by Andrea Johnson
Your engineers have invented a product they believe will transform the industry and they've toiled years to perfect it. Now it's your turn. You have to attain marketplace feedback and launch the new product.
In the process, if any details about this game-changer are leaked to a viciously competitive marketplace, it could decimate the years of work and the millions of dollars in resources.
This scenario has the ingredients for a marketer's worst nightmare. But Skyline, a trade show exhibit manufacturer, transformed it into a dream come true when it launched its Skyline WindScape product in July.
Within two days of the launch, dozens of orders arrived for units that sell for up to $6,000. Presently, Skyline has exceeded aggressive sales forecasts by 38%.
Skyline achieved an unprecedented launch for an industry-transforming product by listening carefully to its marketplace while walking the fine line between under- and over-sharing. In the months leading up to the launch, this balance could have been easily toppled and taken years of work down with it.
This case study outlines the three critical steps that helped Skyline successfully walk the fine line between product confidentiality and promotion.
Step #1. Keep the new product details secret
Before sharing a single detail about WindScape with anyone — inside or outside the company — the legal team made sure there was a signed non-disclosure agreement.
"We explained to employees that it wasn't that we didn't trust them, we just don't want to put them in a position where they may say something at the wrong time," explained Sofia Troutman, Segment Manager, Skyline.
The project was kept under lock and key at corporate headquarters and code names were used to reference the initiative.
This had an unexpected benefit: It lent greater value to the project, and those who were in the know were especially honored to be a part of the process and compelled to keep their mouths shut.
Step #2. Use customer feedback from the beta test to shape product development and the marketing message
Non-disclosure agreements made it easier to refine the product by bringing in a select group of clients to review and use WindScape before its launch.
"The product and messaging were improved multiple times because of that," Jon Althoff, Senior Director of Global Marketing, Skyline said.
In one of those meetings, a client announced, "Wow, this would be great. Could it go in something smaller?"
"Well, we think we could get this in a backpack," responded Pierre Menard, Director of Research, Design and Innovation, Skyline.
That was precisely what the customer wanted and that feedback was the beginning of the WindScape tabletop display, now one of the top-selling lines.
This feedback also shifted the marketing message.
"We were really focused on the weight-and-freight story," Troutman explained. "While that's really important from a cost-saving perspective, for that do-it-yourself person who sets up her own display, a big benefit was being able to fly in the day of the show and leaving the day it ended. Before she'd have to fly in a day or two before and leave a day or two after. The value was both in time and cost saved."
Althoff is proud that engineering and marketing departments could set ego aside to understand what’s valuable to the customer.
"To launch a successful product, you have to have people who aren't afraid to hear harsh reality," he said. "It says a lot about Pierre and Sofia and their teams that they were able to, at the eleventh hour, take critique to improve a product."
Step #3. Be willing to take a new marketing approach
Althoff exhorted his team to be as creative as they wanted.
"This product isn't like any other product we've introduced, so why would we market it the same way?" he asked.
The marketing team's response included tried-and-true tactics like email campaigns and dealer education programs, but they added fresh tactics including a teaser campaign, a live virtual global launch event and a microsite.
On July 10, from Skyline's International Design Center in Eagan, Minn., WindScape was officially introduced to the world in a live event broadcasted online. Even though it lasted merely 30 minutes, the planning took three months.
Here's what Skyline learned in the process of its virtual launch.
Hire vendors who specialize in hosting and producing virtual events if you don't have those experts in-house"They're the virtual technology experts," Althoff said. "They are the ones who can tell when a potential vendor is talking straight or shooting bull."
Mike Thimmesch, Director of Customer Engagement, Skyline, advised paying attention to recommendations and chemistry.
"You want to make sure it's someone you can work with and they can walk their talk," Thimmesch said.
Make sure the event is fast-paced and is concluded in 30 minutes "Anything beyond that and you'll lose people's attention," Troutman said.
Stage every single detail to ensure sound, lighting and pace are perfect both on camera and off and rehearse. This helped the presenters keep their cool during the live event when a fuse blew and shrouded a portion the stage in darkness.
"You never know what will happen when you go live," Troutman said. "But being well rehearsed allowed our team to move forward as if nothing happened, and fortunately, the incident was barely noticeable on the live feed."
Promote itNo matter how perfectly staged, an event is pointless if no one attends. So two weeks prior to the launch, Skyline held its biennial dealer expo at its headquarters.
The team timed it to prevent any damage from leaked secrets and to heighten excitement.
About 450 people from Skyline's 130 worldwide dealers attended. Attendees received all of the instruction and support materials needed to sell the WindScape product and host a WindScape launch party so customers could enjoy the virtual event at their offices.
Dealer materials included:
- The address and password to sign in to the live event
- The link to the WindScape microsite that went live on event day
- A PowerPoint presentation that reflected the live event presentation to serve as backup in case of technical difficulties
- Instructional and promotional videos
- Brochures and catalogs
- Social media messaging to promote the event online, including the WindScape launch event Twitter hashtag: #thischangeseverything
"It was really cool to see the hundreds of messages and pictures people were sending out via Twitter from across the world as the event was happening," Troutman said.
Several months in advance of the virtual event, Skyline sent WindScape teaser videos, developed in-house by their Creative Services Group, to their 130 dealers. They invited the dealers to forward them to their best customers, but to be discreet.
The goal was to create the buzz to convince dealers that they should participate in their global launch event. This is where fearless marketing came into play. Consider this ad narrative:
"The winds of change. What does it mean? To some it's additional refinement … to others, it’s more. It’s a divergence. A departure. Throw caution to the wind. A vortex that changes the landscape as we know it. The winds of change are upon Skyline. Where will they take you?"
Even Skyline's president was concerned copy like that might be overpromising. But Althoff insisted a gutsy product deserves gutsy marketing.
The day of the virtual event, Skyline launched its WindScape microsite. Giving a product a dedicated website was a first for Skyline.
"We wanted to have a unique place where everything that the customer wanted to know could be housed," Troutman said. "They didn't have to worry about navigating all over our home site to find out more. It made discovering this specific product very simple."
If you want to take the same approach on your next launch, be sure to think about traffic, she warned.
"We had some scares. The amount of traffic was much greater than what we expected"” Troutman explained. "So make sure that you're prepared for that."
Skyline’s planning and courage paid off. 75% of the dealers in North America and 60% of the dealers worldwide held launch events that coincided with the live virtual event. The remaining used Skyline materials to host events of their own afterward.
This helped result in Skyline exceeding aggressive sales forecasts by 38%. Within two days of the launch, dozens of orders arrived for units that sell for up to $6,000. This has presented Althoff with what he calls a high-class problem: Keeping up with demand.
"In this business, if you don't have trade show materials ready and the show is Saturday, you don’t have an event," Althoff explained. "We have to be on time and when you’re 38% ahead of forecast that can be challenging. But kudos to our production team, they've been able to keep us where we have not missed a show."
While the marketing team is delighted with the revenue and sales outcomes of a marketing effort that could have so easily gone awry, they won't be doing this again until they introduce another game-changing product.
"There's a fine balance between smart promotion and overselling," Althoff concluded. "I think you have to set your marketing plans appropriately for your product. In my mind, this is a once-in-a-career-lifetime product. When you have the potential to change an industry, you have to do it all differently."
Related ResourcesWindScape Teaser VideosSome Twitter responses to Skyline's launchSocial Media and Videos Create Product Launch Buzz: 8 tactics that helped a new product sell out in a matter of hours Webinar How To: The 8 roles you need to fill to make your virtual event a successSocial Media Marketing: An inside look at Neiman Marcus' Pinterest and blogger relations strategies