A lot goes into the unveiling of a new product

Jan. 13, 2005 - With BICSI Winter Conference looming, companies get ready to draw contractors to their booths to have a look.

Sales people are polled. Customers are queried. It all goes into the mix as manufacturers get ready for that big product launch, introducing new products to the general market.

A lot of strategy has gone into what you are about to see at BICSI. The BICSI Winter Conference begins in Orlando in two days. When the show floor opens at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday night, manufacturers will display their products, many of which are being unveiled for the first time.

But not all manufacturers plan new product launchings around conference shows.
Some manufacturers say it's mostly hit and miss when it comes to launching a new product at a trade show. That is to say, it's a matter of luck if the product will be ready to be launched at a given show.

Launching a product at a major show like BICSI has definite advantages. At this show, manufacturers can show off their new products to a focused audience of contractors and enterprise end users.

"I absolutely want to target the BICSI show because at a BICSI conference, every person there is a potential customer," says Chuck Ganimian, business development manager for cable testing product manufacturer Agilent Technologies (Loveland, CO;
www.agilent.com). Agilent makes cable testing products. "It is such a focused show, and the audience is full of the users for these products."

But manufacturers say they must also be conservative when it comes to making commitments about the launch of a new product. They want to make sure the product is strong and ready for release before going public with it. More often than not, the product isn't ready for a big show like BICSI.

This is because, more than likely, the product wasn't planned in time for the show launch. First, manufacturers must come up with an idea for a new product. This doesn't always time perfectly with a conference.

The idea can be the result of "fishing" in the market, and trying to find out what the market is looking for. Draka Comteq takes this approach.

"We poll our outside sales force, which is getting feedback from our customer base," says Rob Gilberti, director of marketing for Draka Comteq. "Our input comes from what customers are telling us, and based on that, we put together a product development plan."

As part of its own "fishing,'' Fiber Instrument Sales (Oriskany, NY; www.fiberinstrumentsales.com) conducts customer surveys to find out what product features they are looking for. This can lead to the seed of an idea that sets the production gears in motion. Then, the new product is fully developed in-house. For example, a portable videoscope that was recently developed by the company was the result of a collaboration between Jim Inman, research and development representative for Fiber Instrument Sales, and an electrical engineer.

"Sometimes a customer comes to us with an idea, and we develop it from that," says Inman. "Other times it's something we see through our sales as missing from the

Agilent Technologies works with key customers to design the next generation of its products. This means holding focus group sessions to determine what customers want in a product.

"They (focus groups) are critical to the design process, and a lot of times our design is based around what a specific customer is looking for," says Ganimian.

Ganimian notes, for example, that Agilent researchers came up with the idea of the FrameScope, a network performance tester, at a time when they knew it would not be ready to be released at a strong trade show.

"We took it to a couple of shows, but there wasn't a primary target show for this product," says Ganimian. "But the feedback we got back was very successful."

Once a product idea is focused, research and development teams begin the work of actually developing the product. When it's ready, the marketing machine steps in. Some companies, like Agilent, will announce a new product roughly six months before it is actually available - usually about halfway through the product development process. At Fiber Instrument Sales, press releases are timed to be sent out shortly before a product goes into production.

"The marketing department takes it as far as press releases," says Inman.

For some companies, the unveiling of new products is based on catalog timing. At Fiber Instrument Sales, products are released in the spring, just in time for the spring catalog. But many companies, like Draka Comteq (Franklin MA, www.drakacomteq.us), do not have a formal product launch procedure. They develop the product, create a media plan for print advertising and Web-based advertising, and bring samples to select customers.

"We check out if things are appropriate for each different product," says Rob Gilberti, director of marketing for Draka Comteq.

Draka Comteq also aligns itself with trade publications and Web pages to launch its products. Gilberti says the advertisements are planned to coincide with big conference shows in an effort to steer traffic toward their booth. This means taking out advertisements asking patrons to look for the company say, at a BICSI conference, or sending out direct mail ads prior to the show.

"This will draw people to our booth (at a conference), so they will come by and see our new product," says Gilberti.

If the product is planned for a show launch, large, flashy posters are made to serve as backdrops at show booths, and demonstrations are planned. Media companies are hired to make videos of the product being used, and actors can be hired to rehearse mini
"shows" that will draw crowds.

But the booth traffic is not necessarily being sought for the launch of the product. In the case of Draka Comteq, the product may have been launched prior to the show. In many cases, the actual conference show presentation is the last thing on a company's mind
when it comes time to make a presentation. Draka Comteq does not wait until a show to unveil a new product - unless the product just happens to be ready for release when a show is approaching. "In general, we don't wait for a show," says Gilberti.

This is also the case for Fiber Instrument Sales. "We generally only take things to a show that are in production and ready for sale," says Inman. "If we have things (new products) ahead of time, we build up demo units for a trade show."

Agilent also does not have a set policy on how to launch products. The different divisions of the company act autonomously, and the general managers of each division have financial goals to meet. Some may target specific shows for unveiling new products at, but some may not.

Agilent, for example, did not target a specific trade show for its next-generation cable tester, FrameScope 350. During the previous year, customers had provided Agilent with feedback on the FrameScope, telling the company they wanted the device to be capable of taking measurements at gigabit speeds. Agilent conducted a focus group with customers, asking them to make notes on what they liked and didn't like about the product.

"We tried to fix the things they didn't like, and give them the things they did like," says Ganimian. "We basically designed it around what customers wanted."

The latest generation of the FrameScope is now being released in time for BICSI, but it wasn't planned this way.

"Basically, this is being released through the trials and tribulations of product development," says Ganimian.

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