Product Storytelling – Don’t Forget the Context

When launching a new product, it is important that customers understand what problems your product is solving. You don’t have time to tell a long story so you need to make sure your message is effective in creating a desire to learn more.

This is where context can help. If you are trying to tell a story about your product, context is the background information that helps the scene make sense. Without this context, you leave it up to the customer to figure it out on their own.

I recently wrote an article highlighting as an example for setting good background context on their web site.  New visitors can quickly understand what their product is (secure cloud file access) and who they are positioning it to (business users) thanks to messaging supported by good background context.

I would like to highlight another example that I don’t think does as good a job in providing support for the product message, Microsoft’s new Surface product launch video (see video below).

Microsoft is running this ad as an on-air introduction for their product launch. It is most likely the first contact that people are going to have with the first hardware tablet built by Microsoft  So, what does Microsoft do to help provide context for the product story in the video?

  • They rapidly and repeatedly attach and detach a keyboard from the tablet
  • They leverage an upbeat soundtrack
  • They have young dancers
  • They have old dancers
  • They have kids dancers
  • They have office workers dancers
  • They have hipsters dancers
  • They make a lot of clicking sounds
  • They user tablets as a drum set??

I would say that the music and dancing are about trying to create an emotional message associating the product as being fun and consumer oriented. Now there is nothing wrong about trying to build an emotional message for a product, but this is easier said than done for a new product. Somewhere in this message there needs to be a product, that not only does something, but does it better than the competition.

My best guess for all the clicking noises  is that this is about helping viewers understand that this device has a detachable keyboard and a kickstand (the functional part of the message).

However, if this is the main differentiator of the new device, shouldn’t it be a bit clearer why this is a big deal? Is it about being more productive? If so, you’d think you would see a reference to productivity and getting something done (maybe someone using Microsoft Office?). They don’t even show anyone typing on the keyboard during the entire video.

Without more context around the functional uses of the product, Microsoft is leaving it up the viewers of the video to decide on their own if this solves a problem they have. I believe they are trying to position the device as a “living room and office device” but I think it completely misses the mark on helping us to see why this is important.

What do you think? See something I am missing that pulls it all together?

A Product Launch Disaster in Front of Millions

Everyone wants the rewards that come with a big product launch – tech blogs, news coverage, and a ton of word of mouth leading up to a massive amount of sales.

Who doesn’t want everyone talking about your product at launch?

So, where to start? If you look at a few of the tech leaders out there at generating launch buzz, it almost seems easy. First you need to keep things super secret – can’t have any details leaking out too soon.

Then you need to slowly give out a few hints and clues here and there that something big is coming – all to build the anticipation.

You then invite all the top media outlets and élite tech bloggers to an invitation only press conference. Making them wait until the expectations are at an all time high and then you put on the show – extra fireworks included.

The results being that the entire internet is abuzz with your news. All the tech blogs have live streams running that highlight every single detail of the event. From here, the announcement spreads to the evening news, the WSJ, and other mainstream media sources, making sure the mainstream audience hears what’s going to be the next “it” item.

There it is – the formula for success is right in front of you. Grab it, run the play, rinse and repeat and watch all the money roll in.

Of course, there is the flip side of going big. Big rewards also means big risk. When you have the world’s most influential tech audience watching your every move (and you are following someone else’s playbook) it is always a good idea to make sure that the product you are showing off is worth all this grand standing.

When you’re trying to launch your product like a rocket out of the gate, everything has to be perfect. The smallest of errors on this type of stage can leave you looking foolish in front of millions.

As a recent example, check out the Microsoft Surface launch video below. It less than a minute of awkwardness from the launch event but enough to generate close to 3 million views so far.

Image Credit:  mondopiccolo

You’re Trying Too Hard

How Did You End Up Here?

There was a void in your roadmap. Your competitor launched a new product. You had extra budget that needed to be spent.

Whatever the reason, there was a gap and the pressure to fill was too great to resist.

The good news is that you responded by shipping. You got something out the door and made a big deal about it. Isn’t shipping always a good thing?

The bad news was the result.

Your customers response varied from “meh” to “yuck“. The market ignored you. Or worse, the market did respond with a “WTF?” and other questions of ridicule.

You’re Trying Too Hard

You should have delayed the launch when you realized it wasn’t going to happen. You should have killed the advertising when you realized it was all smoke and mirrors.

You should have said no when you realized the product wasn’t fully baked.

A Product Launch is Like?

Over two years ago now, I wrote a blog post talking about product launch and shared this wonderful quote from Neale Martin,

A product launch is like a rocket – you have to break the tremendous inertia that is holding the body at rest.

At the time I was working on a global product launch that had a ton of moving pieces and coordination required before it went out the door. Hence the “lots of anticipation followed by a big bang” analogy made a lot of sense.

Looking at it now, it feels like the statement isn’t very broad and only really applies to the situation where you are launching into a known market with a known product line – think Nintendo Wii or  iPhone 5. This is the end state that you hope to reach but I don’t think it is the general rule.

I have been thinking about all the different types of product launches analogies and have come up with a few ideas. For example, the Hockey Stick launch for a new product that takes a long time and potentially several iterations before taking off.

Then there is the Boomerang launch for a product that gets out there in the wild but gets sent back to the mothership by an unsatisifed marketplace – think Microsoft Kin.

So, what are your favorite analogies for launching a product? Have any good ideas to share? Here’s a few more that I was brainstorming on: