With business-to-business marketing all the rage, PR pros are asked to do more B-to-B product and service launches. Jane H. Bick discovers the practices surfacing as the most effective
With business-to-business marketing all the rage, PR pros are asked
to do more B-to-B product and service launches. Jane H. Bick discovers
the practices surfacing as the most effective
These days, much of marketing, including e-commerce, has become focused
on the business-to-business arena. But the tricks of that PR trade are
not as well known as those on the consumer side. What are some clues to
doing B-to-B product and service launches?
One thing’s for sure: with today’s focus on the customer rather than the
product, pitches must stress solutions, not features.
’Whoever is out there first and shows how the product (or service)
solves problems, addresses needs or appeals
to different audiences will
capture the market,’ says Wendy Lavallee, president of
LNS Communications in Cambridge, MA. LNS recently helped Canadian
company JetForm Corp. launch Forms-planet.com, its online business forms
While there’s no single model for a business-to-business launch, PR pros
rank media high to provide third-party validation. Other common elements
include industry analysts, speaking opportunities for experts and
customer testimonials with proof points about benefits rather than
features. Experts say that large trade shows, which were a common venue
for new product launches just five years ago, are now shunned by many.
Instead, these pros say to talk to industry press when they’re hungry
for news, four weeks before or one week after a show.
But the first and primary audience should be internal - the board,
investors, management and employees, as well as sales and marketing,
says Brenda Shawley, co-founder of Baltimore-based Strategix, which
specializes in healthcare and hi-tech launches. Before targeting buyers
or media, Shawley insists on ’internal champions’ who can act as
’ambassadors’ with consistent messages to external audiences. When
Strategix was brought on to help promote a new wound-care product, it
targeted first the internal audiences, then vertical media, then
purchasing prospects and finally, potential customers using other
Sterling Communications in San Jose, CA, used a concentrated media
strategy to reposition a bricks-and-mortar company as a new dot-com. The
agency focused on technology analysts and media to introduce
DoveBid.com, reborn from Dove Brothers,
a 63-year-old, dollars 5 billion
family auction business. DoveBid.com wants to be the clearinghouse for
companies to dispose of idle assets and the place for others to find the
widest variety of capital assets.
While there’s often pressure to get things out quickly, it took Best
Manufacturing nearly four years to pull public relations into its
marketing mix after product advertising failed to reap huge sales of its
gloves using Nitrile technology, an alternative to latex that is also
puncture and chemical resistant.
In 1996, Best hired Fletcher Martin Public Relations in Atlanta to
develop an integrated PR plan targeting both medical and chemical
end-users and purchasing agents. Media relations yielded dozens of
bylined articles and features about latex allergies and the gloves’
It also positioned Best as a pioneer and the company experts as credible
resources for media, customers and distributors.
Neil Myers, president of Connect PR in San Francisco, recently helped
launch a B-to-B e-commerce ’framework’ company, called Core-Commerce,
that aids businesses in getting their web sites up quickly by providing
an all-in-one software package. Launching an emerging technology with no
market history requires ’education rather than persuasion - and
absolutely no spin,’ Myers says.
That education can include a different kind of media kit with ’30, 40 or
100 pages in a sectioned three-ring binder with dividers. It’s more an
encyclopedia than a press kit,’ Myers says.
The strategic questions he asks apply to many sectors: ’What’s driving
the need for this new market; who cares about it and why; and how big
will it be and how fast will it grow? If we can’t answer these
questions, industry analysts and media aren’t interested,’ he says. In
CoreCommerce’s case, what drives its market is the need for speed in
e-commerce. Industry analysts predict the online market will be about
dollars 50 billion in five years.
Who are its customers? Enterprise-level, global firms.
Another important strategy is to make sure journalists and other
audiences view a company as experts in a field. By positioning experts
with proprietary information, Manning Selvage & Lee relaunched Cushman &
Wakefield, a real estate company, to broaden its brand identity from
broker to asset management.
Jan Lewin, MS&L senior vice president, says her firm finds ’a discreet
area of expertise and then associates that proprietary information with
a client principal who will speak, talk and write about the topic.
People begin to associate the expertise with the firm name.’
Relationships and credibility are the primary tools to launch
intellectual capital in a management consulting firm, says Patrick
Pollino, vice president of marketing and
communications for Mercer Management Consulting in Lexington, MA.
Pollino rolled out four books in four years and calls them the linchpin
for his marketing communications. Forbes titled its 1999 annual
executive women’s summit ’Profit Patterns’ after his fourth book, with
the lead author as keynoter. Once viewed as a ’brazen upstart,’ Mercer
is now ranked by Consultants News among the top five strategy consulting
firms. Ideally, a well-planned and orchestrated launch will separate
industry leaders from the also-rans.
As LNS’ Lavalee says, there’s no substitute for strategic positioning
that builds credible third-party validation from customers, media and
DOS AND DON’TS
1 Start with a business plan that has a clear vision and revenue
2 Research your markets and your competition.
3 Develop a launch plan with mutually agreed-upon, short- and long-term
4 Build internal buy-in at every level of the company.
5 Designate and train credible spokespeople as experts.
1 Make assumptions about target audiences without research. Your
perceptions may not reflect reality.
2 Talk about features instead of benefits. People want to know how the
bells and whistles solve problems or address needs.
3 Sacrifice consistency with too many messages in too many voices. Focus
on one clear concept.
4 Neglect relationships. The Internet is great but ultimately promoting
products and services is a people business.