5 Keys to a Successful Product Launch

how to successfully launch a productI’m a brand strategist, so my team and I think a lot about successfully launching products. And whether you’re launching a new product or making an announcement about a new product or service or something new that your company is doing, these 5 key elements to a successful product launch are some common sense steps you can take that set you on the path to success, right from the get-go.

Start with a Great Product 

No duh, right? (I love saying that) (forgive me). Seems elementary I know, but it really all starts there. Your product has to be something that people want and need (or something you convince them to want and need). If it solves a problem for them or makes life easier, even better! And before you launch it, it has to be finished. You’ve got to have a great product (or service) before you launch the doggone thing—or at a minimum, the first generation of the product has to deliver something of real value. If it’s half-baked or if someone can shoot holes in it before they get to the benefits, Houston, you’ve got yourself a problem.

Get Your Brand Story Straight

Of course I focus on this part, because, well, it’s what we do. But really, if you can’t yet tell your story in a sentence or two, you’re not ready to launch it. Also, if you don’t really have a grasp on the target audience for this product and when asked about that your answer is “This product is for everyone,” well, that’s a problem, too. Rarely are all products suited for all consumers. And the more narrowly you can focus and target your audience, the better chance of success you’ll have. And as an aside, working with a marketing agency or a PR team who can help you get that brand story nailed down–worth its weight in gold.

Build Your Networks Before You Need Them

This is where so many entrepreneurs and start-ups fall down. They focus so much on building their product that they don’t pay any attention to building networks, making friends and laying the groundwork to create buzz about their product or service. They wait until they have a finished product, one that they’ve often created without any user involvement or feedback, then they start thinking about blogger outreach, social media marketing, etc. Our advice is always very simple: build your networks before you need them. Or be prepared to cool your heels impatiently after your product launches while you backpedal and start your network building. Oh, and be prepared to spend even more money if you wait until the last minute. I can’t say this often or loudly enough: allocate budget money, immediately, to marketing, including social, blogger outreach and advertising. Do not expect that just because you build it they will come. This only happens in Kevin Costner movies.

Create Buzz

When you focus on building great networks and establishing relationships, that’s when you can most effectively leverage them to create buzz about your product launch. Apple is genius about this and if you’d like to dive more fully into that, Gini Dietrich wrote a great post over on Spin Sucks about this. You can create buzz by reaching out to bloggers and reviewers, especially those that you’ve already made friends with. Give them complete information about the product, invite them to try it before anyone else gets a shot, give them scoops and advance information and even exclusives where possible, so that they can help you create excitement about your product before it launches. People don’t care so much about advertising these days–they care about what their friends think and say. Utilizing the power of friendships, blogger outreach and friends in the social media space to share the word about your product is one of the very best ways to ensure its success.

Remember to Be Human

The most successful product launches are the ones that really connect with people. And in order to do that, you have to make your product speak to them in a human way. When we’re working on brand strategy and developing a brand story for our clients, we often ask clients: “Is this good for people? How so?” and let our messaging flow from there. No matter what you might think, every product isn’t perfect for every consumer. So when you can narrow your audience focus, then let your messaging tell them, succinctly and clearly, how your product benefits them in simple, engaging, down-to-earth terms, chances are good you’ll be successful.

Apple isn’t the only brand that’s good at this, but all of these lessons articulated above are things that Apple has done, very successfully, for many years. And that’s probably one of the reasons that their brand advocates are so loyal — and there are so many people lining up to grab every single new product that they release. They do all this stuff, and they do it well, albeit with a larger budget. But the principles and best practices for success remain the same, whether your business, your product, your announcement, etc. is large or small. Think about this the next time you’re launching a product or making an announcement — put these ideas to the test.

What did I miss?

Image by S Baker via Creative Commons

  • http://blog.forthmetrics.com Hugh Anderson

    Hi Shelly, great post and great timing – highly relevant for me as the “Inkybee” is about to take flight. I completely agree with your points and think we have addressed them all to a greater or lesser extent, but I’m glad you caveated “before you launch it, it has to be finished” with “at a minimum, the first generation”. We’ve got so many awesome ideas for our product, but if we tried to build the Ferrari on day 1, then we’d be dead before day 1 ever arrived, so we’ll have a launch the Ford (still a good car with a good engine) and build on it. It will work on day 1 and will have value on day 1, but it will also be a taste of the big potential still to come.
    Following on from this, this is a bigger challenge for smaller early-stage companies (like ours). If you are Apple, and you are regularly launching lots of products, or product updates, then you have lots of experience, resources and money to throw at each one. If you are small (like us!) you have a small budget, limited resources and likely a less well developed/tested product (as per my earlier point). I guess that’s a fact of life, but it has implications – the biggest one in my mind being mitigating the risk of a ‘big bang’ launch by doing more of a ‘soft launch’ initially. I guess that’s getting into the deeper territory of product launch strategy?

  • http://twitter.com/NeerajT4 Neeraj Thakur

    I agree with you Shelly, the ‘Being Human’ factor is so necessary for any product/service launch!

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks Neeraj. Glad you enjoyed!

  • ShellyKramer

    You’re right, Hugh. So much to consider – and so many budget limitations for small businesses. I think that the right approach is to not necessarily get your product to perfect, but to get each iteration of it as good as possible. And then to let people know that more (functionality or whatever) is coming.

    And this reminds me, I need to go back and pay more attention to Inkybee – it kind of slipped off my radar screen!

    Thanks for coming by – as always!

  • http://spinsucks.com Gini Dietrich

    No duh, right? That made me LOL!

    The building the community before you need them is an EXCELLENT tip. This is something we tell start-up prospects all the time. They seem to think they can launch tomorrow and have lots of success. People, in general, forget “overnight success” takes years to build.

    I would also add to that tip that it allows you to test the market: How much will they pay? Are there things they’d appreciate you haven’t already considered? How should you message it? You can do this very easily if you’re building a community way in advance of launch.

  • ShellyKramer

    I like to be uber classy sometimes, G, and “no duh” is just the ticket.
    Re your comment, I’d guess that might be the number one thing we find prospective clients (and not just start-ups) doing – leaving community building (and the valuable feedback they could garner there) until the last minute. Oh, wait, that and actually budgeting money for marketing and PR … that gets left off, too. Sigh.

  • http://spinsucks.com Gini Dietrich

    LOL! I JUST had that conversation yesterday. When I asked for budget, the prospect said, “How much will it cost?” Well, everything you just described is about a million bucks. So why don’t you tell me what you have budgeted and we’ll prioritize for you.

    People.

  • ShellyKramer

    Exactly. Happens. All. The. Time.

    Because, apparently, in instances unknown to us, just because you build it, that definitely means they will come. And buy. Right?????????

  • http://blog.forthmetrics.com Hugh Anderson

    Oooh you guys are harsh on us entrepreneurs. We’re building a product. And we’re building a community. But it’s hard: 1 because until we really deliver, we are not part of the day job for most of the community, and 2 because we’re skint! But I guess you get what you pay for and we know it’s important :)

  • ShellyKramer

    I’m an entrepreneur myself, Hugh, so I get the challenges. But it really is critical to budget for things like marketing (which includes a well-designed website and what you’re going to do to market that website), and those things really need to begin building momentum before your product launches. The old adage “Just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come” is something that far too many entrepreneurs mistakenly rely on–and it causes many of them to fail. Which is too bad.

  • http://blog.forthmetrics.com Hugh Anderson

    I hear you. And I’m with you. I’ve also met too many tech start-ups who are failing because all they focus on is software development.

  • ShellyKramer

    Absolutely Hugh. Happens all the time.

  • http://twitter.com/judymartin8 Judy Martin

    One of the greatest pieces of advice I taken from you over the years is to build community. But it’s such a balancing act to do that while creating a product and revamping ones website. I think we sometimes get caught up by the shiny objects of others. I share the work of others who inspire me, but it takes courage and confidence to set that launch date on ones own products and material. “Just do it,” and “Just build it,” don’t cut it I agree. What I took away from this post: completion, community and confidence in product and audience prior to launch. :)

  • dominiq

    @ Judy. In this great article, I read build your network. To me it’s not exactly “build a community”. For most brands, community already exist (moms, gamers, geeks, travelers ,…) the real challenge is to build the right network in the right community.

You can also find me on Google+ Real Time Web Analytics