Getting a new product ready and out the door is a daunting task, but columnist Sonny Ganguly has some tips to ensure your product launch goes off without a hitch.
The launch of a new product may seem like it’s occurring at a single point in time, but a product launch has far-reaching effects. A poor product launch could mean fewer sales, upset or confused customers and negative ROI. Conversely, a perfect product launch could mean more sales, more happy customers and a better bottom line.
At WeddingWire (my employer), we’re no stranger to product launches. When we launched in 2007, we started with one core product: a vendor directory. We then grew our business to offer both consumer products to help engaged couples plan their weddings and merchant products to help wedding professionals run their businesses.
Each new product is a challenge, but we’ve come up with a solid approach that helps us go to market with a strong offering each time. Below are some tips about key elements your business needs to consider during development, pre- and post-launch.
Having an original product idea is a critical starting point, but you should also think about the market opportunity for your potential product. There are many key considerations when evaluating market opportunity prior to product development, but below are the top three I like to focus on for a perfect product launch:
• Audience: Ultimately, any product should be launched as a result of an audience need — the success or failure of any product is largely based on whether or not people will use it. You’ll need to be able to clearly identify the potential audience for your product and whether or not that audience can be segmented.
Furthermore, understanding your customer will help you decide if your product solves a problem in a meaningful way. Remember to focus on providing a solution to a relevant pain point.
• Competition: It’s important to consider any competition currently in the same space you’d like to occupy. Are there other businesses that offer a similar or substitute product? A market can be much harder to enter when there’s an entrenched competitor already offering a more mature product.
Get to know the other businesses, and identify gaps in their products which you could fill. You want to be able to recognize if there are too many barriers to entry for you to be successful. At the same time, how can you create barriers to entry that strengthen over time?
• Finances: Think about the financial profile of your product and the market. How much upfront capital will you need to develop your product? The more capital you have to invest upfront, the higher the financial risk and opportunity cost you stand to lose. Consider whether you’ll be able to take advantage of economies of scale and how that will affect your development and distribution costs.
These questions should at least help you think through initial concerns. Knowing the financial landscape of your potential product will help you make the right short- and long-term decisions.
Any experienced product manager will tell you that an accurate launch calendar is crucial to a successful product launch. Start by deciding on your desired launch date and work backwards to come up with a realistic timeline for all teams involved. The launch schedule should encompass each and every step you need to take to reach your goal, and your entire team should be aware of the schedule so they can prioritize tasks accordingly.
It’s best to err on the cautious side and leave ample time for each step in the schedule to be completed — things will inevitably happen to change the course of your launch. Being ready to launch a project earlier than expected is a welcome update, while launching late can cause a number of complications. You don’t want your team to be under so much pressure that they rush the work and make mistakes.
Schedule weekly check-ins with the various teams involved so you can manage expectations and keep the lines of communication open among all parties.
One of the hardest parts of a product launch is focusing on the development of the product, not its features. The time will come during testing to iterate and make tweaks, but the majority of the time and effort spent leading up to a product launch should be focused on creating a minimal viable product that allows your product team to collect the maximum amount of learnings about your customers with the least amount of effort.
Once you get the product out the door and in front of users, you’ll be able to add or adjust functionality as needed. Focusing too much on trying to add cool functionality or attributes will eat up a lot of time and inevitably delay your launch.
Common practice is to get a product 33% launch-ready before you release it, according to KISSmetrics’ Neil Patel. Avoid potential distractions by focusing on what your product needs to have rather than what your product could have, and accept up front that your product will not be perfect at launch. Your product will probably never be perfect in your eyes, so don’t stress too much about fixing every bug or erasing every bad design element. Keep moving forward, and you’ll stay within your timeline.
The best way to know if a product will be successful is to bring in some of your trusted customers to test it. Whether it’s a formal beta program, a quick focus group, a detailed survey, simple a/b testing or more complex multivariate testing, getting your new product in the hands of your brand advocates will help you learn what the end users will love, hate or don’t need.
You can make updates based on the tests to address specific, real pain points in the market. Testing is a key element of a product launch, and it can (and, in some cases, should) be replicated multiple times prior to the launch to help your team understand how each iteration of your product performs with your test group.
Additionally, the insights you gather from this research will give you great data points when communicating externally to build the case for your product. There’s no better justification for a product than statistics proving that you’ve done your due diligence to give your customers both what they want and need.
When launching a new product, trust is critical. One of your biggest tasks during a product launch is to establish trust in your market. Even if your brand is an authority in your industry, you’ll still need to convince consumers that your product is a solution to a known problem.
The right positioning will make your product much easier to sell in the long run. Positioning shapes the way consumers will evaluate your product and that of your competitors, which will drive customers’ purchase decisions.
Segmentation is also a key part of positioning. When you first established the target audience as part of your evaluation of the market opportunity, did you identify any additional segments within your target audience? Determine how the needs of those individual segments differ, and think about the various ways you can align your product’s position with those needs. Pick out the features that will matter most to each segment and highlight them in your messaging and promotional strategy.
No matter what product you’re launching, people tend to use the products that are the most relevant to their needs. Give them the right message at the right time, and they’ll be more likely to adopt. Remember, a product can serve the needs of multiple target segments, but the positioning needs to be appropriate to the audience.
Training is another important pre-launch key to success. Your customer service, support, sales, public relations, and marketing teams all need training around the product that can inform their conversations and written communications.
Training teams in advance will help them start incorporating the product into their conversations and allow them to really get to know it in order to help your customers. Product training with these customer-facing teams is also a great way to get internal feedback; no one knows your customers better than your customer service team!
Including your public relations and marketing teams in your pre-launch product training will make for a smooth transition as they begin writing about and promoting your new product. They can start aligning messaging and finalizing pitches that will maximize the impact on the actual launch day.
Plus, if they’re informed early enough, they can create campaigns to tease your new product and start creating buzz before you go live. Bringing these communications teams in earlier rather than later will help them hit the ground running at the time of release.
Even if you held multiple consumer testing sessions and sent out consumer surveys, it’s impossible to please every single potential user of your new product. Be willing to accept (and listen to) feedback and provide a focused avenue for doing so.
Your customers are the end users, so it’s important to listen to their concerns and update where necessary. You’ll also empower those customers by allowing them to shape future iterations.
Providing a focused avenue for accepting feedback — like a landing page, online forum or even a simple phone call — means that you can identify patterns and assess the number of times you receive a certain request or comment. It also arms your customer service team with a place to drive unsatisfied users to make sure their feedback is being heard by the product team.
These are the elements we focus on when bringing a new product to market. What other considerations do you think should be included? Let me know in the comments!
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