Making your launch go wow: iPad 2

Regular readers know I'm a fully signed-up member of Appleaholics Anonymous, and so won't be surprised that I queued for several hours to get my hands on iPad 2 on launch day (25th March for the UK). And what a launch it has been. Reports suggest sales of up to 1 million units in the 1st weekend in the US alone.

Screen shot 2011-03-31 at 18.09.29
As I waited outside Apple's Covent Garden store in the early Spring sunshine, along with several hundred other Apple fans, I got thinking about how Apple have transformed product launches into full-blown customer experiences with a real "wow" factor.

1. Create a cult product

You won't see people queuing for the launch of Blackberry's tablet. Or the upgrade of the Samsung Galaxy Tab. That's because they lack the wow factor of iPad 2 product. Jonathan Ive's industrial design makes it look and feel fab, 1/3 thinner and lighter. There are 65,000 iPad apps, compared to a few hundred for Android powered tablets. Even the bloody cover for the new iPad has had some magic dust: it snaps into place using magnets, transforms into a stand and automatically turns the iPad off when closed. There's a great little video of the covers below if you're on the blog website, or here.

 2. Turn the supply chain into a differentiator

Many branding experts still show Apple advertising to explain the company's success, often portraying it as a lifestyle brand. This is shockingly superficial thinking that over-simplifies Apple's business model. Apple's supply chain is the un-sung hero and 100 times more important than any ad.

Your average product launch gets delayed. "The factory f*****d up!". "There was a product glitch." Or some other reason. Contrast this with Apple's launch of iPad 2. It happened at 5pm on March 25, in multiple European markets. This launch was heavily publicised leaving no room for error. It was only possible because of an awesome supply chain that got the right product t the right places at the right time.

In addition, Apple's manufacturing magic makes it possible to offer a stunning and sexy product at a highly competitive price that competitors struggle to match. And the blockbuster sales create an upward spiral of success from scale economies: higher volumes vs. competition allows Apple to drive down production and purchasing costs.  

3. Queuing as a customer experience

Apple really were smart in managing the queues for iPad 2, turning 5, 6 or more hours of waiting in line into a memorable experience. Here's how:

– personal greeting: the store manager thanked me for joining him and his team and shook my hand. Nice touch

– free food and drink: Starbucks coffee, bottles of water and pastries from Paul were all given out for free to keep the punters happy

– Secure supervision: numerous Apple store staff and extra security people made sure there was no queue jumping and that everyone waited in an orderly fashion. Basic stuff, but done really well.

– ticketing system: this was a little bit of genius. There are 12 different iPad 2 models (based on colour, memory and 3G or not). A worry was wasting time queuing only to find they didn't have the one I wanted. To solve this, Apple Store folk came down the queue asking you which iPad 2 you were after, and gave you a little ticket for that model – see them in action below:

This meant you were at least sure if getting what you wanted when you did get in the store. It also dramatically cut the time to process orders once inside. You handed in your ticket and bam, there was your iPad.

– making it feel special: the pre-launch publicity meant that there plenty of TV crews filming, making it seem like an event. And although it did feel over-the-top even for me, the cheering and clapping when the store doors opened at 5pm did add some atmosphere!


– personal presentation : when I finally got inside the store I was invited to sit down by a smiling Apple Store staffer who seemed genuinely happy to serve me. She thanked me for queuing, got my iPad and cover quickly, and chatted about my experience with my old model. When have you ever had that service when buying a bit of electronic kit?

There you have it. Good learning for anyone planning a launch event of some sort. Start by making the thing you're launching as amazing as possible. Think through the micro detail of how to make the experience as smooth as possible. And work on adding a personal touch to share your enthusiasm for the new product or service.