Every creative agency has had the experience of launching a brand. The tension at the offices, the venue, and the unveiling building up to a feverish pitch. Networks are alerted, tweets fly back and forth and for a short while, depending on the money spent, the product or the social media posts about it are ‘liked’ and ‘trend’ for a few hours. By all accounts, it was a ‘successful’ launch.
But was it? That depends on whom you ask. The Product or Brand Managers will tell you the response was amazing. And so will the agency that launched it. If you ask customers who weren’t involved at all, they will nod absently and look pained if you probe on what the product was or what it was supposed to do.
A New Coffee Launch
An instant coffee brand called Levista launched in the city about a year ago. With full-page ads, bus panels, outdoor media, TV commercials, the whole nine yards, as they say. I’m sure the budget was in seven figures because blanket exposure across mass media and outdoor and radio do not come cheap.
And what were the ads about? Models, young and old appearing in different commercials with the same basic premise of better taste – try it and you’ll love it. So far, so good. Was it effective? I have no idea. The advertising or the campaign never came up in conversations. It was prominently displayed at shops in the vicinity for a while but then, I don’t see it around anymore.
If you read through the comments on YouTube, it’s about who the model is, not what the coffee tastes like. So, the budding career of a future star has been effectively propelled but the brand is lost in translation as far as its own product message goes.
The tough task would have been to understand the motivations of a committed instant coffee user and why they would change. Telling people ‘Please try my brand’ is like a standup who comes on stage and tells people ‘Laugh at my jokes, please”
Compare it with this Coffee launched in a new form
Same product category, same target audience, completely different form. ID Coffee offers a liquid decoction. Coffee consumers in India fall into two distinct camps. The ones who use ‘instant coffee’ are seen as people who have no taste or knowledge about real coffee.
The connoisseurs will only drink ‘filter coffee’ made from a decoction. The process of making a decoction is labored, slow and every Tamilian housewife has strong opinions about it. Shops in practically every street corner provide freshly ground powder which is the raw material for making the ‘filter coffee’
It drips, drop-by-drop into a container after hours. That decoction is the strong base and with the right amount of milk and sugar, it’s where family wars between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law are fought and territories established.
So, this launch creates a fissure between the connoisseurs and the wannabes. It’s instant coffee made like a filter coffee. Now that means that fresh wars will be fought about filter coffee and instant coffee. It churns the product category and that creates talking points. Brand identity will settle wherever the dust settles between the true believers and the converts.
In the middle of all this, millions of dollars will be made. The brand is everywhere. Today’s young couples cannot be bothered with the trouble of making a decoction from scratch. It’s not part of their ‘tradition’ even if they like the taste. But they do think that a decoction tastes far better than the ‘instant coffee’ that passes for the real thing.
And the YouTube comments? All about the product and the advertising itself. So, they did get that part right.
So what’s the success rate for new brand launches?
Bruising. According to Clayton Christensen, over 30000 products are launched every year. That’s over 80 launches a day. And 95% of them will fail within the first year, especially in the consumer product category.
For all those brand managers aspiring to launch a brand, this is a sobering statistic. Between product form development, production. research, media, social media, marketing and promotion, immense amounts of money will be spent without asking the fundamental question – why should this brand exist?
And it should not be that getting a 1% market share will be enough. Or solid distribution strengths. Or even that this is the fastest-growing category. All those are statistics. The fastest-growing brand is probably defining or creating the category because it changed the form factor, niche or consumption pattern
If you want to build a buzz, first define what the buzz should be – and why. If there isn’t a good enough answer, go back to the drawing board. That’s at least a lot less expensive than spending first, analyzing later.
Viral ads don’t look and feel like ads or promotions at all. And this is where the problems begin. Don’t start by expecting ads to be viral or created to be viral. The top trending videos on YouTube are unique, fun or with unexpected twists. And mostly mystifying as to why they have been so liberally watched, shared and discussed
Nobody is waiting for a brand to launch.
It may be the center of the marketing manager’s universe. But it isn’t part of the consumer’s universe. A shampoo is something she uses twice a week for a couple of minutes. And takes 5 seconds on a product shelf to select. Most probably by habit. Getting 1% of this market is like identifying musical notes in traffic noise. Can be done but you have to listen and act with precision. Without sparing any expense. Because the customer is not waiting for your message. Or your pitch.
They’re busy with their lives. While the products they use define their aspirations, it is not something they dwell on consciously. It could be a combination of peer pressure, self-worth, and the actual need for luxury products. A Seiko tells the time just as well as a Rolex. But if you had to compete in that category, where would you begin?