Take it from Google and Microsoft: Product announcements are all about showmanship

By Nathaniel Mott , written on October 26, 2012

From The News Desk

The possibilities are endless.

Product announcements tend to follow a familiar pattern. The presenting company, whether it's Apple, Google, or Microsoft, opens with a quick, by-the-numbers overlook of how it's doing, follows with a few product announcements, and then leaves so the tech press can get their hands on the shiny new product waiting in the other room. These presentations are the artistic equivalent of a paint-by-numbers.

That's starting to change, however. With the 24/7 rumor mill leaking every detail (real or imagined) ahead of a product's official unveiling, companies are starting to do things a little bit differently. They can no longer rely on the "aha!" factor of the device itself as they may have been able to before, because as with any commercial – and these are commercials – it's all about making an impact.

Perhaps the best example of this concept at work is the way Google announced that its Google Glass product would be available for developers to preorder at its annual I/O conference. Rather than saying "Check out how great these kinda-goofy computer-glasses look!" Google had a couple guys skydive out of an airplane and live-broadcast their descent to YouTube, as seen here. Gimmicky? Sure, but so what? It got the message across loud and clear.

More recently, Microsoft's Panos Panay dropped a Surface tablet to the stage and showed the audience photos of someone using the tablet as a skateboard. Panay easily could have said "Look, we built this thing to be tough" and left it at that, but he decided to go the extra mile and drop the damn thing, like so:

This concept applies to startups as well. There's a reason why I wanted to write about Vantageous after DreamIt Ventures' New York demo day: It was the one company that decided to go all-out and put its product through the paces on-stage. Though each of the presenting companies were interesting, the only one that I'm able to name without looking back through my notes is Vantageous, because it wasn't afraid to "peacock it out" (as the kids might say).

And this is the part where I add a caveat: This style only works if a product is actually worth all the excitement. If it isn't, these things can fall flat on their face, and not in a good, pre-determined way, as with the Surface. Imagine if Google Glass hadn't worked properly, or if the Surface tablet had shattered when it hit the stage. We might still be talking about both products, but in a "wow, I can't believe that those idiots did that" kind of way. Even the best salesman needs to have a good product to fall back on, lest he be reduced to selling snake oil and unfulfilled promises.

In an era where everyone wants to know everything as quickly as possible and there are probably thousands of sites that will publish every rumor, factoid, or imaginary feature of a product before it's announced, this showmanship is key. There's a reason why most people can name the MacBook Air and not the Toshiba U925t, and that's that nobody ever left a Toshiba event saying "wow, that was so cool."

Sure, some companies can hold a lackluster event – Apple's recent announcements come to mind – and still make a boatload of cash. But, for the most part, if a company can't put on a good show, it's better off just pushing out a press release.

[Image 'shopped by Hallie Bateman]