Launch Marketing Council

This initiative led by independent creative agency, Five by Five Global, looks to surface insights from experienced marketers from around Australia and beyond and document those experiences in white papers.

The playbook for head-turning launch marketing

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What does it take to land a head-turning brand, product or services launch? What marketing tactics and mindsets drive success? Is there really a playbook for executing big, brash and bold debuts?

These questions have been front and centre for the Launch Marketing Council as we have explored the head-turning launch marketing techniques used by several of the biggest, brightest and most innovative brands locally and globally.

The Launch Marketing Council is an initiative from independent agency, Five by Five Global, bringing together senior marketers, investors and founders to understand what it takes to launch brands, products and services. Through this work, the council has set out to devise a playbook for different types of launches, incorporating everything from internal buy-in and culture to strategic retail and external partner relationships, targeted marketing tactics and activations, customer insights and more.

In our latest five-part Ready for launch video series, the concept of ‘head turner’ launch marketing gained the spotlight. A head-turner launch is a conspicuous, high impact, large media spend activation that raises rapid, mass awareness.

Here, three stellar marketers and Launch Marketing Council’s founder, Matt Lawton, detail key aspects of this launch marketing technique and how it drives success.

Leverage the cultural conversation

There’s no doubt being part of the cultural conversation is critical to fuelling excitement around a marketing launch.

Making sure the brand was front and centre in the broad cultural conversation was a pivotal part of the marketing arsenal for experienced global CMO, Jonathan Anastas, during his time running digital globally at Activision, especially when launching a new title in the highly successful Call of Duty franchise. A new release of the game could sell US$600 million worth of copies in the first seven days of launch and become the biggest entertainment franchise of the year. 

Credit: Jonathan Anastas

Mass audience reach was instrumental to commercial success. Along with selling 10 million copies to hardcore gamers, Call of Duty’s launch marketing needed to appeal to consumers outside the core gaming cohort. Upping excitement and garnering huge media coverage and conversation was therefore imperative.  

“The secret to the outrageous success of Call of Duty was being part of the cultural conversation,” Anastas says. “When you’re selling 28 million copies of a video game, you’re talking about pulling in the person that only buys one video game per year or has seen that one movie franchise like James Bond or The Avengers. They have been pulled in because of the FOMO and that cultural conversation.” 

Partners and ambassadors proved instrumental in this mix. The Call of Duty team used athletes, musicians and influencers in everything from creative to experiential stunts, while third-party licensing deals on things like actual Jeep branded vehicles and Monster Energy drinks with in-game currency on the can drove high impact, incremental media and point-of-sale. One year, to coincide with E3 games conference, a branded Call of Duty armoured personnel carrier with Uber was devised. Teams ring-gated 5 miles around the Convention Center, providing trips in the branded vehicles that could be booked via the Uber app.

“Always topping ourselves for key moments, whether it was the world’s most outrageous model, Cara Delevingne, dropping the clips from two handguns at the end of the trailer, or Eminem writing a song for us, was how we tried to up the game every year,” Anastas says. “It’s a firepower war.”

Borrow equity

Another way of tapping culture is “borrowing equity where possible”, Anastas says. “It could be partnering with talent that’s having a moment, leveraging what memes or platforms are blowing up, or what conversations outside your brand can you borrow from or insert yourself into,” he says.

This requires marketers to foster a timely, opportunistic approach to their launch strategy. Yet it’s important to be authentic if you’re going to turn that launch marketing effort into sustainable growth.

“You can’t look overtly opportunistic,” Anastas says. “It has to all be done with authenticity. One of the advantages of working quickly today is that this is more possible. Early in my career, you might shoot a commercial nine months earlier. A lot can happen in a celebrity lifecycle between that and when it runs, good or bad. Now, it’s easier to bite on something when it starts happening. But you need a deft hand to ensure it looks authentic.”

Being cognisant of where culture is at as well as where it’s heading was at the heart UberEats’ early head-turner marketing launches in Australia. Former Uber director of marketing and now Zip chief customer officer, Steve Brennen, describes it as “using your cultural gut-ometer” to build relevance and therefore impact. 

Credit: Steve Brennen

For the ‘Tonight I’ll be eating’ campaign, UberEats’ foundation stone was a strong consumer insight that could marry into timely cultural moments, Brennen explains. This insight was that 70 per cent of Australian consumers don’t know what they are having for dinner at breakfast time, and 50 per cent still don’t know by 5pm.

“We saw this window of opportunity every single day, seven days a week, to inspire people about what to eat,” Brennen says. “When we asked consumers about it, the reasons would be because they’re bored, or they haven’t shopped, or they are putting it off until later. The question became how we as a brand interject ourselves, inspire and get people to trial our service.”

Simultaneously, UberEats spotted growing cultural fascination with celebrities and their personal food choices. Eight celebrities including Boy George and Naomi Watts featured in UberEats’ first launch advertising campaign.

“This voyeurism was the cultural moment we tapped into. We looked at who are the people that are really interesting right now and that you’d love to know what and how they eat,” Brennen says.

A single-minded approach to being in-market is another element of the head-turner launch marketing process. It was clear 5pm – 9pm was an optimum time for UberEats to shout, and the brand took over mass media channels in that timeslot to do just that.

“Being part of culture and being cognisant of where it is and where it’s evolving is key – you need to keep close and respond appropriately,” Brennen says. “That is where brands can be really relevant and build a brand personality, becoming part of the human psyche.”

See Ready to Launch Episode 4: Disruptive category launches

Don’t forget about conversion

Marrying up moments of cultural significance and campaign activity leads to a tonne of awareness when you get it right. But brands have to think beyond creative, acquisition and the moment if they’re to drive sales conversion.

But the opposite problem can also exist during phases of launch. “For a lot of our tech startup clients, they’re often at seed or first round investment stage. They have the acquisition model well on track and their whole frame of reference with marketing is acquisition. What they don’t have is the brand equity or any idea how to build it,” comments Lawton.

“There’s often a breakthrough moment in the launch of a new product when it becomes a brand by turning heads for doing more than solving a problem in an elegant way, but by standing for something. That something is normally the reason why solving the problem is important.”

Actively assert your brand

Building brand isn’t just important from an end customer perspective, it’s also a mechanism for building connection and buy-in with retailers.

Apex Tool Group has taken a deliberate approach to investing in head-turning campaigns in order to support a strategic shift towards customer-fuelled product innovation. Marketing director, Kristin Viccars, describes the head-turning approach as a shift away from more attitudinal-based marketing and sponsorships and instead putting the brand in the driver’s seat through innovation and the way it launches products to market. 

Key is consumer insight, which has been informed by a seven-stage process. The first step, for example, is the ‘trigger’ stage.

“We know our consumers are triggered by the need to replace broken or worn-out hand tools, or are buying for the latest innovation,” Viccars says. “That’s driving a lot of primary demand and sales for retailers. As well as brand saliency, you need those hero products to carry the brand and ultimately make our consumers’ jobs and lives easier.”

Credit: Kristin Viccars

In the case of Apex Tool Group’s Crescent Lufkin and Gearwrench product launches this year, the aim was to generate high impact communication by using subtle humour and storytelling and mass awareness channels. Success measures included saturation of the estimated 1.1 million tradies operating in Australia at a frequency of 10x. This meant achieving at least 10 million impressions with the launch marketing campaigns.

Apex Tool Group harnessed major sports broadcasters and streamers such as Kayo, Fox Sports and Foxtel, as well as invested in Spotify and traditional radio including Triple M. Social media channels such as Facebook / Instagram and YouTube were also employed. The result was 45 million total impressions for the Crescent Lufkin campaign, and more than 15 million impressions for its Gearwrench campaign.

“Across both campaigns, we saw a 20-30 per cent average sale uplift early to mid-campaign from key retailers and finished on an average uplift of 58 per cent across our key retailers by campaign end. It’s a really positive result,” Viccars says.

Harness media and marketing agility

As is clear from these examples, marketing agility is vital internally and operationally. One way UberEats achieved agility was through media optimisation. The company constantly dialled up and down media spend based on consumer insights and data.

Campaigns must also evolve, making real-time tracking and adapting creative and talent a core component of launch marketing success.

“We couldn’t hold that celebrity talent for more than three months before they were out of fashion, less interesting and intriguing,” Brennen says. “We would track daily awareness stats and app stats. In some instances, we could see when something wasn’t hitting the mark. It was creative but it wasn’t the right moment.”  

While working on Call of Duty, Anastas became cognisant of the ever-shortening window of opportunity to land a head-turning launch. Originally, each Call of Duty launch was the culmination of year-long marketing campaign. As the industry was disrupted and macro trends changed, planning horizon windows shortened.

“The consumer has become so fragmented and overwhelmed; marketing efforts 10 months out were no longer yielding those sales opportunities or talk value. It started to feel like it was wasted investment as it wasn’t converting in any measurable way – social buzz, pre-orders or sell-in to retailers,” Anastas says.  

“We had to have a steeper marketing ramp. In some ways, it was harder because you had less of a lens on whether something was working. By the time you figured out it might not be working, you were further along the path than before. That constant tweaking was harder, and you had to make decisions before the full data point on the last tactic you drove. But ultimately, this is where the consumer lives today.”

Base decision-making in consumer and market insights

As Anastas makes clear, orchestrating a timely head-turning launch requires a hefty array of data points on customer behaviours, values and needs. Voice of customer insight has been critical to informing Apex Tool Group’s product development and launches, for example. It’s also proved vital to building stronger retail partnerships, a critical factor in any launch success.

“It was a strategic decision to make sure there was a solid percentage in our budget dedicated to market research,” Viccars says. Apex Tool Group incorporated qualitative and quantitative research groups, sense checked with market data investments and industry records, and spent time in the field with retailers and consumers.

“This research provided confidence the launches we were putting forward were backed by that voice of the customer,” Viccars says. “That takes away a lot of the risk for retailers in backing a launch and taking it on.”

See Ready to Launch Episode 5: Retailer and supplier

Know the enemy

In many instances, head-turner marketing techniques are influenced and complemented by the competitive landscape, too. Helping Call of Duty maximise its impact was acknowledging, rather than ignoring, its head-to-head competitor, EA’s Battlefield. Anastas compares it to a concept in professional wrestling of ‘the face versus the heel’, or good guy versus bad guy.

“To a lot of the core gamers, we were the heel – the annual 800-pound gorilla game, ‘run by a company of MBAs from Pepsi’ as Reddit would say … while Battlefield was the pure shooter game. Actually, that ‘hater’ dialogue really helped our social engagement,” Anastas says. “We’d do a social post and there would be thousands of comments of fan boys ripping each other about the games. We had a very hands-off view – we would only edit for actual threats, hate speech and porn spam. Aside from that, you could say ‘Call of duty sucks’ or ‘Activision is terrible’ and we let it all live.  

“The rivalry unlocked loyalty, social algorithms and monetisation. I feel it’s helpful to have a strong competitor in every category you live in.”

Brennen’s current role as chief customer officer of Zip Co sees him operating in the nascent buy now, pay later category. But rather than see competing players like Afterpay or Klarna as the enemy, he says traditional payment methods like credit cards, along with habitual consumer habits, are in its sights.

“It does help teams to have a clear enemy in order to know what you’re fighting and facing. But often that enemy is misconstrued,” Brennen says. “In a startup space, it’s often not that other early player in your category you have to fight hardest with.”

“As you go on that [payments] journey, you quickly realise consumers are using debit cards, credit, borrow off mates and so on. It’s not just Afterpay and us, it’s about how we create real value for consumers to play a larger role in their lives.”   

Having said that, Brennan agrees having a first-mover advantage is handy in a rapidly growing category in building authenticity and strength. “Own your space, make it defendable and that creates the space to play,” he says.  

Have a long-term game plan

As to how that drives head-turning marketing launches, Brennen comes back to having your big, bold brand bet.

“To really get the party started, you do need an idea. It doesn’t need to cost a lot of money, but you do need to be willing to give something away and you need to be uncomfortably aggressive,” he says.

And make sure a learning appetite is instilled in your both organisational culture and your marketing strategy to back it up, Brennen adds.   

“You have to take a lot of risk and have a massive learning agenda, but that’s the fun of it. If you’re feeling comfortable with where your campaign is, it’s probably not big or bold enough. Going hard is a smarter way if you really want to build momentum.”

Want to know more about our 5 launch marketing techniques? Visit the Launch Marketing Council website for further insights, whitepapers and more 

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