Got a great idea for a new product? In addition to its design and logistics, you're probably already thinking about how you're going to launch it.
A well-executed launch is your chance to grab customers' attention and make a strong impression with your product. But like all first impressions, it's hard to correct a product launch if it doesn't go smoothly right off the bat — especially if it's your very first product.
"Product launches are tricky because, unlike other marketing efforts, you really only have one chance to get it right," said Daniel Waldman, president of PR and marketing firm Evolve Communications. "There's not a lot of room for testing and refining tactics. Launches need to pack a punch."
If you want to get your launch just right, it's going to take a lot of careful research, planning and measuring, some of which must occur before you even get to the development phase. Here's how to ensure that your product makes a lasting impression, regardless of your budget or experience. [How to Get the Media Interested in Your Product]
Understand your market
When you're inspired by a big idea, you may be tempted to rush through the production process and get your product into customers' hands as soon as possible. But this could be a recipe for disaster if you don't know the market well enough.
"Any company launching a product ... must ensure that [its] vision is shared by the intended market and customer audience," said Chris Ayala, CEO of smartphone breathalyzer tool Alcohoot. "No matter how great the product, if it doesn't have a fit, then the challenge of getting customer traction will be immense — a challenge that might stop a company in its tracks."
Eugenio Pace, co-founder of identity infrastructure solution Auth0, noted that sometimes, finding your product-market fit isn't about validating whether a market exists, but rather, discovering what your product can contribute to it.
"Understand the customer landscape," Pace told Business News Daily. "[Auth0's] co-founding team spent years 'in the trenches' identifying, understanding and articulating the challenges customers faced, and what wasn't being addressed. It was about understanding the unique benefit Auth0 would offer, specifically to the developer community. When you can get that right and deliver the best solution, selling is the only validation you'll need."
It's also essential to scope out your competition before you get too far into your launch. In certain industries, even the smallest players can be your biggest competition, said Kiran Gopinath, CEO and founder of advertising technology company Adadyn — you never know when a small but influential player might join forces with a 'Goliath' like Google or Facebook. Gopinath also advised keeping an open mind about your competition, as many companies can also act as potential partners.
Identify your goals
It's impossible to define success without first defining what you want to achieve. For a product launch, your goals will likely be smaller than the overarching goals of your business, and often serve as steppingstones to achieve some of those larger goals. Some common product launch goals include growing your customer base, increasing market share and creating awareness of your product or company, said Waldman.
Similarly, Justin Gibson, president of Vom Fass USA, a gourmet food, wine and spirits franchise, said that your product launch goals must align with your overall growth plan.
"Before the development phase, an entrepreneur needs to lay out a sales and growth plan," Gibson said. "A product is useless if it doesn't align with the company's trajectory."
Define your audience and key message
Once you've determined that there's a need for your product and how it will help you meet your business goals, you must develop an understanding of your target audience. Know their demographic information, why they need your product, who influences them, what types of media they consume and any other information that is relevant to your product, Waldman said.
"Always think from the outside in," added Nicole Prefer, a senior consultant at brand consulting firm Vivaldi Partners Group. "Start with a deep understanding of your customers. Who will this help? Who will you sell to and who might be interested in purchasing this product? [Then,] solidify the proposition. In one sentence, can you articulate the product offering and its benefits?"
Prefer also noted that it's important for your product — and therefore, your brand — to have a strong vision and purpose.
"When it comes to startups, more often than not, the product is the brand," Prefer said. "Your brand should stand for something."
Develop and test your minimum viable product
Your first iteration of a product is highly unlikely to be the final version. There's a lot of testing and re-engineering that goes into making a successful product, and it's important to work at it and get it right. However, that doesn't mean it must be perfect: Devaraj Southworth, CEO and founder of on-demand wine and spirits delivery service Thirstie, advised fully defining your minimum viable product (MVP) and getting a test version out to a small group of consumers to collect their feedback.
"Conducting surveys and focus groups is always helpful and something I strongly encourage to gain insight into consumer behavior," Southworth said. "However, a word of caution: The feedback should be used as guidance [instead of] validation."
When you're working on your MVP, Southworth said it's helpful to design a complete product with a full feature set, knowing that some of them won't be implemented right away — and then strip the features down for the MVP. This helps your engineers plan their development ahead of time, which decreases time spent making revisions and additions later on.
Create a marketing plan
You don't need to wait for your product to be fully finished to start thinking about where you'll market and promote your launch. Prefer said companies should have a plan in place detailing how they plan to maximize their reach and success. This can include choosing specific social media channels based on your target consumers' habits, planning a launch event or developing pre-launch press releases for media sites and blogs that your audience reads.
Gibson said that press outreach is an especially important part of your overall marketing strategy. He advised getting the word out about the product six to eight weeks before the official launch date.
"Use an integrated marketing approach to reach key influencers via advertising, e-blasts, direct mail, content marketing and social media with a public relations campaign," Gibson said. "Promoting the product doesn't stop at launch, either. Continue to update the media with new information on the product and its uses so the release stays relevant."
Measure your results
Ayala noted that everyone on your team needs to define and understand not only what a successful launch looks like, but also how you're measuring that success.
"While running toward a final goal is great, knowing if you are on the right path along the way is just as important," he said. "It also means that everyone understands there is accountability — either for success or failure. Without measurements, then after-the-fact analysis is almost impossible."
Go back to your goals and measure the outcomes of your initiatives according to those goals, Waldman said. You'll want to track daily, weekly and monthly analytics data — page views, visitors, social shares, etc. — to determine what's contributing to sales and other goal completions.
Keep the momentum going
The end of your product launch is only the beginning of building a successful, long-term sales strategy. Gopinath said that even before the launch, companies should be thinking ahead toward their next move.
"Most startups are excited to get their product up and running, but they shouldn't forget to consider the next steps," Gopinath said. "Make sure that you are planning for the future and having conversations with prospects about where your current solution is going to [go] next."
Finally, throughout the process and beyond the launch, don't be afraid to ask for help and advice from other entrepreneurs, investors, mentors and other trusted individuals.
"They have been there and done that," Southworth said. "There are no shortcuts in life other than taking counsel and learning from those that have been in your shoes."
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Daniel Waldman's last name as Walden.
Originally published on March 7, 2014. Updated May 26, 2015.