By Angus Robertson, Ahmet Abaci and Beth Somplatsky-Martori
Ready for ignition? If you’ve stuck with us for this entire blog series, it’s all come to this moment: Butterflies be damned and dreams and hopes aside – it’s time to launch our new product into the public consciousness.
We’ve been on quite a journey through our previous blogs. At the outset, we started off with a discussion about fostering a culture of innovation within a company. And then we introduced what we called our “Stage Gate Lite” approach to fostering and accelerating new product and service ideas, leading you through the four gates in the process: Concept development, the business case, product development, and testing methodology.
Now, we stand at the precipice of the most exciting gate of all – the culmination of our new product development efforts. This moment is when you have the opportunity to collect the fruits of your labor – but, if mishandled, it could also deliver the equivalent of brown bananas and rotten apples.
Excelling at this phase is the surefire way to earn the return on your investment – but, if you are a CEO or head of marketing or innovation, there’s a way to look past the rose-colored glasses and spot the onset of trouble so you can snuff it out before it becomes a five-alarm fire.
First, let’s talk about what does NOT constitute a launch: If you’ve put your product in a paper catalog, or stuck it on a Shopify website, you’ve failed to launch. If you had a big sales meeting to discuss the new product – a rollicking good time – with no further discussion, you’ve failed to launch. Even if you’ve started manufacturing product and building inventory – if you haven’t built the structure to gain and maintain a market for the product, you’ve failed to launch.
Even if you’re getting the product TO the place, you may not have launched. For example, if you sell your product on Amazon, but it’s fragile and a lot of consumers are returning damaged goods, Amazon can remove your listing (grounding your rocket ship). Or maybe your sales team moved big hunks of initial inventory – but then, months down the road, you’re hearing crickets instead of repeat orders. Even internally, disagreement over the rules of engagement for your launch – including whether it was a success or failure – could sink your new product.
We’ve seen these mistakes time and again – particularly in manufacturing-driven organizations. As marketers, it’s up to us to educate the organization on what it takes to make a successful product launch.
For us, we feel there are certain absolutes that can define the difference between success and failure. Here are just a few of those factors:
In closing, one way to consider a new product launch is to treat it like you would a baby (and think of existing products in your organization as adult children) – your job is to get it to the point where it will survive on its own, and to create an ecosystem around it that will sustain it into toddlerhood, the teen years, and young adulthood. If you’re preparing to enter an innovation cycle to support the eventual launch of a new product – just like with prenatal care – get the nursery ready, take your vitamins, and start your planning early; once the “baby” is here, you’ll need to nurture it with all your efforts in order to make them successful in the jungle of a marketplace.
- Align and Coordinate: You must have everyone on the same page – not just your internal stakeholders, but your shiny new prospects! Hopefully, in the early phases of our process as outlined in this blog series, you understand the importance of customer buy-in, as well as the understanding of demographics, psychographics, personas, and pain points. Have you identified early adopters, and motivated vendors and partners? Have you taken the feedback you’ve gleaned from this aligned group and make the right adjustments before the wide launch?
- Calibrate Your Metrics to Customer Expectations: One theme you likely noticed earlier as we discussed launch failure, is that many of these measures are based on internal definitions of new-launch success. Instead, make sure you are validating your assumptions and forecasts early and often during the launch process. Though some metrics are known prior to product availability, others will be dependent on post-launch factors. SEO, for example – certainly you want to build your content and traffic to support search engine visibility prior to launch, but you’ll need to be attentive to needed changes based on consumer acceptance.
- Keep Your Cross-Functions Focused on the Goal: We’ve talked about the importance of cross-functional alignment throughout the previous phases, but we do see a lot of companies disband the cross-functional team once manufacturing starts – punting the remaining work to the sales and marketing teams. Au contraire – it’s quite important to keep everyone involved, from operations, to finance, to HR – because you will run into issues, and will need to course correct. Take the example of the damaged Amazon packages. Without cross-functional input to correct and refine the problem, your packaging problem could become fatal.
- One Size Does NOT Fit All: Do not fall into the trap of treating every launch equally. This is one of the big faux pas we have seen – from a simple feature improvement, to new colors, all the way to the expansion into a completely new category, yet trying to treat launches the same way. If you're launching a new product or going into a new market, you’ll need to put forth far more effort, examine metrics in more detail, and boost that marketing budget accordingly.
- Set Up Your Sales/Marketing Plan For Success: Speaking of marketing – this is really where you can make the biggest difference in driving awareness and launching effectively. The No. 1 way you’ll know if you have an effective marketing and sales plan is via an infusion of more resources to power digital ads, content, and other absolutes. If you are assuming you can launch with your current budget levels of marketing, either you are neglecting the rest of your business, or previously, you had very high marketing budgets that you didn't utilize properly.
Good luck with your new product journey, and please reach out if we can be of any assistance.
Check out our LinkedIn Live video on innovation:
Full series on innovation: