Product launches? Actually, they really are a lot like rocket science.
There’s a saying that most products launch like a rocket and drop like a rock. The comparison of product launches to rocket science, well, it’s kind of a no brainer. You’ve got the hours upon hours of research and hard work. The passion and anticipation, with equal doses of hand wringing and worrying. All the moving parts that must work in tandem. Multiple stages, each of which must be precisely timed for the perfect liftoff and escape into orbit. So how does a company pull off the mission? It’s all in the intersection between product development and marketing.
Phase 1: Building anticipation
Communication is the key to building anticipation and excitement, and it starts with pre-launch research. To craft a campaign and messaging that ultimately drives sales, marketers need to get close to the product, starting with the team developing it. Ask questions. Lots of them. Become an expert not only about the product itself, but also about the customer who will be using it. Who, specifically, is this customer? What are their pain points? Most important of all, why should they even care about this product? Don’t be shy about that one. If you have only a nebulous answer, no amount of marketing will get your product off the ground. From there, broaden your communication reach to employees. Internal communications is often sorely neglected during product launches. When kept in the loop, however, employees can—and will—rally around a new product and help the marketing engine along. Just remember that employee communications timing must be handled carefully. Until it’s near launch time, the need-to-know team should remain small. Nothing sucks more than inside information giving your biggest competitor a way to upstage your launch. Finally, have a solid media communications plan in place. Identify key media outlets as well as the specific editors, reporters, and industry influencers to target, including online analysts, bloggers, and vloggers. Have spec sheets, video demos, web content, and media pitches ready before the countdown begins.
Phase 2: The launch event
Center your launch around a media event, and above all make sure that event is relevant to the customer and space you’re playing in. If it’s tech, for example, the CEO should be front and center with a live demo. Don’t ever do this in a black turtleneck. If it’s food, you better have samples, and be ready with invites for the best of the best in the food critic realm lined up in multiple cities. Think Snapple’s hot air balloon “High Tea” Tour. Can’t afford anything quite that grand? No worries. Even with a meager marketing budget, the most creative ideas can be scaled down with the help of online social media sites. And snail mail. Long live snail mail, even when a speed of roughly 25,000 miles per hour is necessary to escape Earth’s gravity. What about celebrities? I get asked about that a lot, whether it’s for a long-term branding endorsement or creating special event buzz. What I think is this: The use of a celebrity can do wonders for that celebrity. (Probably even more so if the celebrity is planning a flight into space.) For new products, not so much. Quick, which quartz countertop uses Cindy Crawford in their ads? Yeah, nobody else knows, either.
Phase 3: Post-event stuff
After the official launch, it’s time to keep the product top of mind. Continue to release new content. Capture and re-purpose customer reviews. Build up a video library. Remember: videos don’t have to be pricy to garner traction and rack up views and shares. They just need to have great, original content. Creativity is the key to sustaining attention and boosting word of mouth. A dash of humor never hurts, either. When possible, take a scaled-down version of your launch event on the road to the customer. And dealers. Especially dealers. Many marketers make the mistake of thinking dealers work for the company. In reality, they are your link to the customer. As in, sales. Make sure dealers are fully in the loop, armed with samples, product information, and any support materials they need to close the deal. If you leave dealers and related distribution channels out, you may get off the launchpad, but you won’t go very far
A couple of other things worth mentioning before, during, and after your product launch. Marketers are under intense pressure leading up to a launch. Don’t let this tension take away too much time and energy from the rest of your product line, which still requires your attention. Finally, if you’re a publicly traded company, make sure you have a solid investor communications plan in place. The money people are important. Let’s face it, a launch of any kind carries risks, and it ain’t cheap.