Learn These 7 Lessons Before Your Next Lightning Strike

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A good lightning strike is a core part of any good category design strategy. Its main job is to create a mental shift in the minds of your prospects. You want them to think differently about the problem you address and the solution you’ve created to solve it.

Since we just executed our second lightning strike at BombBomb (our first was this WSJ best-seller), I wanted to share what I learned in the process. There are some things I would do differently next time, and some knowledge I wish I had going in. But first, here’s a quick refresher on what lightning strikes are.

What is a Lightning Strike?

This excerpt from Play Bigger says it best:

“A great lightning strike is a category-defining event. It evangelizes a new problem or an old problem that can be solved in a new way. It tells the world that this company knows how to define the problem and knows how to solve it… A strike is an event or coordinated series of events in a small window of time. It can take many forms. It can be tied to a product unveiling or a new round of funding. It could be a manufactured industry summit for the sole purpose of the strike.”

Classic examples include Salesforce’s “No Software” campaign and Apple’s iPhone launch. For more check out this interview with James Ricks on the Proofpoint Marketing podcast.

Here’s what I like to remind people: a lightning strike isn’t a run-of-the-mill marketing campaign, but with more budget behind it. It must be carefully crafted to trigger a moment in the minds of your buyers when they say, “Wow… I never thought of things that way!”

That’s exactly what we were trying to accomplish at BombBomb when we created a documentary about the problems “digital pollution” creates when we try to connect with others online.

Here’s how our second lightning strike turned out:

7 Lessons to Take Into Your First Lightning Strike

While every lightning strike will be different, there are some principles that should apply regardless of specifics. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but they are all things I’ll incorporate next time I plan a lighting strike.

1. Set Goals, Then Brainstorm

When you begin looking for the right lightning strike idea, it’s tempting to go right into the brainstorming phase. You’ll come up with lots of crazy ideas, which is great fun. But I suggest starting with a simple question: “What do we want to change in the minds of our audience?”

If you’re building a new category, you probably need to think about whether your audience understands (or is even aware of) the problem your category is attempting to solve. This can be a good place to start. At BombBomb, our goal for our lightning strike was to convince sales professionals “that spam and other forms of digital pollution make it hard for sales professionals to build relationships.” With that goal in mind, it was much easier for us to come up with ideas that could make that happen.

2. Don’t Underestimate How Long It Will Take

Your first lightning strike will be unlike anything you’ve done before. That means there will be many unknowns. And the less certain you are about your plans, the more likely it is that things will go sideways with your timeline. Give yourself plenty of buffer (say 50%) so you don’t put yourself in a bind if you miss a deadline. We had never launched a film like this before at BombBomb, and it took months longer than planned. Thank goodness we used an outstanding agency called Hackstone, or we never would have gotten it done!

3. Look for Ideas in Unexpected Places

Lightning strikes are often led by the marketing team. When they are, though, there’s a risk. Marketing teams already have preconceived ideas about what marketing campaigns are supposed to look like. Lightning strikes demand something different, though. Consider having people from different departments participate in the ideation of your lightning strike. Not only with their involvement create new trains of thought, it will also foster a greater sense of ownership. At BombBomb, we held an all-hands contest where cross-functional teams came together to pitch lightning strike ideas to the entire company. The film we produced was a direct result.

4. Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses

That Super Bowl ad your team keeps talking about may not be feasible for you. But that’s OK. If you try to emulate tactics that don’t play to your strengths, you’ll end up with something unremarkable and half-baked. Pick an idea that you can execute well, even if it means it won’t have the glamor of something that a company like Apple or Tesla might pull off. For us, a documentary made a lot of sense. As a company whose technology is based on video, we already understand the medium well. And we knew we could still pull off something special given our limited, less-than-SuperBowl-worthy budget.

5. Don’t Go It Alone

You don’t have to execute a lightning strike alone. Our first strike, a book called Human-Centered Communication: A Business Case Against Digital Pollution, didn’t hit the WSJ best-seller list because of the content alone. Instead, the book made heavy use of expert contributors. These influencers not only helped us get the word out, the credibility they added helped drive sales. We took a similar approach with our film. We simply found people who had already been thinking about the ideas we wanted to explore. Then we interviewed them.

6. Get Your Budget Set

This is where I made a mistake. Initially, we had enough budget to produce our film and give it a strong push with paid channels. But by the time our film was launched, our promotional budget got cut way back (a story for another post). Had I known this going in, I would have reduced the budget for the film itself so we could have enough left over to promote it well. The film will still have an impact, but without a strong push out of the gate, some of the “lightning” was taken out of our strike.

7. Use Customers to Build Momentum

Your customers are already bought into what your brand stands for, so who better to help you create momentum for your lightning strike? We found a simple way to do this at BombBomb. The day before our film was set to officially launch, we held an invite-only prescreening for our customers. It cost us nothing, and it was an easy way to share our message with hundreds of people. And since Zoom told us that our attendance rate was over 90%, it gave us early encouragement that our message resonated.

Final Lesson: Have Fun

If you’re actually working on a lighting strike, it means you have the chance to do something original and creative that could have a major impact. Few people can say that about their work.

Enjoy it.

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About the Author

John Rougeux

John Rougeux is a Partner at Category Design Advisors. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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Get the newsletter that will help you become a better category designer.

About the Author


John Rougeux is VP Marketing Strategy at BombBomb. Connect with John on LinkedIn.

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