Small business owner designing new product

Your Step-By-Step Guide to Launching a New Product

10+ min read • Jan 27, 2020 • Grant Olsen

As the old saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” The same can be said for product launches, as they are usually carried out with the best of intentions. Unfortunately, your motives will only get you so far. Any product launch requires strategy and support to help it succeed. Otherwise, the product may find itself dragged into the infernal pit of obsolescence.

You don’t have to look far to find examples of bungled launches. Ford’s Edsel crashed and burned in the 1950s because the manufacturer couldn’t articulate its relevance to consumers. Coca-Cola had to retract its infamous New Coke within a few weeks of its debut in the 1980s because of widespread anger and derision. Not to be outdone, Pepsi wheeled out their universally despised Crystal Pepsi in 1992. And, perhaps most disastrously of all, Frito-Lay introduced the world to their fat-free WOW! Chips in 1998. Problem was, the chips contained a proprietary ingredient that gave people stomach cramps and diarrhea.

On the flip side, you can also find case studies of companies that effectively matched their precious products with research, targeted advertising, and strategy. Nike exhibited all of these hallmarks with their launch for the new Epic React running shoe last year. The company constructed “House of Go” pop-up events around the globe, allowing consumers to experience the shoes in-person. The response was overwhelmingly positive, thanks to people buying into the unique aspects of the events and, ultimately, buying into the shoes.

“The most important step is to have a clear vision of what you are setting out to accomplish,” suggest Monika Salazar, a brand strategist. “Then that vision should be captured into key phrases and art, in order to be used consistently throughout the event, from communication, invitations and gift bags to the table settings, lighting, and more. The vision should include that brand experience, how you would like your guests to feel, and what action step you would like them to take.”So, how can you make your next product launch a House of Go rather than a pain-inducing potato chip? This step-by-step guide will show you the key steps to setting your product up for success. Truth is, even great products can fail. But if you lay the groundwork for an effective launch, you’ll give your product every chance to take the world by storm.

Identify the Problem Your Product Uniquely Solves

The first step to a successful product launch is justifying the product’s existence. You can’t simply proclaim, “Here’s some new laundry detergent. Try it!” Instead, figure out what problem it solves for the intended audience. This process requires you to keep the twin factors of “what” and “who” top of mind throughout your product development and launch.

In order to hone in on your audience, research the relevant personas. Then find an unmet need that your product can deliver on. This approach empowers you to stand out from the competition and articulate your brand differentials.

Of course, understanding your role in the market also requires competitive research.

“You must keep in focus that your competitor does not want you there because they might not welcome challenges,” says digital marketer Arsalan Sajid. “And not everyone wants you playing in the big league. Mind it. Coming up with an original idea will help you stand out and be prominent in a market full of saturated ideas. More often than not, startups don’t spend much time to test their competitors. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses with a strong analysis of your competitors can give you a head start.”

The bottom line is that you can’t ride another product’s coattails and expect to succeed. Your product will only be cleared for takeoff if it’s alone on the launchpad. The more crowded things are, the less likely it is that consumers will engage with any given product.

To stake out a unique plot of land for your product, you need to innovate. That term may conjure images of high-tech sophistication, but that’s only one aspect of it. Innovation sometimes comes in the simplest of packages, such as a blanket with sleeves. Sounds like an overly simple concept, but Snuggies have brought in tens of millions of dollars over the years.

If there had already been other blankets with sleeves on the market, Snuggies would never have performed as well as they have. But the creators did their research and discovered a void in the market. Then they filled that void with an original idea, which caught on in a big way.

Outline the Plan

Armed with an original idea that solves a challenge, you’re ready to create a strategic plan to get your product to the masses. Resist the urge to rush to market. Figuring things out on the fly may work occasionally, but the best launches leave nothing to chance.

“Product launches can become formulaic,” warns Forbes. “Bypass the predictable tactics by focusing on the goal, strategy, and key audiences first. Is it more important to achieve mass amounts of press attention or attention from 2 or 3 industry influencers? What problem does the new feature or product solve? Use the launch to focus on your customer, not your company. Then build and blow out the tactics.”

Your plan does more than simply lay out how you will put your product into the market. You should also account for how you’ll be tracking and measuring success. This process includes ROI metrics, SWOT analysis, and your overall evaluation strategy. If you aren’t able to distinguish the launch’s strengths from its weaknesses, you’ll neutralize your ability to improve in the future.

It’s also important to consider how you’ll communicate your product to your target audience, as well as the broader audience. The story you’re telling should be the same, whether it’s via a press release or on Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media channel.

In conjunction with this aspect of the launch, make sure you’ve locked down your online presence. Purchase and create all of the relevant domain names, social accounts, and trademarks in advance so you won’t find yourself negotiating with a stubborn cybersquatter at the eleventh hour.

“The launch of any product is important to the reputation of your business,” advises Forbes. “Especially when it is a high-profile introduction or event, you need to make sure it goes off without a hitch, as the initial success of the product or service your company is offering can be seriously helped—or hindered—by this one moment. This means having a strong communication strategy in place, one that takes into account every detail of your launch, can ensure you have the results you are looking for with your event.”

With your communication channels set, you need to ensure that the people controlling those channels are on the same page. Your message will resonate better and last longer if it’s cohesive. This part of the customer experience can get overlooked, so don’t forget to hold regular meetings with your communicators so they can spread your key messages in a manner that complements the other efforts.

“A well-thought-out communications strategy is like a puzzle waiting to be put together,” says Forbes. “If you take the time to think about how all those individual pieces come together and how each one fits with the next, you can bring it all together in a way that works.”

A powerful way to set your communicators up for success is to give them brand voice guidelines. Everyone should clearly understand how you’ll be articulating your unique position and why your product matters. Beyond that, they should be trained in the personality and language your business uses.

To effectively communicate with your audience, you’ll need to study their buying journey. Start with defining their pain points, then honing in on where they get information and what will influence a purchase. When these key factors are guiding your efforts, you’re better able to connect with the right people at the right time. Without these factors, you’re forced to launch shotgun-style communications wherever you get the opportunity.

Identify and Engage Your Customers

As part of your launch planning, you should have already defined your target audience. This select group will often be comprised of existing customers, as well as new customers who also experience the problem your product solves.

Knowing who you’re speaking to helps you plan how and where to speak to them. For example, if the audience skews younger, social media might play a larger role in your communication strategy. If they’re more senior, perhaps you’ll leverage more print advertising. Regardless, knowing the best way to connect with your audience is essential to reaching them.

The Edsel failed for many reasons, but one of the problems was Ford’s inability to reach the target audience and effectively convey why this unusual car was worth the extra expense. The company shared an inauthentic message through disparate channels, which contributed to the monumental failure of the product.

You can strengthen any product launch by tapping into the power of your most engaged customers. As long as your product is relevant to them, they will be in a position to serve as both purchasers and evangelists.

“A seismic shift is underway,” say business professors Nicolaj Siggelkow and Christian Terwiesch in the Harvard Business Review. “Thanks to new technologies that enable frequent, low-friction, customized digital interactions, companies today are building much deeper ties with customers than ever before. Instead of waiting for customers to come to them, firms are addressing customers’ needs the moment they arise—and sometimes even earlier.”

One easy way to identify your most engaged customers is to look at your past product reviews and find 20–30 of the best reviews. This select batch of customers should be leaving authentic, comprehensive, and constructive reviews. If they’re obsessed with your company, that’s great. If they appreciate what you do but have honest suggestions for improvement, that’s even better.

While planning your launch strategy, enlist the help of these highly engaged customers. They’ll be an exciting source of ideas and feedback. Think about sending a test sample to this group. If you’re unsure if this initiative would be worth the money, consider how logical it would be for the people you’re hoping will give you money for your product to have some say in how it’s developed. Beta testing is an inexpensive way to get the product in the hands of actual users and gain essential feedback.

In addition to providing valuable insights, getting your engaged customers involved early can activate their ability to spread the word about your launch. To be included in this group, they will have already demonstrated their willingness to discuss your products online. And as deputized “product testers,” they’ll feel valued by your company. If their feedback ultimately helps shape the final product, they’ll be even more motivated to spread the word.

This customer involvement is one of the most sustainable elements of your launch. Getting buy-in from buyers builds inertia. It lays a foundation for future sales. And it can lead to organic advertising opportunities you’d never get otherwise.

As your product launch moves into subsequent phases, continue to draw insights from your engaged customers. Their feedback will always help you tailor your messaging, improve your advertising, and refine the product.

Broaden the Opportunities to Get Engaged

Your core audience is worth its weight in gold, but don’t neglect the wider net of customers. They are another important piece to the puzzle and can help generate momentum for your product launch.

It isn’t economical to provide free samples to everyone, so you will probably need to shift your approach accordingly. One option is to provide discounts for those who preorder your product. You could also offer discounts for larger orders or promo codes for first-time purchases.

Regardless of how you attract and engage your broader audience, never miss a chance to hear back from them. Make it easy for them to share their opinion of the product with review links on your website and in relevant emails. You should also consider a drip campaign after their order that includes a convenient link enabling them to write a review. Always mention that their photos are welcome because the best reviews often have images.

As you collect authentic reviews, use them liberally in your marketing. Feature some of the best responses on your website, allowing actual customers to do your promotion. The hands-on perspective provided by reviews is a potent cure for potential customers to overcome potential concerns and move closer to a conversion.

Even when customers aren’t formally reviewing your product, they’ll often do it organically through their social channels. And as other people see them mentioning your product, the power of social proof can kick in to further propel your product. This user-to-user sharing will broaden your engaged base and bring new people into the fold.

Don’t Stop Innovating

If your launch goes smoothly, resist the urge to rest on your laurels. You may have established effective touchpoints with your target audience, but they are still just touchpoints. Your audience is constantly evolving, and you’ll need to keep up with them if you want sustained success.

“Keep on enthralling and rewarding your best customers by designing appealing multi-channel promotions pivoted around discounts, giveaways, and contests,” recommends Entrepreneur. “Share these offers through emails, social media pages, printouts, brochures, and by other marketing channels to get complete publicity and visibility.”

Remember the testing you conducted to get your product ready for market? There was certainly rigorous internal testing, combined with the beta testing done in conjunction with your most engaged customers. Now, it’s time for the next phase. And, no surprise here, it’s more testing. Every review, every insight, and every lesson learned can be used to refine your product and give it a longer lifespan.

Now is also the right time to start thinking about your next product. What worked well with this current launch? What concerns emerged during the process? By using your existing product as an oracle for your next endeavor, you’ll have access to a wealth of customer data.

What will your next product be? That’s a great question that can only be answered through consumer research. You’ll need to once again identify a problem or challenge that your product can solve. Once you’ve found a void to fill, begin the process of researching, testing, engaging, communicating, and, ultimately, launching.

As you increase the strategy and connectivity of your launches, you’ll see better short- and long-term results. Each subsequent product release can help your entire business benefit. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats.

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Grant Olsen

Grant Olsen is a writer specializing in small business loans, leadership skills, and growth strategies. He is a contributing writer for KSL 5 TV, where his articles have generated more than 6 million page views, and has been featured on FitSmallBusiness.com and ModernHealthcare.com. Grant is also the author of the book "Rhino Trouble." He has a B.A. in English from Brigham Young University.