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Launching in Lockdown: How Do You Deliver a Premium B2B Product Launch in a Global Crisis?

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? Melissa Kershaw, Miele’s Regional Marketing Director (North West Europe), talks through her experiences of launching virtually, in lockdown.

The Little Giants launch had been a regular conversation topic since before Melissa joined Miele back in February 2019, but there were some important product processes to go through before the range could launch in the UK. The detailed planning process started in Q3 2019 with a view to being ready for a large scale launch in 2020.

Planning the event

There were three main B2B audiences to launch to – customers, partners, and media. Originally, the plan was to take 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 invitees 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 the 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.

As Covid-19 took hold globally, international travel was immediately 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 were put on ice, but the launch still needed to take place to create interest in the market for the new range.

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 – a pivotal moment in the planning for the Little Giants launch.

The event planning didn’t all need to be started from scratch as some of our ideas we were able to carry over into a virtual event. Obviously, we had to rethink some of the aspects but we still wanted to emulate a high quality physical experience. We’d debated 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 (fourth generation executive director and co-proprietor of the Miele Group) to agree to participate in our launch, but rather than in person this had to be via a pre-recorded video for the webcast.

Making the event happen

When it came to making the event happen, we were fortunate 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 in front the lights and the camera.

Maximising audience interaction was key to the success of the event and broadcasting live was a big part of this. Our presenters were able to respond to audience questions posed via the webcast platform in real time. We were able to demonstrate machine feature and function queries immediately on camera. In our original launch plans, we’d wanted to allow guests to get hands on with the Little Giants and 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 so the rest of the audience and the presenters could see. This feedback helped the presenters engage with the audience and provided an immediate way of seeing that the key messages were being received. Another feature of the webcasting system meant we could run a simultaneous competition which really helped maintain audience interaction.

Addressing pre-launch concerns and challenges

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 and because the launch was going to be live 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 before. If we were doing the event again then we would have spent more time in the studio because there are certain spatial considerations you simply can’t foresee until you’re in the room. It’s certainly true 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 isolation and prepare for their next segment.

On the day 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 with the preparation the team put in paying dividends. 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. There were concerns this would interrupt the flow and we’d see a significant audience drop off but 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. Whilst the technical glitch was not ideal, it humanised the event and we actually received some great comments of support afterwards.

Learnings for future events

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 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 such touch was sending each participant a mini bottle of prosecco in a high quality presentation box to toast the launch of the Little Giants from their respective locations. We also ran an exclusive competition for attendees with the winner being announced during our live broadcast.

The other positive 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 of launching in lockdown?

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, was crucial in making the difference between a good event and a great one. But I’m hoping that the next event we run doesn’t necessarily have the same challenges.

Melissa is the Regional Marketing Director for North West Europe at Miele

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