There's an an interesting post at Vario Creative Blog in which Anthony Vario describes an excellent software port project:
In order to get the product right, she started by talking with customers. They were literally pulled into the development process. A monthly newsletter was instituted to make the development process as transparent as possible. Each and every newsletter had a call to action to call or email and keep the discussion going. It did. In fact, the circulation of the newsletter expanded dramatically as the users added the names of other interested parties within their organizations. Customer support discussed the development when they had users on the phone.
When they were ready, they identified a single beta customer to help launch the product. Once that customer was live, they put together a simple 5 minute recorded Webex demo and included a link to special homepage, with a new product datasheet, access to the demo, and a call to action to schedule a one on one demo of the working product.
My analytics package showed that within the first 24 hours, the demo was watched by over 20% of the newsletter subscription list.
There's more, and it's worth reading; if you want a quick summary of the right way to handle an upgrade in which you could lose all of your customers, this is it.
But it left me scratching my head, because it came out of a discussion on the blog about whether the press release was dead (I don't think so) and this was given as an example of a new kind of marketing.
As I read it, I thought, this is good, but it's not new. This is how smart marketers and product managers have handled upgrades for a long time. Sure, maybe there weren't email newsletters and webex demos in the past, but conceptually, this is nothing new; it's just easier thanks to new technology.
Vario gives four reasons that this is new and different:
1. It was realized from the beginning that the customers had to be engaged, that in fact they had ownership of the brand.
2. Technology wasn’t used for technologies sake, instead she used the media that was most likely to reach her core customers.
3. By securing her existing customers as part of the process, she kept a percentage of them from jumping ship.
4. The project was accomplished with a virtually non-existent marketing budget. In fact, the only things that came out of the MarComm dept. were the final press release, the time it took to format the product datasheet, plus a couple hours of webmaster time sending the newsletter monthly.
I'm unconvinced. I think number two is the key item in the list: she chose media that fit her strategic goals, not just whatever was cool and new.
Personally, I think the critical medium in these cases is the telephone... as in, the product manager calling a customer and saying, "Hey, how's it going?"
New marketing technology and media can make us think everything we do is new; it's not. In many cases, the tried and true approaches are still the way to go - new media just change some tactics.