Marketers plan campaigns around new product launches to maximize the impact of industry buzz and generate sales leads. In the fall of 2007, Cathy Wolfe, Director, Marketing Services, Toshiba America Medical Systems, faced a rare opportunity when supporting the launch of the company’s new CT scanner.
Advances made during the product-development process allowed Toshiba to leapfrog the highest level of scanner technology on the market. Wolfe and her team realized they were sitting on a blockbuster. They wondered whether keeping product details secret until launch day would create an outsized response from industry media reps and prospects.
“In the diagnostic imaging industry, a lot of times there’s a lot of information being shared about products before they are launched,” says Wolfe. “We took a different approach and decided to underpromise and overdeliver.” CAMPAIGN
Wolfe and her team conducted a stealth product launch to unveil a 320-slice CT scanner at the Radiological Society of North America’s Annual Meeting – a five-day event late last November that attracted 60,000 attendees from the medical community. The industry expected the launch of a new Toshiba scanner –with 256 detector rows, not 320 rows that could create the most complete image of a human body ever made.
They developed marketing materials and activities without revealing the secret of their scanner. Here are the six steps they took:
-> Step #1. Require team to sign a non-disclosure agreement
To reduce the chance of news leaking before the RSNA meeting, only a small group of people were informed about the plan to launch the 320-slice scanner. Each team member then had to sign a non-disclosure agreement when they were brought into the process.
Among the approximately 30 people who signed the NDA:
o Business unit managers
o Marketing managers
o Service engineers who installed trial units at hospitals
Trials on the units took place at five partner hospitals. So, Wolfe’s team faced a separate challenge of recruiting those institutions to keep quiet about the scanner as well. They didn’t think it was appropriate to ask customers to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Instead, the head of Toshiba’s worldwide imaging division visited each hospital and asked the key players in the trials there not to reveal the scanner’s capabilities. Plans for the surprise launch were explained, and the institutions were offered the chance to be a part of the expected buzz at the trade show.
“Because of strong relationships with these five centers, they honored the request,” says Robb Young, Senior Manager, Cardiology CT.
-> Step #2. Adapt marketing materials
The marketing team learned that they would be launching a 320-slice scanner only a few months before the trade show. They adapted marketing materials already in the works to reflect the change.
The name for the new device, “Aquilion ONE,” eased the adaption by reflecting its ability to deliver a complete organ image in one pass. Names of previous scanners had included a number of detector rows.
The new name allowed the team to retain much of the marketing materials already in development and simply update the specifications to reflect the expanded capabilities. “It wasn’t really a lot of changes,” says Wolfe.
-> Step #3. Decline to comment about launch
In the run-up to the launch, Wolfe and Young replied with no comment to typical questions from reporters and customers about a new scanner being unveiled at the trade show. The 256-slice scanner had been in development and beta testing for several years, so many customers and reporters anticipated an official launch at the trade show.
The team simply said it was too early to discuss details of the launch, and adopted a strict policy of neither confirming nor denying assumptions. They did encourage reporters to visit the company booth at the trade show.
-> Step #4. Hold press conference and media tour
The team made the new scanner the focal point of its trade show booth and events. They kicked off the event with a press conference and media tour that set the tone for the five-day meeting. Details:
- Media members were briefed when the trade show floor opened – 10 a.m. – on the first day of the conference.
- Reporters were invited to hear a discussion and take a walkthrough of the new scanner. That education was designed to have them spread the news to attendees from day one.
- The company booth, which opened at the same time, was dedicated to explaining the development of the 320-slice scanner. It included:
o Model of the new scanner unit
o Display that explained the evolution of scanner technology
o Technical and sales staff on hand to answer questions
-> Step #5. Private events for customers and prospects
The media tour and product-launch announcement were followed by two invitation-only events for customers, prospects and medical personnel.
Separate sessions were held on the first and second nights of the trade show at Union Station in Chicago. They hosted two versions of the event because trade show rules limited each to 500 radiologists.
The marketing team sent invitations to a list of customers, prospects, radiologists, hospital administrators and technologists.
They identified potential attendees using several sources:
o Sales team recommendations of their top prospects
o House database of customers
o Radiologists and other medical staff registered for the trade show
Invitations were sent by email or through personal notes and telephone calls by sales and marketing staff. Print and online advertisements also ran with major industry publications.
Attendees had to register for the events using a special landing page linked to email invitations and industry ads.
The events featured presentations from the company and the radiology staff of the five hospitals that had installed test units. They gave the audience a description of their hands-on experience with the scanner.
-> Step #6. Track trade show leads and follow up
The events team kept track of trade show leads by scanning attendee badges of prospects who visited the booth.
As soon as the product was revealed, the team launched a series of online marketing materials to maintain momentum.
o Microsite dedicated to CT technology that outlined the specifications of the new scanners and examples of clinical applications
o New white paper discussing the technology
o PowerPoint presentation for sales team
o Q&A document to answer questions about the scanner’s technical capabilities
o Bound book – rather than the typical brochure – that discussed the improvements of the new system
“The whole process of having something new every week continues momentum and gets information spread out to the market,” says Young.
Overwhelming success! Not only did the stealth campaign keep the technological advancement under wraps, the surprise made the new scanner the talk of the trade show.
“It exceeded expectations,” says Wolfe. “We weren’t sure how successful we were going to be in keeping it quiet. When you have something that generates so much excitement, you naturally want to tell someone else. We were really pleased with fact that we executed the strategy very successfully.”
The buzz showed up in the key metrics Wolfe’s team tracked:
- 98% of the trade media at the show attended the product-launch; some reporters had articles available online the same day.
- More than 1,600 guests attended the private events, doubling the team's goal
- Booth traffic translated into 299 leads generated at the event – a 374% increase over the number of leads generated the previous year. “There were people who historically never have gone into the Toshiba booth,” says Young, “[Including] hospitals that might have contracts with some of our competitors.”
- 50 orders for the $2.5 million scanner from hospitals around the world had been placed by June.
Wolfe credits the success to careful planning, close collaboration and frequent meetings during the run-up to the trade show. “People really understood what this meant to the company,” she says, “No one wanted to be the one who ruined it.”Useful links related to this article
Creative Samples from Toshiba's Stealth Product Launch:
Past Sherpa Case Studies -
How a Single Email Led to the Best Product Launch Ever - Test Results
How Personalized Video & Telemarketing Viral Effort Built Really Great Buzz for Product Launch
Radiological Society of North America:
Toshiba America Medical Systems: