Launching a new product is a process not an event

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On a summer’s morning in 1979 a group of journalists from around the world were invited by the Sony Corporation to gather at Yoyogi Park in Tokyo.

Each person was handed a blue metal device that no one had ever seen before. It was, they were told, a Walkman.

The reporters were then instructed to put on the headphones attached to the Walkman and to press the play button.

A recording said simply: “Look out into the park.”

Everyone present suddenly noticed that they were not alone in using a Walkman.

All around them people were running, doing aerobics and skateboarding. There was even a Buddhist monk.

“This is the first time anyone had ever seen that,” explains Simon Adler on a recent episode of the brilliant podcast Radiolab.

“Most of these people had probably never worn headphones before. They’ve never had stuff pumped directly into their ears. They’ve never listened to something outside before, short of transistor radio or maybe a boombox. And they’re now doing it altogether, but by themselves.”

As far as product launches go, it was one of the best – right up with when Steve Jobs held the first iPhone aloft in front of a stunned audience in 2007.

Of course, most new products are not as world-changing as the Walkman or the iPhone. Most new things come into the world not with gasps of amazement but with silent indifference.

For most businesses, lacking the clout of Sony in the late 20th Century, or Apple in early 21st, the launch itself is largely irrelevant.

What matters is not the metaphorical cutting of ribbon, but instead a commitment to ongoing marketing that defines and then amplifies a clear value proposition, in a consistent way over a sustained campaign.

There are other benefits to a soft rather than splashy launch. Getting a shiny new product into the marketplace, while operating below the radar, provides an opportunity to gather much needed feedback from customers that can be used to make it better.

As they say: don’t set off all your fireworks at once.

A version of this article was published as part of a weekly column by Guy Cookson on marketing, design, trends and strategy in the Lancaster Guardian, Blackpool Gazette, Lancashire Post and other titles. See our brand, web design and marketing recent projects.

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