Without the help of trade shows, conventions, samplings and in-person meetings, many companies are finding that virtual launches and social media events offer benefits by allowing them to connect to a larger audience at a fraction of the cost — at a time when people are hungry for new products and an escape from the news.
“All eyes are on social media at this point,” says Courtney Ajinça, who, as a celebrity event planner and owner of Courtney Anjiça Events, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, has shifted a number of events and launches into the virtual realm. “There’s really no better time to launch a product, because people have nothing else to do.”
I spoke with Ajinça and other small-business owners who recently navigated their first virtual launches to find out what works — and why.
1. Make it memorable.
In planning a virtual product launch, it’s imperative that the event shines. Ajinça came up with the idea to create an immersive, 3D virtual space that brings the attendee into an event center or themed venue. Guests can opt to go into different rooms, and products can be placed throughout the space, viewable via a 3D walkthrough. “Both options allow for brand visibility and product placement within each space,” says Ajinça. If she’s planning the launch of a new liquor product, for example, customers can open a virtual door, enter a bar and peruse a shelf filled with the liquor bottles. “If they feel like they’re actually experiencing certain elements as if they’re there, it intrigues them even more and it creates that interaction that you want to have with the guests,” she says.
2. Keep it interactive.
The owners of Beckon Ice Cream, a premium ice cream brand made with lactose-free dairy, had plans to host sampling events when they launched two new flavors at retailers across the country. When the quarantine began, the business invited customers to an “Ice Cream Social (Distancing)” event over Zoom. Co-founder Gwen Burlingame says that during the video call, they chatted about the ice cream with customers — which was available for exclusive pre-order through the Beckon website — and, to keep it lively and fun, played games and offered giveaways. “We did trivia and some fun things and we gave away free pint coupons to the winners. And then afterwards, everyone who attended got a digital goodie bag,” she says.
3. Schedule virtual desk-side meetings for one-on-one interactions.
In the pre-COVID world, Megan Driscoll, founder and CEO of the New York-based public relations firm EvolveMKD, would work with her team to schedule desk-side meetings with reporters and influencers to introduce them to new products. This spring, when it was time to launch SUNISDIN, an antioxidant supplement designed to help protect the skin from sun damage, the firm opted instead for virtual appointments. The move online, it turned out, allowed the team to meet with nearly twice as many people in a day as they would have met with in physical meetings, because they didn’t have to travel. Driscoll says that the conversations tended to be deeper, too, because the involved parties seemed more attentive and less distracted than in real life. Overall, she says the meetings were a success. “I think it saved everyone so much time, and it actually saved our client money,” she says.
Really try to put an objective, unbiased lens on and look at your launch. Is this really newsworthy? Does this warrant a conversation with someone? Or is this OK to just send?
—Megan Driscoll, founder and CEO, EvolveMKD
4. Partner up.
The more you can extend your social media reach, the better. For the SUNISDIN launch events, EvolveMKD coordinated partnerships with two dermatologists who shared their expertise and skincare advice. Influencers and celebrities also cast a larger net by drawing in their own following, says Ajinça. “People are star-struck. If they see a celebrity is hosting this event they’re going to be like, 'I have to see this person, let me get on Zoom. I’m seeing them in their raw state. This is not edited, it’s not for TV.'” Burlingame says cross-promotions and product partnerships also offer marketing opportunities. Beckon recently partnered with a business called The Bear and the Rat, which makes treats for dogs, for a virtual event. “It gave us the opportunity to get in front of new people, for them to get in front of new people, and it’s just fun. And I think we can all use a little bit of socializing,” says Burlingame.
5. Find opportunities to deepen the relationship with your customer.
Now that travel and in-person events are on hold, Burlingame says that her business has shifted its resources to focus more on social media and online communications. There, she says, her team has strengthened relationships with customers because they’re more engaged, whether they’re responding to comments, questions and suggestions via email and social media, or interacting with them over Instagram Live. “It’s been cool for us to see how much more we can get out of the online channel, and to know that we can still have what feels like almost face-to-face conversations, even though it’s just over Instagram,” says Burlingame.
6. Be discerning about what medium you choose.
Not all product launches are equal, and just because you can use video doesn’t mean you always should, says Driscoll. Some products, for example, may be best shared as samples via mail, accompanied by an email. “I think right now there is such little separation for everyone between personal and work life,” says Driscoll. “Just out of respect, really try to put an objective, unbiased lens on and look at your launch. Is this really newsworthy? Does this warrant a conversation with someone? Or is this OK to just send?” If you do choose the virtual route, Driscoll says to keep your meetings or presentations short and sweet, capping them at 30 minutes. “If you can talk in sound bites or bullets, people tend to remember that. Less is more and really dial it down,” she says. “If a reporter doesn’t get what they’re looking for they will follow up and ask more questions.”
While many virtual product launches will be born out of necessity, everyone interviewed for this story agrees that they expect them to stick around long after COVID-19. “There’s no limit with virtual events,” says Ajinça. “It creates unlimited potential for people attending and it creates unlimited potential for income.”
Photo: Getty Images