaction from clients. This occurs most commonly in the digital and social media arena. We’ve all been there before, a client has no prior experience in either field and leaves you with the job of creating a website, building a digital marketing campaign, setting up a PPC campaign on google adwords and creating a facebook fan page. You walk them through the process, submit deliverables along the way, and when it comes time to present your final pieces they seem underwhelmed. Initially this is upsetting, but as you talk through the presentation, you realize their disappointment is not because of what you delivered, but rather the version of the project they had imagined in their own mind. Once you explain the limitations of their server (and budget) for the website, and the limitations offered by Outlook 2007 when it comes to email programming, as well as the design guidelines put in place by adwords and facebook, they begin to realize that you have actually delivered something amazing.

Focus on your core market

Following up on the idea of curbing expectations, is Apple’s focus on their core market. As they showed games, iBooks and iWork on the iPad, I kept waiting for them to move into some more interesting areas. Where is the mobile.me cloud I had heard rumors about, or streaming audio via iTunes through the acquisition of Lala, video conferencing, multi-tasking, how do I set up remote connections to my server and access the movies on my AppleTV. It suddenly struck me that none of these were ever going to show up. Instead, more shots of the iTunes store, demos on purchasing movies and music and apps, all things I don’t care about. Almost simultaneously I started to see facebook updates from my less-techy friends and family with raves about the iPad and comments about rushing out to get one immediately.

It was then I realized that Apple isn’t going to make $15B this quarter because of me or people like me and that’s why the iPad was built the way it was. Rather than satisfy the 1% (this is a rough guesstimate) of their potential user base who want all these wonderful features, they’re going to satisfy the other 99% who want a pretty device that is easy to operate and works the same way as the things they already have (iPhone, iPod Touch). As with most Apple items, I’m sure the technology will be left in place that allows the hacker world to “jailbreak” the iPad and then add on all the things we want. But while I’m waiting for that, Apple will be selling millions of iPads to their core audience.

Taking this back to the business world, I often see a lack of focus both on the agency side and the client side when it comes to identifying their audience. One of the things we do at ParkerWhite is address this issue first and foremost. We have some of the most gifted designers in the industry and our strategy and thinking is top notch, but that doesn’t always mean we need to deliver the most out of the box and overly complex solutions. Sure it looks good, but is it solving our client’s problem? Is it speaking to their key demographic? That is always the most important thing. Of course this also means that when that key demographic is looking for the most amazing, never-before-seen creative, we’re going to deliver it.

On the client side, focusing on your core market often times means looking at deliverables from your audience’s perspective and not your own. You have a 27″ monitor running an obscure version of Linux with the latest build of Opera and the new product website doesn’t load properly? Well, the new site is optimized for 1024 X 768 resolution on the latest Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer browsers because according to our analytics, that’s the category most of your visitors fall into. It’s not an attack on the client, but rather a focus on the core audience. Make sure that the deliverables are ideal for your target demographic even if they are not your personal favorite.

Don’t rush to judgment

Here are some reviews from 2001, when Apple introduced their first iPod:

“The iPod has good features, but this is a pretty competitive category,” [Stephen] Baker [an analyst atNPD Intelect] said. “The question is whether people want that robust of a feature set with that high of a price.”

“It’s another incentive for them that can convince people to buy a Mac,” [IDC Analyst Brian] Ma said.

and I would be remiss in not mentioning the infamous comment from Slashdot user “TheBrownFury”:

No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.

Not exactly what I would call glowing reviews. But as of January 2010, over 240,000,000 iPods have been sold worldwide and they have become ubiquitous with the term mp3 player.

How about some iPhone reviews, here are some I found online from Engadget:

“IT WONT REPLACE A BLACKBERRY, It’s not good for text input, it’s just not a business product”.

The iPhone will be coming with a polishing cloth because well of course its a fingerprint magnet as everyone figured.

Again, not a product everyone loved at release. But from a sales pov, the iPhone has sold almost 43 million units worldwide as of January 2010. Reviews wise, for the most part everyone who owns one loves it.

As I look through various websites and read the myriads of reviews and comments regarding the iPad, I can’t help but look back at people’s initial views on the iPod and iPhone. It faces many of the same “hurdles” as both of those products. Namely that there already products out there that do the same thing, arguably better. But as history has shown, these products were all massively successful in the long run.

As a client and an agency it’s easy to be overly judgmental and quickly disappointed when a campaign or product launch isn’t received well or immediately successful, but remember that you’re looking for long term success, not a flash in the pan. Be confident that you developed a strong plan, did your research and put out your best product, don’t let initial backlash put you down.

Of course, if your campaign or launch is an obvious complete failure then don’t be afraid to learn from your mistakes, admit you messed up and go back to the drawing board. I’m pretty sure Apple has a few of those in ther history as well (how many of you still have a G4 Cube?).

Leave them wanting more

The last thing that jumped out at me was all the things that should obviously have been on the iPad but were not. I’m talking about a webcam, a usb port, bluetooth connectivity, and other features readily available on an iPhone or iPod Touch. But again, this is a planned move by Apple. They know all about the early adopters, the people who will be waiting in line to buy an iPad the day it’s out and who will then immediately be on their twitter account, facebook, YouTube, etc. touting all the great things about this product. They’re the same ones that will be back in line when Version 2 comes out with all the “missing” features from Version 1. But the line will now be longer, because people who have learned to wait for that next version will now be in line with them.

Apple hasn’t had a major misstep in a long time. There is a reason their stock is so valuable, and their earnings are so prolific, and their design so innovative, and their CEO so revered (and at times reviled), they know what they’re doing. Of course the iPad could have had all the features you wanted, but that’s just not good business.

Agencies do this all the time. We put together a trend board, maybe a mock up or a composite of image to show you what the new website will look like, or how your new full page ad in this month’s issue of dwell will look. But we’re not going to give you everything up front. We want you to buy into us, and trust that we’re going to deliver everything you want.

Just like Apple we also need that early adopter, the one who says “Well you’ve never done a brochure, but your print ad was so amazing that I’m willing to give you a chance.” And when we deliver on that brochure, you’re coming back for another and bringing 2 more product managers with you who need brochures as well.

So as you can see, there are a lot of things that we can learn from the launch of the new iPad. As an agency (or any service or product driven company) there are multiple elements that we can start applying to our own business today. As a client, there are elements of this launch that you can apply to your personal outlook on working with your vendors.

Do you agree with these ideas? Were there any other elements of this launch that you can apply to your own business? Feel free to comment below.