It turns out the Boy Scouts had it right all along. Sufficient preparation is what separates successful product launches from the ones that crash into your neighbor’s backyard.
If you want your product to leave orbit, you need a plan.
According to Bplans, companies that plan grow 30 percent quicker than those that don’t, while 71 percent of fast-growing companies have a plan in place.
But plans take time to make, and with so many new products launching every day, many entrepreneurs feel if they don’t act immediately, they’ll be left in the dust. Just visit the product curation platform Product Hunt to get an idea of how crowded the marketplace is. Since its inception in November 2013, the site has compiled an evergreen database of 15,000 products. That’s nearly 30 product launches per day on just one website.
Considering those numbers, it’s easy to see how someone might feel pressured to rush their product to market. But pressure is something that scuba divers think about, and you’re not a scuba diver.
Take the time to launch your product the right way. Start planning its release by addressing these three elements.
Distribution – How you will deliver your product or feature to your intended market.
Too many startups put all their eggs into the marketing basket while neglecting distribution, but the two are equally important. You can create the greatest marketing campaign since “Buy The World A Coke,” but if you can’t get your product in front of your customers, you’ll be stuck dancing on that hill forever.
To create a strong distribution strategy, you need to accomplish the following:
Note: If you haven’t researched and analyzed your ideal customers yet, put this article in your Pocket, and read this post on developing customer profiles.
- Establish whether your customer is more likely to buy your product online or in a physical store.
- Identify the most cost-effective way of getting your product in front of your customers without sacrificing quality.
- Establish your distribution channels. Will they be direct or indirect? Both? An example of a direct distribution channel is selling something you made through Etsy. An example of an indirect distribution channel is selling your products through an intermediary, such as a wholesaler or retailer.
- Take into account the needs of the end-user. If you’re selling clothes, will they need dressing rooms? Does your product require a live demonstration? Is your product something someone would go out of their way to locate, or is it more of an impulse buy?
- Take into account the the needs of the product. Is it perishable? Is it overly large? Is it extremely fragile? Does it require a specific display setup?
Answering these questions will make planning your distribution strategy much simpler.
For example, the meal subscription service Plated needed to create a distribution strategy that would quickly and safely get pre-packaged ingredients into the hands of its customers. They decided to sell their product online, and use an indirect distribution channel where the food travels from the farmer to the fulfillment center to the customer. To ensure speedy deliveries, Plated maintains multiple fulfillment centers across the country. Knowing how perishable their products are, the company designed an innovative packaging system that keeps its contents cold for up to 24 hours.
Promotion – What you will tell your intended market and how you will tell them.
When planning a product launch, it is vital that your promotion strategy begins before the product is released and continues until the end of the product launch period.
The purpose of the pre-distribution promotion is to drum up interest in the product and have buyers lined up when distribution begins. Depending on the product, promotion may start a month, six months or even a year before launch.
Your website is the face of your business, so make sure it’s a face people wouldn’t mind looking at for a while. Ensure it’s SEO friendly, smartly designed and well organized.
Try to finalize all the website copy at least six weeks prior to the product launch. Make sure that all of your web pages are complete at least two weeks prior. Begin to tantalize users with images and videos of your product two weeks prior, and continue posting content until launch.
A blog is an easy and effective way to reach potential customers and keep them interested. Use your blog to update people on the progress of your product, any press you may have received and any big happenings or announcements related to your business. Always include “Coming soon” posts and sneak peeks to get people talking.
Leveraging social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook is another way to keep everybody informed about the latest product news. Similar to your blog, generate buzz with sneak peeks and “Coming soon” posts. Focus on making your social media messaging shareable so it reaches as many potential customers as possible.
If you already have a user base, email marketing is a great way to get them excited about your product launch. Like blog posts and social media messaging, you can use emails to share your latest product news. You can also send people links to your blog posts, your website or any other relevant online content. Don’t forget to send an email on your release day! And make sure it includes an appropriate number of exclamation points. Also, here’s a good product launch sequence to follow by Ramit Sethi.
Whether it’s mining your existing network or cold emailing bloggers, do everything you can to gain press coverage. Six weeks prior to launch, begin letting the press know about your product. Two weeks prior, start pitching them your story. When pitching, be sure to highlight compelling product features and unique selling points. Make it easy for someone to write an article about your product or tweet about its features. Don’t make them work for a news angle. Give it to them.
Before you launch your product, you need to have a customer support system in place. Who knows, you might need it on day one.
A strong support system is also necessary for long-term success. Things are going to go wrong, and when they do, you need to be ready and able to fix them. Otherwise your customer experience will suffer, and when that suffers, so does everything else. Did you know it takes 12 positive customer experiences to make up for one unresolved negative one? Yikes.
Here are some tips on setting up a strong customer support system.
- Decide how to handle customer feedback. Will you incorporate it into your business strategy? Will you respond to feedback?
- Ensure you have the necessary technology for any scenario. For example, does your website have enough bandwidth to handle additional traffic? How about your telephone system?
- Automate tasks to help solve repetitive problems. For example, you can publish a FAQ, or set up canned replies to common issues.
- Create a crisis playbook that establishes the protocol for any conceivable disaster such as getting sued, bad press, or security breaches. Make sure this playbook is available to all personnel at a moment’s notice.
- For a customer support horror story, check out Groove HQ’s tell-all.
A Note on Timing
- Don’t launch on major holidays.
- If you already have a good number of beta users, Mondays and Tuesdays are optimal days to go live.
- If you’re dependent on a third party to facilitate your launch, make sure you’re launching on a day that suits their schedule
- If your product has competitors, find out when they’re launching. Do you want to go head to head? Do you want to wait until the market becomes familiar with the competing product before introducing your own? Remember, don’t rush to beat your competitors to market if you’re not truly ready.