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Launch a Product Like Barnes & Noble

When Barnes & Noble (BKS) announced its new electronic book device—the nook—on Oct. 20, I missed the press conference and the press release, but the book giant introduced me to the device via an e-mail to its members that same day. Few entrepreneurs have the marketing, advertising, or public relations budget to match a new product campaign like Barnes & Noble's, but when it comes to crafting the message behind a new product or service, anyone can borrow a page from the retailer's playbook: Keep your marketing messages consistent, concise, simple, and sweet. Consistent. The nook is billed as "the world's most advanced e-book reader." How do I know? Barnes & Noble tells me so—in the subject line of its e-mail, in its advertising, in its press releases, on its Web site, and inside its in-store marketing material. The one-line description remains remarkably consistent across every platform. And at under 140 characters, the headline also easily fits in Twitter posts, an increasingly popular way to promote. The effectiveness of the headline reminds me of Steve Jobs' introduction of the MacBook Air in early 2007. "It's the world's thinnest notebook," Jobs said. Customers were encouraged to visit Apple's (AAPL) Web site to learn more (just as you can visit Barnes & Noble's site to learn more), but if that's all you knew, it would tell you a lot. Can you describe your product in 140 characters or fewer than 10 words? Keep refining the message until you can, because the one-sentence description is a powerful foundation for a consistent messaging campaign. Concise. The nook has dozens of features, but the retailer chose to highlight just four of them in its e-mail campaign: Have access to more than 1 million books, magazines, and newspapers; enjoy a better reading experience; save time, money, and space; and "furnish" the nook with designer accessories. Walk into a Barnes & Noble store, pick up the small brochure about the nook, and you'll find the same consistent, concise messages. Neuroscientists have discovered that the human brain can only consume three or four chunks of information at one time. Good marketers know this and use the information to keep their messages concise. Simple. Barnes & Noble uses simple words to describe the nook. For example, it touts a "better reading experience." But what does that mean? According to the retailer's messaging, it means "text appears as crisp and clear as a printed page." It's not quite that simple, of course. Creating electronic ink is a very complex process. Does the average reader need to know what's under the hood? Not necessarily. For most people, "a better reading experience" says it all. Sweet. You must decide which feature—or benefit—to promote as the sweetest above all others. This can be difficult for entrepreneurs who think every feature of their product is equally important. But something must take top billing. Despite all the features of the nook, Barnes & Noble is promoting one key benefit: 1 million titles downloadable wirelessly in seconds. I know, because it's at the top of the e-mail campaign and on the very top of the retailer's Web site, just below the six-word product description. Again, too many messages confuse your customer. Tease them with one benefit that they will find so sweet they will either want to learn more or buy the product immediately. You might not have millions (or even thousands) of dollars to spend on a big-time campaign, but if you stick to messages that are consistent, concise, simple, and sweet, you'll be well ahead of most of your competitors.
Carmine Gallo is the communication skills coach for the world's most admired brands. He is a popular speaker and the author of several books including The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs and The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs. More of Gallo's columns are available in his biweekly series.

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