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Social Media, Participation Keys To Successful Product Launch

Julie Hall 26 Mar 2012

Studying new product launches for over a decade gives me confidence in three things that are almost always true of a new product launch: One, there is never enough time to plan a new product launch; two, there is never enough money allocated for a new product launch; and three, a new product launch will not succeed if the product isn't very good.

For 10 years, Schneider Associates' Most Memorable New Product Launch (MMNPL) survey has polled thousands of consumers and asked about their new product launch recall, new product purchasing behavior, and media consumption to help guide our clients and other marketers in new product launch planning. With about 40,000 new products being launched each year and less than half of those remaining on store shelves two years later, it’s imperative for a new product to stand apart from the competition. Looking at the MMNPL results every year lets us forecast what is capturing consumers’ attention and how they learn about new products.

When we started the Most Memorable New Product Launch research in 2002, television reigned as the most influential medium driving new product awareness. It was no surprise that thirty and sixty second spots were the centerpiece of a brand manager's launch planning. But something funny started to happen around 2003-2004. "Bloggers" started to demonstrate influence on search engine optimization.

"Word of mouth," a tactic which dates back to the Biblical age, started to attract C-suite attention and credibility. Thus, the "commercialization of chit chat" began. The "Word of Mouth Marketing Association" formed and agencies that dedicated themselves completely to using consumers to create "buzz" around new products thrived in this new economy.

As the decade continued, we saw the beginnings of the Great Recession when consumers told us they were using coupons to try new products. Coupon usage surged during this time and while new product launch numbers were weaker than in the past, one constant that remained was a majority of consumers could not name ONE new product launch unaided.

In 2006, we started looking at the impact of "mommy bloggers" on new product launch. We even launched our Mommies Clique network of Chief Mommy Organizers across the country. We started to see the impact that this new discipline, "social media," had on new product launch awareness. We started tracking how many consumers discovered new products via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or a blog.

Fast forward to now. Despite global financial uncertainty, food safety concerns and political unrest, new products have been launching in record numbers over the past few years. The media consumption and marketing trends of the past decade show a shift to social media usage and shed light on how the marketing landscape has changed.

Consumers still turn to television advertising as their primary source of new product information, and a constant second source is in-store signage and displays. But this year, we saw an unprecedented and monumental shift in the number of people who cited Facebook as a source of information about new product launches. In 2010, Facebook was nowhere near the top 10 sources of information about new products – and in the span of one year, it became the third most used source of information on new product launches, jumping from 17% to 40%. And this is just Facebook.

Other social mediums like Twitter and YouTube also saw strong gains. As media planning becomes more trans-media focused, we are certain brand managers will continue to use a mix of tried and true and brand new mediums to drive new product awareness. Just in the few months since our study was conducted, a new shiny technology, Pinterest, has started changing the way CPGs and retailers are marketing their new products and catalogs.

All marketing disciplines are experiencing a seismic shift in the way we are launching new products. "Relationship marketing" has replaced traditional product-focused marketing. The consumer is the new medium – and digitally empowered consumers are rewriting the rules of marketing.

The traditional approach to marketing a new product that is focused on The Four P's: Product, Price, Promotion and Placement have a new P to embrace: Participation. The proliferation of smartphones and faster mobile connections allow more interaction with social media channels. Product launches that stand apart in the coming decade will include more social than traditional media in their launch mix and one will play off the other. We know this because we’ve been studying the top product launches of the past decade and how consumers learned about them.

Of the thousands of new products launched since we started studying Launch in 2002, only ten products can claim to be among the Most Memorable New Product Launches of the decade. It was certainly the decade of the technology launch, with seven of the Top 10 being technology products. Whether it was connecting with others in person, online, through gaming or through social media apps on an iPhone or iPad, “social” drives memorability and this leads to purchase consideration.

From 2002 through 2008, consumers used 2-3 sources of information when making a purchasing decision, but by 2010 consumers were using 5 sources, and in 2011 they sought out an incredible 7 sources of information to assist with purchasing decisions.

At Schneider Associates, we view this as evidence that consumers are expanding the number of inputs and channels they use to research and learn about new products, which is also related to technology and the multiple screens we all use.

The rating of which media sources are most influential in driving awareness of new products also shows the power of social media. From 2002 through 2007, product sampling reigned as the most influential source of information affecting new product purchases --a trend that we anticipated before the “rise of sampling.” But interestingly, social media—the new word of mouth-- has taken over as the most influential source of information about new products, heralding this new age of consumer empowerment, the democratization of marketing influence and the importance of the fifth P: Participation.

Many brands are doing Participatory Marketing by blending online, offline, paid, owned and earned. Kraft involved its Real Women of Philadelphia network to launch its Philadelphia Cooking Cream to more than 50,000 house parties. Heinz launched and sold its new balsamic vinegar ketchup exclusively to its Facebook Fans. Digiorno announced its two new frozen food products, Pizza and Wyngz and Pizza and Cookies, first to brand fans in social media.

The best way to sum it up is the stars have aligned for social media to become the centerpiece of consumer product launch marketing. Not only are people increasingly looking to social media to learn about new products, they are being influenced by what other people are saying about new products through reviews, blogs, Tweets and Facebook.

In just a few months, a platform like Pinterest has grown exponentially to the point that it is driving more consumer traffic than LinkedIn, MySpace and Google+ combined. It’s clear the marketing world has shifted on its axis, and it’s equally exhilarating, inspiring and exhausting.

We believe the best is yet to come. Looking ahead to the remainder of 2012 and beyond, we know that attention is the new reach and the best product launch campaigns will operate at the intersection of paid, earned and owned media, leveraging all to encourage participation in the launch.

Julie Hall is the executive vice president of Schneider Associates.

 

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