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Product Launch: Influencer Relations' Role

June 01, 2015

Poor interlock between product marketing and influencer relations often limits the impact of influencers during product launch

The fashion choices that celebrities make when attending awards shows are often more newsworthy than the awards themselves. A red-carpet outfit that is deemed gorgeous can bring its wearer a wave of career-boosting publicity. But an ensemble that stuns for all the wrong reasons may land the celebrity in a “What were they thinking?” photo feature and worst-dressed list. These high stakes explain why stars pay designers and stylists thousands of dollars to help them avoid a fashion faux pas. 

B-to-b influencer relations professionals help product managers and portfolio marketers avoid costly mistakes during the product launch process by providing an externally oriented view of market trends and audience communication requirements. They also engage influencers who can play a leading role in creating awareness, enhancing message credibility and driving demand. In this issue of SiriusPerspectives, we outline the powerful role that the influencer relations function can play when its activities are fully integrated into all phases of the product launch process.

Pre-Launch Activities

Influencer relations should proactively create early, formal interlock with product marketing and seek to become more involved in the pre-launch process from its initial stages. The function should look to contribute via the following activities:

  • Launch planning. In the run-up to a launch, product teams are often get tunnel vision: They focus only on their own product’s features and benefits, losing sight of other marketing goals and key audience needs. By getting involved during the launch’s formative stages, influencer relations can inject a healthy dose of outside-in thinking. During launch planning, the function should also regularly deliver information to the launch team on relevant market developments, influencer views and competitive activity discovered through social and traditional media monitoring.
  • Messaging. Influencer relations (and corporate communications) should participate in the message development process to help ensure that messaging is balanced between high-level business value and specific product details. This participation can help prevent the creation of messaging that is either generalized and lavish (e.g. describing the offering as “paradigm-shattering”) or overly focused on product specifications. Influencer relations also can provide a reality check by encouraging launch teams to test messaging with friendly influencers to gauge its effectiveness. Finally, consider leveraging industry analysts to help determine the optimal positioning of the new offering vs. competitors.
  • Identifying influencers. Product managers may have a limited view of the influencer landscape, focusing on a limited pool of traditional analysts or overlooking influencers in the social media sphere. Cultivate awareness of the full range of available influencers by creating an influencer scorecard to prioritize influencers in the context of the launch message and goals, based on their reach, relevance, impact and sentiment. To help product marketers acclimate to the modern influencer world, influencer relations also should provide influencer profiles with short descriptions and examples of recent coverage.

Launch Activities

Every launch is unique and requires the product team to analyze how the offering relates to the company’s strategic goals. The influencer relations team should select influencers and influencer tactics to match the level and goals of the launch. The most innovative products require the greatest investment of time, budget and resources to raise awareness and develop audience understanding; routine product introductions should be conducted with an eye toward cost-effectiveness. Influencer relations should conduct or support the following launch execution activities:

  • Thought leadership. Thought leadership helps provide the reasons for the company’s product strategy and connects the new offering to market trends, giving the product launch newsworthiness. Influencer relations can help by identifying relevant trends, influencers who are expressing views on relevant topics, and forums where relevant views are being expressed. Next, identify influencers who can support the formation and distribution of thought leadership themes.
  • Influencer engagement. In best-in-class companies, influencer engagement is an ongoing process that intensifies during launches or other strategic initiatives. Maintaining continuous influencer relationships increases the organization’s ability to leverage influencers at launch and ensures that they are familiar with the company’s strategy and capabilities, making it easier for them to understand new products and how they fit into the company’s portfolio. Influencer relations takes the lead in managing the engagement process (e.g. annual budgets for various influencer types, logistics of individual influencer interactions). Influencer relations also should support internal subject matter experts by helping to prepare and vet content for analyst briefings.
  • Launch announcement. Before the launch announcement, provide key influencers with a briefing under a non-disclosure agreement. Leverage well-known influencers (e.g. big-picture visionaries) to promote association with a high-level business issue or simply attract an audience. Bringing influencers to the launch event to provide coverage also can expand the event’s impact. Even quoting key influencers in the product announcement can help drive higher levels of audience attention and encourage other media outlets to cover the story. Influencer relations should spearhead these efforts to ensure that budgets are used wisely.

Post-Launch Activities

The launch is an inflection point for creating initial awareness, but the task of building and supporting demand starts immediately afterward. The influencer relations team should consider implementing the following activities to support the launch team’s ongoing efforts to promote the product and track its success in the marketplace:

  • Market feedback. Monitor the reactions of a broad range of influencers immediately after the launch: Which messages are getting traction? How are different types of influencers reacting? How are the media and competitors responding? Today’s social and traditional media monitoring tools enable near-real-time input so that messaging can be adjusted quickly if needed. Influencer relations should also report on the reach of the launch announcement and how the launch affected share of voice. Comparing results to those of past launches can help the organization understand how the launch was perceived and what volume of demand to expect.
  • Demand creation. Influencers can help drive demand in many ways. Gating significant pieces of influencer content (e.g. market reports) are often effective at encouraging prospects to share their contact information. Investing in influencers as speakers (e.g. for road shows and webinars) can drive larger audiences and jumpstart the flow of leads to sales. Derivative influencer content (e.g. quotations, data) can be used in online slide shows, infographics, blog content and videos. Influencer opinions also can be injected into lead nurture streams to increase credibility and drive responses.
  • Sales enablement. Sales teams are eager to use influencer reports and other content to support provocative selling. Influencer relations should share new coverage and emerging trends with the sales organization on a monthly basis. Packaging influencer quotes and data into slide decks allows reps to easily leverage this information. Influencer relations also should seek opportunities to support specific sales cycles by engaging influencers to provide references at key stages in the buying and selling process.
  • Product roadmap. As soon as the launch is complete, planning begins for the next stages of the product lifecycle. Influencers can be engaged to help prioritize product enhancements or envision the future roadmap. A key benefit of this involvement is that influencers will continue to feel involved in the long-term strategy for the offering, encouraging them to foster ongoing positive coverage by influencers.

The Sirius Decision

While feedback from influencer relations can be sobering for launch planners to hear, it is essential for an audience-centric approach to product launch. However, simply setting up meetings and circulating reports is not enough for influencer relations to earn a seat at the planning table. The team also must educate itself on the organization’s products, technologies, issues and markets, as well as its overall product development and launch process.