HOW TOSHIBA CREATED BUZZ AT PRODUCT LAUNCH
Objective: Use a trade show to launch a new brand of CT technology that the market wasn't expecting.
Strategy: Keep the debut of the technology a secret until the day of the trade show and draw attendees based on buzz for a product that, while a big step forward for the market, was not nearly as significant as the new technology actually being released.
Results: Event generates hundreds of leads and the product introduction wins three awards from the Public Relations Society of America.
For years, the medical community had been buzzing about new, improved CT scanning technology. The new tools would significantly update the models of scanners that were available on the market and change the way doctors were using the equipment. So when Toshiba America Medical Systems realized that its next-generation CT scanner was actually a step above the technology the industry had been talking about, it decided to keep the new system, called the Aquilion ONE, under wraps in order to surprise the industry with its release at the Radiological Society of North America annual trade show last November.
“There was an expectation, and there has been, on the market for a long time that the newest technology would be a 256-slice CT. ...What we actually brought to market was something much better—it leapfrogged the expected technology,” said Cathy Wolfe, director of marketing services for Toshiba America Medical Systems.
For more than a year, Toshiba's marketing department planned the new technology's release. But because the market was expecting something entirely different, the company decided to keep the launch hush-hush. In fact, only 20 members of the company's marketing department were let in on the secret.
“People involved signed nondisclosure agreements,” Wolfe said. “Not only was the market surprised, but a lot of our own folks did not know. We let the rest of our organization know the day before the show opened. It was difficult to keep the secret.”
Leading up to the introduction, Toshiba invited customers and members of the medical community to the RSNA show in Chicago and to two evening events it was holding to detail the new scanner. But because they were keeping the new tool confidential, the 1,600 invited to the evening events were only told that the company would be talking about “the realities of CT.”
“This is a rather small industry,” said Wolfe, explaining how they were able to convince people to attend the event without providing much detail. “They knew that whatever we talked about would be of value and that we were the leading developers. Their expectation was that we were going to talk about the 256. We fully expected to have a full house both nights.”
On the morning of the show, the team invited the media into their booth where they revealed the system for the first time. “The first thing we did at the trade show was hold a press conference in the booth. It was those initial stories that went online that day that drove traffic to the booth.”
Ultimately, the surprise product release was a huge success. Because the technology was significantly more advanced then expected—and because the company was able to draw so many people from the industry to its events despite any real explanation of what they would be seeing—it was able to generate a significant amount of buzz for the new product. “We generated more than a couple hundred leads,” Wolfe said, “almost 500 potential prospects worldwide. And the system sells for more than $2 million. [The introduction worked because] when we went to market with the system, we were ready to go to market. A lot of times technology is introduced and not available [until] a couple of years down the road. The excitement was just spectacular, and it is probably the highlight of our careers in terms of what you can do in marketing.” M