Transparent Launches

I’m not a fan of big corporate product launches. They are too loud. Too restrictive. Too inefficient. Too expensive. And too much based on delivering “messages” no one believes, rather than simply engaging in a mutually beneficial conversation with your customers or communities. I don’t see the point. And I’ve never seen the benefits of a “launch” quantified to justify the expense. Never.

Anyway, I took a crack at this issue back in February, and I’ve been talking about it internally on the OpenSolaris project for a year. The issue bugs me, and I don’t know why, but I’m working it out of my system. Ok, I’m bitter, but beyond that part. Perhaps it’s because I see engineers and developers all around me quite effortlessly engaging in transparent activities. Why, then, do we come along and take their work and “launch” it? Seems odd to me. Sun is a remarkably open company, yet we also engage in “the launch” ritual. Most companies do. Thankfully, I’m not really involved in launches anymore, which is good since I suck at them. And people who know me for more than five minutes are quite aware of my view — dump the launches.

Stephen O’Grady has a really nice one-liner on launches: “Launches are usually designed to talk at someone, not with them” (emphasis added). But Stephen’s thoughts on transparency reflect far more than that one-liner, so take a peek at his post and the comments — especially about Eclipse trying to do a transparent launch, which would represent quite a departure from how the project was born a few years ago (sorry … I worked on NetBeans at the time).

So, aside from getting feedback from a community, I’d love to see exactly what a transparent launch would look like coming from a public corporation. Although it’s a foundation, perhaps Eclipse will give us a clue. I’m looking for the details. Just how do you open all those closed launch processes? And is anyone really interested in seeing all that drama and potentially contributing to it? Or do they just want the release date? Imagine opening the FAQ meetings … you know when we carefully craft the questions and the answers to magically reflect the current partyline. How about a transparent — yet embargoed? — press release process. How would that work when reporters can presumably see inside? What would an open gold/silver/bronze analyst pitch look like? Interested in contributing to a community developed executive keynote? An open field sales competitive briefing pitch? Open pricing discussion? Open branding? Legal? Wow. I’m not sure it’s possible to open these functions because they are designed to be closed until a given day when everything is “launched” simultaneously, wrapped nicely in air tight messaging and delivered via some dramatic show at some expensive venue. Opening that process would actually kill it. Wouldn’t it? Doesn’t the “transparency” sort of cancel out the “launch” in that phrase?

I’m interested in what comes after the launch era because I believe most launches actually reduce the credibility of the project — despite (and maybe because of) all the buzz and spin. So, what replaces the launch? What innovative activities are we not doing now but could be doing if we killed the launch altogether? And would anyone even notice?


6 thoughts on “Transparent Launches

  1. my own thinking on the subject is still evolving, but essentially i think the disconnect is in treating all products to be launched as the same, or at least similar, beasts. the fact is that they’re not, and the type of audience for Solaris is different then the type of audience for an iPod which is different from the audience for a new car.
    obviously i tend more towards your side of the spectrum on the issue, and i think that’s in large part b/c i recognize that the primary audience for products such as Solaris is largely immune to traditional marketing efforts.
    now does this mean you can ignore outlets like the NY Times and such? of course not, b/c they influence the other component audience – the CIOs.
    but i think it does at least call for a reevaluation of marketing spend and resources. what do i know though, i’m not a marketer 😉


  2. pwl … So launches are media events. Exclusively?

    I think you are probably correct, actually, which is why in the last year I can’t seem to find too many developers who give a damn about the launches we do. They seem to either tolerate the event or ignore it. Coming to the party is fun and has serious networking value, but the party aspect of the launch is a tiny part of the entire operation and doesn’t show the fairly massive churn (wasted resources, in my opinion) internally to put the entire thing together.

    Also, I understand the idea of attributing marketing value (ad costs, news clips, etc) to a launch — especially for a consumer company like Apple. But what I’m looking for is *how* all that so-called media value (+ the costs to implement the launch) actually translates into increased sales or new developer involvement or whatever. That’s the answer I never get. The consumer people probably have an argument, but it runs really thin when you are talking about infrastructure markets. Marketing types are good at saying that an article in the NYT is worth such and such based on ad rates or subscription figures or what some call “OTS” (opportunities to see) but where’s the link to the bottom line?

    What I’m saying is that we can probably engage our specific audiences in conversation in a much more efficient and inexpensive way than using the filter of the mass media to first keep information from them and then spring it on them all in one day. That’s what I’m looking for ….


  3. Addendum –
    1) audience = market (a poor choice of word)
    2) Mr. Marc Gunther, Faith and Fortune, states most corporations still practice ‘post industrial’ management principles. SOUND FAMILIAR?
    I recommend this new literary work!


  4. “stealth: marketing doesn’t work either. 8/

    i heard once that the value of the press coverage of apple computer inc’s macworld expos approached the equivalent $2billion (with a b) in equivalent marketing. their actual cost? product details locked up so tight support engineers didn’t even know about them until the wee hours of the morning of the release.

    the point is, media loves “events”. actually people do too. i used to do a lot of work with HA – very difficult to demonstrate because in the successful demo *nothing happens*. quietly achieving good things isn’t going to capture the imagination (or the press lines) the way a big splash will.


  5. Jim,
    Congratulations on your new family member!
    1) Tactful ‘seeding’ of an intended audience has worked throughout history.
    2) A personal involvement by business within an infant ‘community’ project, no strings attached, has often provided valuable information for all parties.
    3) Corporate Press Relations, News Outlets, Corporate Marketing and Corporate Management would notice ‘no product launch’, most business partners or intended clientele would not.


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