Eight steps to launching a brand, the PR way
Al Ries, Chairman of Ries & Ries (Atlanta, Georgia, USA)
Laura Ries, President of Ries & Ries (Atlanta, Georgia, USA)
Al Ries is chairman of Ries & Ries, a marketing strategy firm in Atlanta, Georgia USA that he runs with his daughter, Laura Ries. He is the author, or co-author, of 11 books on marketing including Positioning, Marketing Warfare and Bottom-up Marketing With his daughter Laura, he also wrote The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR and their latest book, The Origin of Brands.
Launching a new brand with public relations and launching a new brand with advertising are two totally different things.
If you want to launch a brand with PR, you can't just replace the advertising with PR. You have to change your method of introducing a new brand.
Letting go of what you learned in Advertising 101 is not easy to do. Advertising and marketing are so entwined inside the minds of managers that many won't even consider the possibility of launching a new brand without advertising. Yet we strongly recommend that all new brands be introduced with PR only.
A PR launch invariably involves eight steps.
Step 1. The enemy.
If you want to build a successful brand, it’s important to define your enemy. That is, the competitive brand or company or category that will keep your own brand from being successful.
If you're selling Pepsi-Cola, your enemy is Coca-Cola. If you're selling Burger King, your enemy is McDonald's. And so forth.
Defining an enemy allows you to focus your strategy, which should be the opposite of your enemy. When Procter & Gamble launched a new mouthwash, they decided the enemy was Listerine, the bad-tasting mouthwash.
So P&G positioned Scope as the good tasting mouthwash and it became a strong No. 2 brand.
Controversy creates news. Having an enemy greatly enhances the PR potential of a brand. The original title of our latest book was "The PR Era". But where's the enemy?
So we changed it to "The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR" creating both an enemy and a lot of publicity potential.
Advertising is the opposite. Consumers hate it when you single out a competitor to attack in one of your ads. It's all right for the media to do so, but not for an advertiser.
Step 2. The leak.
A PR program usually starts with a leak to key reporters and editors. Newsletters and Internet sites are favorite targets.
The media loves inside stories that describe events that are going to happen. Especially when it's an exclusive. In other words, a scoop.
That's the way Microsoft introduced the Xbox, its videogame player. The publicity started 18 months before the formal introduction. Literally hundreds of stories were written about the Xbox and its chances of competing successfully with Sony's PlayStation, the market leader.
Before the first Xbox advertisement ran, 75 percent of the target audience (young males) expressed an interest in buying an Xbox. The product went on to become a strong ¹ 2 brand to PlayStation.
You waste an enormous resource if you don't leak details of your new product or service to the media. What do people like to talk about? Rumors, gossip, inside information. It's the same with the media.
Advertising is the opposite. An advertising program is normally launched like a D-day attack. It's usually kept a top secret until the day the first ad runs.
Step 3. The slow buildup.
A PR program slowly unfolds like a flower blooming. A company has to allot enough time for a PR program to develop momentum. That's why a PR launch often starts months before the details of a new product or service are firmly fixed.
With PR, you don't have a choice. Unless you have an earth-shattering invention, you have to start slowly and hope the media coverage will gradually expand. (If you do have an earth-shattering invention, you probably don't need PR at all. The word will get out regardless of what you do.)
Fortunately this slow build-up is consistent with the way most consumers learn about new products and services. A news item here, a mention from a friend there, and pretty soon you are convinced you have known about the product forever.
Advertising is the opposite. An advertising program usually starts with a "big bang", often with a barrage of television commercials.
Since consumers tend to ignore advertising messages, a new ad program has to be big and bold enough to get above the "noise level". The easiest thing to hide is a million dollars worth of advertising. If you divide the million into small chunks and then spend the money in many different media, your messages will disappear into an advertising black hole.
Step 4: The recruitment of allies.
Why go it alone when you can get others to help you communicate your message?
The slow buildup of a PR program allows enough time to recruit allies to your cause. Furthermore, the publicity you receive will often attract volunteers.
Who are your natural allies? "The enemy of my enemy is my friend". When we wrote The Fall of Advertising book, we asked ourselves who might be the enemy of such a book.
The obvious enemy is the advertising conglomerate, the ones who control the bulk of advertising expenditures in the U.S. Who might be the enemy of these ad conglomerates? It’s the independent PR firms that have been losing business to the PR subsidiaries of these ad conglomerates.
So we sent advance copies of our book to the 124 largest independent PR firms in the country and followed up with copies of media stories about the book.
These mailings generated a lot of response along the lines of "We'll buy copies to send to clients and prospects, we'll invite you to make speeches at industry meetings, we'll write letters to the editors of trade publications, etc".
The controversy created by the book and the momentum developed by the mailings created an enormous amount of interest in the media. The Wall Street Journal and many other managements publications reviewed the book which promptly made most of the best-seller lists.
Advertising is the opposite. An advertising program has a difficult time recruiting allies. There are two problems: time and money.
With a big bang launch, there usually isn't enough time to line up supporters. Also, advertising alliances usually fall apart over the question of who pays for what.
Step 5. The bottom-up rollout.
You have to crawl before you walk and you have to walk before you run. The media work the same way. You need to start small, perhaps with a mention in a newsletter and then move on to the trade press. From the trade press, you might move up the ladder to one of the general business publications. Eventually you might see your new product or service on television.
Each rung of the ladder adds credibility to your brand. If you approach a television booking agent directly, you might get an instant turndown. If they see your new product or service mentioned in a magazine, however, they might call you.
As you move up the media ladder, your brand creates its own momentum.
Advertising is the opposite. An advertising program is more likely to start with network TV. Again, the idea is to launch the campaign with a big bang and follow up with smaller "reminder" advertisements.
Step 6. The modification of the product.
Feedback is an important element in a PR launch. By launching the public relations program ahead of the actual product introduction, there is enough time to modify the product before it goes on sale. This can be a major advantage.
Advertising is the opposite. Once an advertising program is launched, a company is committed to the product and its specifications. There is little feedback and no time to change the product or service before it is introduced to consumers.
Apple launched the Newton MessagePad, the world's first handheld computer, with a big press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago.
Apple followed the press announcement with a traditional big bang advertising campaign including TV commercials that proclaimed with breathless prose: "Newton is digital. Newton is personal. Newton is magic. Newton is as simple as a piece of paper. Newton is intelligent. Newton learns about you, understands you. Newton is news".
Because of its flawed handwriting-recognition software, the product received scathing reviews. Especially devastating was a popular cartoon strip mocking the Newton. "I am writing a test sentence", came out "Siam fighting atomic sentry".
A prospect tested a Newton by writing "My name is Curtis". A prominent business publication reported the event with the headline "My Norse 15 Critics" which is how the Newton interpreted the prospect's message.
Too much hype is self-defeating. You are asking the media to take your product down a peg. Better to launch a new brand in a modest way by asking friends and allies to offer their suggestions. Then modify the product to meet the needs of the marketplace.
Palm Computing took the Newton idea and simplified it. They dropped the telecommunications function and the elaborate handwriting-recognition software in favor of a stylized "all cap" system called Graffiti. The Palm Pilot went on to be an enormous success.
When dealing with the media, humility beats hype all the time. If you ask for advice and counsel, you are likely to get a wealth of ideas you can use.
Step 7. The modification of the message.
When you launch a new product, you usually find that you have a range of attributes that you could attach to the brand.
Which one attribute should you focus on?
This is the sort of question that can stir up endless hours of debate in the boardroom. Too often the question is ducked and the brand is launched with a smorgasbord of attributes (which is what happened with the Newton.) Or a decision is made that turns out to be totally wrong. There's a certain lack of objectivity in the boardroom.
The media can be extremely helpful. Which attribute does a reporter or an editor think is most important? After all, the media looks at new products from the consumer’s point of view. Their opinions are not only helpful, but are likely to prove extremely convincing to prospects. They hold the reins of consumer opinion. You cross them at your own peril.
Volvo spent years advertising the durability and long life of Volvo automobiles. Yet the media fell in love with the safety aspects of Volvo cars. They carried stories about Volvo's invention of the 3-point lap-and-shoulder seat belt, the collapsible steering column, front and rear crumple zones, etc.
Volvo finally threw in the durability towel and switched their advertising to focus on the safety issue. Volvo sales took off.
Forget focus groups. Why pay consumers for advice when the media will give it to you for free. Furthermore, the media will back up their advice with stories that will plant your ideas in the prospect's mind.
Should you ever go against media advice? Sure, but when you do, you'd better have a good reason to do so.
Advertising is the opposite. Once launched, an advertising program is cast in stone. It’s difficult, expensive and embarrassing to try to change strategies and messages in the middle of an advertising campaign.
Step 8. The soft launch.
How long should the PR phase of a new product program take? It all depends on a lot of factors. That's why we recommend a "soft" launch.
The new product or service should be launched only after the PR program has run its course. The product will be introduced when it is ready. In other words, when the media coverage runs its course. Not too soon and not too late.
The soft launch fouls up budgeting and corporate planning. It might even cause problems with manufacturing and distribution. So be it. In marketing, as in life, timing is everything. The right product at the right time with the right PR support is an unstoppable combination.
Advertising is the opposite. An advertising program is usually tied in directly with the product's availability. The first ad runs on the first date the product is available for sale.
Most advertising campaigns for new brands are planned around a D-day, the day the product hits the beach supported by advertising air power and promotional landing craft.
A military metaphor makes for a rousing speech at a sales meeting, but it lacks the flexibility to deal with the real world. No one can predict the course of a PR program. How long it will take, what new ideas and new concepts will be unearthed.
Better late than sorry.
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