Launching in lockdown

How do you deliver a premium B2B product launch in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis? We asked B2B marketing expert Melissa Kershaw, of Miele.

When the commercial division of appliance manufacturer Miele came to launch its newest ‘Little Giants’ laundry range, it was faced with one mighty challenge. Ambitious physical event plans had to be shelved in the light of Covid-19. But with this being Miele’s biggest B2B launch for 15 years, how could the team still achieve real impact and stay true to brand?

As the company’s B2B PR agency, we recently spoke to Miele’s Regional Marketing Director (North West Europe), Melissa Kershaw, who talked us through her experiences of launching virtually, in lockdown.

So, tell us how long has the Little Giants launch been in the pipeline?

Well it was already a regular conversation topic when I joined Miele back in February 2019, but there were some important product processes to go through before we could launch in the UK. We started the detailed planning process in Q3 2019 with a view to being ready for a large scale launch in 2020.  Little did we know what twists and turns the planning stage was to take!

What plans and ideas did you have in place for the launch prior to lockdown?

We had three main B2B audiences to launch to – customers, partners, and media. Originally, we planned a trip to Miele’s HQ and plant in Germany. This would have been a great opportunity to show people the heart of Miele, meet the senior team, tour the factory where the appliances are built, and learn more about the brand – giving them the full Miele experience. We wanted the launch to be interactive, by building out zones to represent the different uses, features and target sectors of the Little Giants range

As the premium brand in the sector our number one goal was to give people a premium experience; The launch trip would have been the perfect way to do it, topped off with a fabulous dinner and entertainment to make it even more memorable.

What happened to your plans as Covid-19 started to take hold?

Obviously, international travel was straight off the cards, so we started to think about a physical launch locally in the UK. We hunted down various creative venues that would still allow us to keep that premium experience. Then of course large gatherings became out of the question too. All hopes of a physical event we’re put on ice, but we still needed to press ahead.

This was a pivotal moment really. We toyed with the idea of doing an interim low key virtual launch, followed by something more akin to our original plans later down the line. However, the prospect of splitting resource and budget down two separate paths felt like neither would offer the premium experience we had hoped for. We made a judgement call to go full throttle with virtual.

Was it back to the drawing board, or did you carry any of the physical event ideas over into your virtual plan?

A bit of both. Obviously, we had to rethink but we still wanted to emulate a high quality physical experience. We’d toyed with the option of a simple launch using standard web conferencing but of course this was at a time when the world was flooded with Zoom and Teams! We needed to do more to stand out and were also insistent on sticking to the three key elements of our brief: to be on brand; to make it engaging and to offer something interactive. The audience had to be able to explore the different benefits of the Little Giants – such as flexibility, connectivity, and convenience. We also had been lucky enough for Dr Miele himself to agree to participate in our launch, but rather than in person this had to be via a pre-recorded video for the webcast.

So, how did you make it happen?

Fortunately, our original launch event partner also specialised in virtual events. They helped us develop the concept of a live, interactive, studio broadcast. A TV-style approach would convey our premium values, and by taking the plunge and doing it live, we’d be able to interact with the audience and respond to their feedback. We were taking the Little Giants into the studio – on stage behind the lights and the camera; a little daunting but also very exciting!

How did you maximise audience interaction?

Broadcasting live was a big part of this. It meant the presenters could respond to audience questions in real time. Questions were posed via the webcast platform and the team could see and answer these immediately. Machine feature and function queries could be demonstrated immediately, directly on camera. In our original launch plans, we’d wanted to allow guests to get hands on with the Little Giants. This approach made sure we got a close as possible to doing this.

We also encouraged the audience to use the webcast feedback tools – particularly, posting emoticons which both the rest of the audience and the presenters could see. This feedback helped the presenters engage and know they were having the right impact on the audience.

Another nice feature of the webcasting system meant we could run a competition which really helped maintain audience interaction – having a great Miele prize at the end also helped!

What were your main concerns and challenges prior to launch?

Planning for our biggest product launch in years whilst learning to adjust to the ‘new normal’, with heightened levels of anxiety both in our personal and work lives was challenging. It was really important to have regular check-ins with the team involved.

Lockdown made full scale rehearsals challenging. Due to the launch’s live nature it was crucial that timings and transitions from one segment and presenter to the next ran smoothly. We did as much virtual rehearsing as possible and then got into the studio the day beforehand. It would have helped if we could practice more in the studio ahead of time. There are certain spatial considerations you simply can’t foresee until you’re in the room, such as where the cameras are going to be and how presenting into them is going to feel, or how smoothly the close up demo of the product will run. This was just something we had to deal with, but it proves that to deliver a great event of any kind, the devil is always in the detail.

Naturally, the safety of our presenters was of top importance. Because we were broadcasting from a large, professional studio the whole event could be delivered with social distancing maintained. There was also plenty of off camera space, such as the green room, where presenters could relax in good isolation and prepare for their next segment.

How did it go on the day and did you encounter any challenges?

We did two events on consecutive days – firstly for our partners, then day two for customers and press. The events went very smoothly in general. The preparation the team put in was massively important, as was the support of our event and PR partners. We met our objective and delivered a premium event with great audience numbers and high levels of interaction, just in a virtual setting.

As with all live shows it wasn’t without its hitches. On day two we suffered an unexpected technical issue which took the event offline temporarily. We kept breathing! There were concerns this would interrupt the flow and we’d see a significant audience drop off. Luckily, our B2B PR team at Skout were on hand to keep the conversation going with the journalists while the issue was resolved. We saw practically no drop off at all. I think the premium nature of the event helped with this too. Had it been a low key webinar or slideshow, we might well have struggled.

Gemma, one of the presenters, had the daunting job of restarting things once we were live again. She delivered her opening line, “well folks, at least you know its live now!” like a consummate professional! If anything, whilst a technical glitch is not ideal, it humanised the event and we received lots of lovely comments of support afterwards.

What learnings would you take from the experience to apply to future events or launches?

There are some things about a physical launch that can’t be replaced virtually, but there are also some great advantages to be gained from doing a virtual launch in style. Firstly, attendance rates were higher than normal. While you might expect around 30% of confirmed attendees to a physical event to drop off due to time commitments or travel, we achieved around a 90% attendance across all both days. I believe this was down to the quality and style of the launch, plus some physical touches we included to connect with the audience in advance. One was sending each a mini bottle of prosecco in a high quality presentation box – so that we could all toast the launch of the Little Giants from our respective locations. We also ran an exclusive competition for attendees with the winner being announced during our live broadcast.

The other beauty of virtual events is that you can make your budget go further. We would have had limitations on physical attendee numbers, but this wasn’t a constraint, so we were able to reach a bigger audience. Unsurprisingly, our post-event analysis showed most attendees were happier with a virtual event at the current time. We were delighted that 97% rated the launch as fantastic or good.

And the secret to success?

To be honest I think the biggest success factor is the team. A good team dynamic right through the planning and delivery, strong buy-in from everyone, and collaboration both internally and with our agency partners Parallel Blue and Skout, was crucial in making the difference between a good event and a great one.

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