Ten Steps For a Successful Product Launch
Launching a new product or service can be one of the more exciting experiences in the world of marketing. While we've written about different aspects of the product launch in previous issues, now we will bring all the pieces together and discuss the vital steps for a successful new product introduction. You need to plan ahead, do your homework, and execute well. Sounds easy? We wish it were. To get you started, here are the top 10 steps for managing a product launch.
1. Conduct Primary and Secondary Market Research -- 12 Months Out
Many companies ignore this vitally important step and trivialize the importance of really understanding the competitive landscape before a major product launch. Botched launch plans often occur because there was not an established need for the product. “Build it and they will come” does not translate to good market research, as much as the engineers in the organization may want you to believe it.
The other common mistake is to simply survey the market through analyst reports, publications, and Internet research, dropping any primary research. While primary research takes more time and costs more than secondary research, it is critically important to hear what your customers and channel partners have to say.
To learn more about what your research needs to uncover, read these articles:
2. Establish Product Launch Team -- 6-9 Months Out
In smaller companies, marketing tends to handle the entire product launch. However, a cross-functional product launch team will do better. Big, strategic product launches affect almost every aspect of the organization, and more participation will ensure a comprehensive launch plan is developed. We recommend including engineering, product marketing/management, customer service, sales, manufacturing, and services staff; make sure you include anyone who will be on the front line of the product launch. All departments will be affected and some departments have even more launch responsibility than the marketing department. Their collective input is essential to covering all the bases for a successful launch.
3. Hold Weekly Launch Meetings -- 6 Months Out
Don't wait to start planning the details of the launch, whether or not you have a team in place. You need a minimum of six (6) months to thoroughly plan a launch. It can be done in three months, but such a project is not for the faint of heart. Experience counts when you are working with a very short launch window.
Keep in mind that there are many aspects of the launch that require lead time, for example advertising schedules and choosing a product name. Print and online ads, such as newsletter or banner ads, need to be created and placed. Choosing a name comes with its own set of challenges and you need time to sort it all out. Important decisions need to be made regarding how the launch will unfold. Will you unveil the product at a trade show? Will you use a unique, special event at a museum or something untraditional that needs advanced booking? All these decisions need to be mapped out and assigned at the launch meetings.
Here are links to other articles that will help your planning processes:
4. Develop Messaging and Test -- 4 Months Out
It can be very difficult to create a differentiated message, but this is a crucial step for marketing. You may be up against large, well-funded competitors, and your product sounds a lot like theirs. How do you know where to go with the message? How will it play in the market? How earth shattering is your product or service? Or is it a big yawn?
To make messaging work, it's important to test. Start with your engineering team and see how your message flies; does it make sense, given the capabilities of the product. A second and high value avenue is to contact a few customers who will provide honest feedback (NOTE: you can go back to the ones who were interviewed in the market research phase). Customers are inundated with messages; as a result, they can usually tell you what works and what doesn't. They may also be able to suggest other value-based messages to help round out the story. Finally, talk with an analyst, preferably one you know. Analysts love to share their opinions. Because they also talk with your competitors, they can share interesting points of view.
Read more about messaging and working with analysts in the following articles:
5. Plan Collateral Around Buying Cycle -- 3 Months Out
Once the messages are reviewed, tweaked, and approved, it's time to develop collateral. When mapping out what pieces need to be created, refer to the stages of the buying cycle to make sure that the collateral is aligned around what a buyer will need to know. This will help your sales channel be more effective during the sales cycle with the new product or service. Read more about the Buying Cycle:
6. Build Buzz -- 2-3 Months Out
Building buzz is very important for a product launch. In fact, it can make or break your launch. A good publicity plan will provide a multi-tiered approach to multiple audiences: employees/investors, existing customers, prospective customers, editors/analysts, channel partners, and the market at large. This may include a press tour, meeting with analysts that are in your market, customer communications, advertising, and more.
To learn more about building buzz, peruse these articles:
7. Have References Ready -- 1 Month Out
Why so early? Because if your launch plan works as anticipated, you'll need them. In an ideal world, you'll be working with a few beta customers who are prepared to handle references for the roll out. But all too often, this is an overlooked area. And the Sales team will feel the pain. Without references, deals will be delayed, especially for large purchases. In the case where you really don't have a reference for a new product release, it is possible to work with a customer from an earlier version product who can speak about your company and offer insight on things like the product implementation process, support, and more. The main goal is to have a few references who can help a potential buyer overcome the fear and uncertainty they may have about selecting your company to solve their problems.
8. Create a Fall Back Plan -- Within 30 Days of launch
By now, your team will have heard rumblings of things that may not have been anticipated during the launch planning meetings. It is important to take a minute to make sure you have all the bases covered. Have a fall back plan – meaning have some prepared responses for reactions customers or channel partners may have as a result of the launch – be it questions about upgrades, application-specific concerns, pricing or discounts, selling territories, or general market noise.
9. Have Fun -- Day of Launch
Last but not least, have fun with this program. You've worked hard, now enjoy some of the rewards that come with getting a product launch off the ground. Organize a lunch with your planning team, or plan a corporate event to get people jazzed up about the new product or service.
10. Keep Momentum Alive -- Post-Launch
Don't forget that launch programs need to be planned beyond the day of the launch. Maintaining the momentum of your launch can make a big difference when it comes to reaching your market adoption goals over the long run.