This Wednesday, Apple holds a media event in Cupertino entitled “Back To The Mac.” As soon as they sent out the invitations, the internet started frothing with rumors. What will OS X 10.7 look like? Will there be a new MacBook Air? Will my iPad finally make coffee? The list of apple rumors is tremendous. Vegas odds makers are even taking bets on what Apple will unveil during the announcement.
When Apple makes an announcement about a coming press event it can sometimes feel like the National Hurricane Center has identified a new hurricane.
There is usually rampant speculation surrounding the importance and impact of the event: Will it be a Category 5 announcement with a revolutionary device, or a less-important Category 1, with basic updates to operating systems or gadgets?
Keeping with this tradition, the blogosphere was in full swing on Friday as technology experts and Apple fans tried to guess what Apple’s chief executive will announce next Wednesday when the company hosts “a sneak peek of the next major version of Mac OS X,” and other new products.
And this isn’t a new phenomenon. This happens Every. Single. Time.
I wanted to know why. How can a computer company create such a frenzied pitch about a routine product announcement? And what can other companies learn from the Apple method? After looking at Apple product launch and product development strategies, I have come up with a few deductions. Here are some of the secrets that make Apple fans incredibly loyal and the press keenly interested in Mac product updates.
Do Not Share Your Product Roadmap
Part of the reason that there is so much speculation, rumor, and innuendo surrounding Apple press events and product announcements is that the company plays its cards close to its vest.
Sure, every once in a while they lose an iPhone or a MacBook prototype, but on the whole, the company understands that there are almost no incentives to sharing your roadmap with the press. In fact, there are almost always major drawbacks.
For starters, you telegraph your punches with super early product announcements.
By telling the public about what you plan to do in the future, you clue your competitors in, along with the press. Revealing your product roadmap is a dangerous proposition because almost no one can predict launch dates or market conditions accurately more than 6 months out.
Additionally, the announcement made to the press will almost always look different than the launch reality, and that disparity leads to lagging consumer confidence in your brand. For example, if you announce that you will launch your product in 12 months and it will sell for $50 and you wind up launching in 18 months for $200, you have already failed to meet expectations. All of those broken dreams are easily avoided if the roadmap stayed in-house.
Finally, by pre-announcing what you plan to announce, you remove any sense of drama or intrigue from your product launches or press announcements. No one on the message boards or blogs or twitter or the internets will be buzzing about what your product will look like if you shared the product specs with the press a year and a half ago.
Think about companies like HTC, LG, or even RIM. Their product roadmaps get leaked every other week. There’s no drama from these companies. There’s no emotion. Nobody’s wondering what’s coming next from them, regardless of whether we like their products or not. RIM recently announced their tablet, called the PlayBook. They announced it 9 months prior to launch. How can that be exciting?
The above picture was the invitation to Wednesday’s media event. That’s it. There are a few tantalizing clues that are purposefully included to create intrigue and spark discussions in the press, on the blogs, and between Mac enthusiasts.
First, there is the lion poking its head out from behind the Apple. Given the big cat theme of Operating Systems, it seems pretty likely that the Cupertino firm will be announcing a new desktop OS. That seems pretty simple.
But look at how we got to that assumption. We had to work for it. We had to deduce, and reason and think. Apple wins because it creates a sense of intrigue and mystery when it announces products. The not-sharing-the-product-roadmap-point plays right into this. Secrecy and playful mystery engage user emotions and lead to increased brand awareness.
One more thing: Deliver.
Let’s face it, the above commentary is straightforward and manageable by virtually anyone with the temerity to put a lock-down in place surrounding product launches. But it can’t just be about the launch, ultimately it’s the products themselves that matter. If you can’t build excellent product experiences, it doesn’t matter how excellent your launch plans are.
I’ll always think back to the launch of the movie Snakes on a Plane. At the time, the movie was about the most hyped film I recall hearing about. It had Sam Jackson. A plane. A bunch of snakes. Dirty language. The buzz and intrigue was outrageous, everyone was ready to see it. What could possibly go wrong? They made a craptastic movie. Seriously, it was so bad it wasn’t even “cult-like” fun. It was unwatchable dreck. And a total disaster because the hype was so strong.
As discussed previously, there are no real secrets at Apple. They focus on creating amazing products that deliver amazing user experiences. The real mystery here is why more companies don’t incorporate these Apple “secrets” into their product launch strategy to deliver better consumer electronics to the marketplace.
In a nutshell:
- Control your urges to talk about your products before they are hatched.
- Ditto for your partners, vendors, investors, suppliers, salespeople, PR people, and everyone else.
- Add a little intrigue and drama to your announcements.
- Make sure you set the right expectations.
- Deliver and, whenever possible, exceed expectations.