What role do launch events play in a mobile device?s success?
Apple is expected to launch the so-called iPad mini today at what will likely be a well-orchestrated event showcasing how the product impacts consumers? lives. The company is the acknowledged expert at using such events to drum up excitement for its products although other manufacturers are increasingly copying the strategy.
Apple has nearly perfected the launch event, using them to drive anticipation and keep its name and the product in the news for months. More recently, the strategy has been adopted by Amazon, Samsung, Google, Nokia and Microsoft, among others, who are looking to drive product sales but have not yet perfected the strategy.
?Apple has been doing these events for many years ? they were kind of a hallmark under Steve Jobs, who was a true impresario of these product introductions as theater,? said Noah Elkin, principal analyst at eMarketer, New York.
?Others have studied at the feet of the master and have begun to put on events of a similar caliber,? he said.
?The ones that we?ve seen in the past year from Amazon and Microsoft clearly read from a similar script in terms of how the product is being introduced, what the focus of the event has been and the similar cast of characters that appears at these events.?
The mobile experience
Apple?s events are successful for a variety of reasons, including that they focus on the mobile experience over the technology itself and they help build a feeling of community around the Apple brand.
The attraction of these events for manufacturers is that they can garner a lot of attention from analysts, the media and consumers and, hopefully, help drive sales.
For example, Samsung launched the Galaxy Note last year at the IFA in Berlin last year and sold 5 million units between the start of Q4 2011 and Q1 2012.
Amazon held a launch event for the Kindle Fire HD in September
When well-executed, these events can play a key role in the success of a new product launch.
Some of the key characteristics of Apple?s events that can serve manufacturers well is dedicating a good amount of time to showing product details ? more than is possible at a trade show ? and bringing in guest speakers.
A key focus for Apple?s launch events is to focus on how a device will improve a consumer?s life over product specs.
?Other manufacturers are trying to follow Apple?s lead because they see how effective it is,? Mr. Elkin said. ?Amazon at its recent Kindle Fire event listed relevant specs but really tried to emphasize its ecosystem of content, which is its key competitive advantage in the marketplace and probably the element that is most relevant and compelling for a consumer audience.?
Getting it right
Manufacturers are also following Apple?s lead when it comes to the script for these events and bringing on stage various members of the team who have been involved in some aspect of product development, who each have their own role in the event and who work well together.
For a successful launch event, it is also crucial to insure the presentation media are working perfectly and in sync.
?These things make for a great launch event ? which not only garners attention for the product, it also boost the reputation of that company by making it look competent and efficient,? said Vanessa Horwell, chief visibility officer of ThinkInk PR, Miami Beach, FL.
?Today?s tech bloggers and media are ruthless when it comes to imperfection or flaws,? she said. ?Mobile companies should know this and must be prepared to deal with a media ?assault? if the launch of their product is premature.?
While manufacturers can reap many benefits from a big launch event, there are also some potential pitfalls.
For example, technical glitches during an event can undermine a brand?s attempt to present itself as a technology expert.
Companies can also run into trouble when they make claims that are not true.
For example, at an event in early September, Nokia showcased photos and a video that it said were captured by the brand-new Lumia 920 using its PureView camera.
However, bloggers quickly discovered that the video and photos were shot with other equipment. As a result, Nokia found itself forced to apologize and launch an internal probe to address the mishap.
?It is very difficult to conceal anything in today?s day and age,? eMarketer?s Mr. Elkin said. ?Reporters and bloggers are going to turn the device inside out and are going to investigate every single claim about its superiority.
?In the case of Nokia, the images that were posted, which turned out not to have been shot with that particular smartphone camera, forced it to make an embarrassing retraction,? he said.
In other cases, a feature talked up at launch event simply may not live up to expectations.
For example, at the recent launch event for the iPhone 5, Apple talked up its new Apple Maps, which is replacing Google Maps. When Apple Maps? performance did not meet expectations, Apple CEO Tim Cook issued an apology.
?The one potential danger is that when you do one of these big launch events is that because you are bringing a lot of attention to your brand and the product, it sets the expectations of the audience at a very high level,? Mr. Elkin said. ?If in the case the product fails to live up to expectations created at the launch event, it can put the brand in a very difficult position.?
Despite, the potential pitfalls, these launch events are likely to continue to proliferate because they can help a company make its executives seem more approachable.
The danger is to make sure the product represents a big enough advancement to warrant its own special event.
?It?s not easy or cheap to perfectly juggle all these elements and getting them to fall in the right place at the right time,? ThinkInk?s Ms. Horwell said. ?Any part of this process going awry hurts the reputation of both product and company.
?And, of course, a company must make sure everything every function of the product ? a complex process when you?re dealing with tech gadgets that have a thousand and one features ? is absolutely ready for market,? she said.
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York