How to build hype around a new product category

Robin Emiliani  /  Aug 19, 2019

In 2012, a new idea hit the streets—and permanently changed the transportation industry. Seven years later, the service spans 83 countries and serves 36% of Americans. Its market volume is expected to top $109,050 million in 2022.

So what is this relatively new idea that took (and continues to take) the world by storm?


Uber. Lyft. Didi. And their less-well-known predecessor, who kicked the whole thing off: Sidecar.

In less than 10 years, this new product category has quite literally changed the world.

And they’re not the only ones.

Fifteen years ago, nobody would rent a stranger’s room, sight-unseen, for a two-night stay in a foreign country. These days, Airbnb is one of the most recognizable brands around. Twenty years ago, sales teams tracked client information in spreadsheets and on sticky notes. These days, 91% of companies with 11+ employees use a CRM.

All because someone had a useful idea for a new product or service category—and, importantly, they knew how to build up hype around it.

So if you do have a bright idea for a brand new category, how exactly do you go about building that hype? Well, first you better make sure you have something people want…

Stop! Do people actually want what you’re selling?

Before you start marketing, you need to know who your target audience is, and even more importantly, whether they’re willing to buy what you’re selling. Otherwise, you’re just setting yourself up for failure (and a major loss of both time and money).

Google “worst app ideas” and you’ll find a long list of people who skipped this step in their strategic process. The app that billed itself as “Airbnb for parking spaces” before realizing nobody wanted to spend 20 minutes bidding on a parking space just to save a dollar. Or the app that notifies you when your friends take a pee break (taking the concept of girls going to the bathroom in packs a few steps too far). Or the app that was “Tinder for dogs.”

You may love your idea. And your team may love your idea. And your agency may love your idea. But that doesn’t mean your audience will pay for your idea. To figure that out, you need to find your target audience and get access to their opinions—through pre-launch sign-ups, surveys, focus groups, minimum viable product tests, etc.

Before you start throwing money at a new idea, make sure it’s not “Tinder for dogs.”

Quick…what can your new category do for me?

Let’s say I’m your target customer, but you don’t know me personally. Everybody else is constantly pitching me their products and services via ads and emails and damn jingles I can’t get out of my head. I’m busy. My attention span is short. And I’m ignoring—or rolling my eyes at—about 95% of the marketing messages I see.

If you want my attention, the only way to get it is to cut through all that ad clutter with a message that tells me quickly and clearly:

What’s in it for me?

That’s true for any marketing, but it’s especially true for a new category because I need to understand right away what you are offering and why it’ll change my life. I’ve been living life without it for years, so why do I need you now?

Which is why when you’re talking about something that didn’t exist a year ago (or 10 minutes ago, for that matter), you better have your elevator pitch down. And I don’t mean four to five paragraphs and a slide deck. I mean two to three sentences. I mean if you only have two floors to go on the elevator, you want the person riding it with you to get off excited about what you’re doing. I mean that when I come to your website, I should understand what’s in it for me just from reading your headline.

This is hard to do and it’s why the first person or agency on your consultation list should be a strategic messaging expert.

Get the word out

So you’ve got your messaging nailed. Now you have to get it in front of people.

Because you could have the greatest message—the greatest new product—in the world, and if nobody hears about it, it’s not going anywhere. It is the proverbial tree in the forest. And none of us heard it fall.

Which is why your strategy—and probably the bulk of your budget—should start here.

There are lots of tactics for getting the word out. Press coverage. SEO. Viral videos. eBooks. Interviews and guest posts on popular sites in your niche. Ads in magazines. Ads on streaming services. Infographics. TV appearances. Billboards. Social media influencers. Even comics or documentaries.

The approach you should take will depend on your target audience (and where they spend their time online and off), your message, your geographic reach, and your business goals. Which is why strategy and messaging come first, and getting the word out should flow naturally from those.

Beef up your customer experience

You know what kills hype before it gets off the ground? Bad customer experiences. After all, studies show that bad customer experiences spread twice as fast as good ones. And companies that prioritize customer service make 60% more than the competition.

It’s also important to know that customers are very unlikely to complain to you. 96% won’t tell a company when they’re less than thrilled (but they will tell their friends). This means that a single customer complaint actually represents about 24 unhappy people—and that’s not factoring in the 15 friends they each warned off your service.

So pay close attention to every single one and hire or outsource the right talent to identify customer experience faux pas before they eat your hype alive.

Lots of companies start with marketing and think customer experience can build with time. But these days, you better have good customer care right out of the gate or you’ll stop your marketing in its tracks.

Budget to beat out the competition

Remember at the beginning of this article when I mentioned the very first ridesharing company ever? They were called Sidecar, and they went under in 2015.

Uber actually existed before Sidecar, but they were only a black car and limo service. Their marketing literally said they were the car service for the 1%.

Sidecar saw the larger opportunity first. Ride-sharing for the 99%.

Even though they were the first to the market, today, most of us don’t know Sidecar’s name. The reason? Their competitors had bigger budgets, better operations, and more marketing savvy.

It’s a cautionary tale for every marketer, but especially those pioneering new categories. If you don’t budget for marketing, your competitors will. And it won’t matter that they came to market two months or six months or a year after you. What will matter is what you put into your marketing.

The average tech company allocates a little under 15% of their budget to marketing (and says that marketing represents over 38% of their revenue growth). So if you want to keep up with the competition, you should plan to do the same (or better).

And if you need help with your messaging, marketing, and budgeting? Let’s talk.


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