When the world’s largest bookseller prepared to unveil NOOKcolor – the first full-color touch Reader’s Tablet – Barnes & Noble (B&N) turned to Fleishman-Hillard (FH) to help drive what would be the most important launch in the company’s 40-year history. The introduction of NOOKcolor marked the culmination of a transformative year-and-a-half in which it entered the digital book and device markets with its award-winning NOOK™ brand. Now an established leader in the digital reading arena, B&N was preparing to introduce a new device – one that would create an entirely new product category. However, NOOKcolor not only had to stand apart from several competitors — each of which presented its own challenge — but also could not marginalize the company’s current lineup of NOOK devices. From the positioning platform to the media strategy to the launch event and device review management, the FH and B&N team orchestrated a seamless debut for this new device. The rave reviews and coverage continue to roll in, propelling sales exponentially ahead of projections as NOOKcolor quickly became the company’s best-selling product. Most importantly, the company has reinforced its leadership position in the bookselling and technology industries by successfully communicating a laser focus on what it knows best – and better than any of its competitors: reading.
In 2009, B&N made a triumphant return to the digital marketplace with the summer launch of the world’s largest eBookstore and fall introduction of NOOK, the most full-featured dedicated eReading device on the market. A multibillion-dollar business venture, the company’s re-entry into the eBook market reinforced the company’s position as a pioneer and leader of the bookselling industry, and established itself in a market previously dominated by Amazon and Sony. Within a year, B&N commanded more than 20 percent of the eBook market, and the award-winning NOOK became its best-selling product. Dozens of companies were entering the eReader market, tapping into the growing digital reading trend. Then came Apple, tilting the landscape again with the much-anticipated iPad, a multipurpose tablet that includes, among other functions, an enhanced digital reading experience. The launch of iPad prompted many analysts to predict that E-ink (black and white) eReading devices, such as NOOK and Amazon’s Kindle, would lose significant market share to eReaders that employed color. What they didn’t know was that B&N, as part of its aggressive digital strategy, was well into developing NOOKcolor, the first full-color touch tablet, built on Android™, and expressly designed for reading everything – books, magazines, newspapers and children’s books – all in one elegantly compact package. Loaded with features – and the richest collection of content – NOOKcolor would offer an entirely new way to experience reading. The company called on FH to build a strategy and positioning that would clearly define the device’s unique proposition in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
Each existing player and new entrant into the eReader space, including the current line-up of NOOK devices, posed unique challenges that would inform the team’s launch strategy for NOOKcolor:
• Competition: The demand for digital reading catalyzed an onslaught of new eReaders, as well as eBook-friendly apps for computers and smartphones, in what was becoming an increasingly saturated and competitive space.
• Differentiation: Given the crowded environment, it was critical to position NOOKcolor with care, to mitigate the risk that this device would be dismissed as either an amplified version of a dedicated eReader or a diluted version of a multipurpose tablet.
• Evolution, not dissolution: As the latest addition to the NOOK device family, which includes both NOOK 3G and NOOK Wi-Fi® E-Ink models and free eReading software, it was important to showcase the new NOOKcolor and its tremendous capabilities without eclipsing other members of the brand’s portfolio.
The collective B&N and FH team was charged with creating a strategic launch and communications campaign that would:
• Create an impactful and compelling launch event – one that would clearly differentiate the device from the competition and signal the significance of the launch.
• Cement the company’s leadership position as an advocate for readers and the only company capable of delivering the ultimate reading experience.
• Create awareness and drive demand for NOOKcolor, as well as continue to support and promote the company’s entire brand of eReading products, particularly important for the 2010 holiday shopping season.
The campaign was a two-prong approach – defining the product and then introducing it.
Defining a new category of product: FH began the planning process by working with B&N to establish a well-defined message platform that would clearly differentiate NOOKcolor and reiterate the company’s clear vision, business strategy, promise and commitment. With NOOKcolor, B&N had succeeded in combining the functionality and convenience of a 7-inch wireless tablet with all the benefits of a dedicated eReader. To effectively define and own this leadership position, FH dubbed NOOKcolor the first-ever Reader’s Tablet, designed explicity for people who love to read everything and for whom reading in brilliant color is the killer app. By keeping the focus squarely on the reading experience, and emphasizing NOOKcolor’s unique features, FH succeeded in differentiating the device from other tablets and eReaders on the market, while positioning this latest B&N offering as an extension, not reinvention, of the NOOK portfolio of products.
Introducing NOOKcolor: On Oct. 26, 2010, B&N launched NOOKcolor, representing the biggest news to come out of the company in its 40-year history. Following much speculation and anticipation, the official unveiling took place at the company’s Union Square store in New York City to an audience of more than 150, comprising technology and publishing partners and other VIPs, including a who’s who of nearly 60 leading business, technology and consumer media and industry analysts. This high-risk event opened with a prologue that was essentially a small-scale original theater production, complete with two actors, four dancers, a high-concept set with a giant, rotating NOOKcolor replica, and an original music score. The opening act was conceived to showcase the product benefits – not within the “speeds and feeds” vernacular of consumer technology – but as only B&N can: from the reader’s perspective. The dramatic presentation demonstrated “A Day in the Life” of NOOKcolor’s bulls-eye consumer, a busy woman with a multidimensional life and reading habits as diverse as they are prolific. Media seemed appreciative of this departure from the typical presentation format. As the New York Times described, it was an “elaborate press conference…with dancers, actors and a storyline about a modern-day reader who enjoys consuming digital books.”
After the performance, keynote presentations were made by the company’s CEO and president, followed by a media Q&A session and NOOKcolor demonstrations. Leading media and analysts alike openly complimented the device during their first looks, and wrote overwhemingly positive pieces with strong message pull-through. Outlets such as the Financial Times, PC Magazine, LAPTOP and Consumer Reports highlighted everything from the screen aesthetics to social media sharing capabilities through Facebook and Twitter – all distinguishing features that were heavily emphasized in the presentations and demonstrations. Gartner’s lead industry analyst noted that Barnes & Noble, with its “Reader’s Tablet” positioning, “appears to have nailed it.” Following the event, the team worked closely with leading technology reviewers, providing demo units and detailed briefings to clearly distinguish NOOKcolor’s capabilities from other eReading devices and tablets. This carefully orchestrated effort resulted in high praise and critical acclaim from leading technology and consumer media outlets who called it “the best standalone color eBook Reader we’ve ever tested,” (Consumer Reports) “a winner,” (The Wall Street Journal) and “makes a strong case for the color e-reader, and it does so in a far more compelling way than any other device has so far” (PC World).
The campaign was highly successful in cementing B&N as a leader in digital reading, holding more than 20 percent of a fast-growing eBook market – greater than the company’s significant share in the physical book market – and propelling sales for NOOKcolor to become the company’s best-selling product of the holidays. The launch also drove sales of the entire NOOK line of eReading devices, with millions sold, to become the company’s biggest best-seller in its 40-year history. Propelled by immensely successful sales of NOOKcolor, Barnes & Noble experienced the strongest bookstore holiday sales results in over a decade. Furthermore, strong device sales helped drive eBook content sales that significantly extended forecasts, with Barnes & Noble.com comparable sales increasing 78% compared to last year’s holiday selling season. The company’s sales momentum increased as the holiday season progressed, resulting in a comparable store sales increase for December of 12.8%.
Additional highlights include:
• NOOKcolor received 4/5 stars from leading outlets and was named “Editor’s Choice” by PC Magazine and CNET, as well as “The Best Android Tablet of the Year” by Gizmodo. It was the only eReading device in TIME Magazine’s “Top 10 Gadgets of 2010” – and was the newest product to make The Huffington Post’s “Best Tech of the Decade” list.
• The Wall Street Journal’s influential technology column clearly echoed our messaging in calling NOOKcolor“unapologetically focused on reading,” and advised readers “If you love reading…the Nook Color has you covered.”
• The New York Times’ leading technology columnist, previously critical of B&N’s first device, said NOOKcolor was “overall, a joy to use”… “bristling with features”… and “magazines are amazing.” Overall, “it’s clear to me that color and touch are the future of eBook readers,” and “we’ll all remember this machine as the one that showed the way.”
• Associated Press asserted that NOOKcolor was “the best dedicated e-reader on the market this holiday season,” while Gizmodo predicted that “as the first major color reader, it’s gonna be on a lot of Christmas lists.”
• NOOKcolor also received high honors as the “People’s Choice Award” winner at the celebrated Last Gadget Standing competition at the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show.