Marketing Mistake #4: Ways to Ground a Product Launch
Let’s face it: launching a new product is tough. Whether it’s a new innovation or an established brand releasing an incremental improvement, the failure rate is dauntingly high. As a launch marketing company, ever-expanding our think-tank of best practices, Torque monitors many types of product launches — we’ve seen plenty of failures —some dramatic successes, too. The list of things that companies do wrong is long. Here are five that rise to the top, along with suggestions of what to do. Of course we can’t possibly hit everything, but the point is to be insanely honest, re-think advertising, and look all the more toward content marketing & channels.
1. Unclear value
Often, creators of a great new product are so immersed in the product itself that they forget to explain—or are unable to be objective— about its value to the world. Quite simply, they are too close.
What to do:
A successful launch starts with the right positioning and message, followed by communicating with relevant content and calls to action. What should these be? The key: determine if the new product is an incremental improvement to an existing market, vs. the creation of brand-new category.
Incremental improvements in established markets must connect with existing buyers, with an appeal to check it out. A new craft beer, a better weight loss system or another high-end downtown rental apartment. This can be done by joining existing conversations in social media, trade events, news publications, and their associated communities.
For a product that creates a new category, such as a mobile device that provides real-time patient health data, the job of marketing is to demonstrate health and financial benefits for physicians, payers and hospitals. There are no conversations to join—they must be started. B2B products or services like this can focus on ROI, using a variety of content media to activate websites, microsites and other digital and social spaces, including LinkedIn, Twitter (and yes, Facebook for business). PR activities will complement all of these channels, helping to reach the industry journalists, bloggers and other opinion leaders. Educate with videos, information graphics, use-cases and white papers. All of these must support the sales process, providing the “air cover” for reps or brokers introducing new value propositions to buyers who can benefit.
2. Underfunded marketing
So often, most of the budgeting goes into developing the product, with little left for marketing. We’ve had successes with small budgets —in fact, some of our most creative executions have come from the need to be economical. But when a company has a complete lack of marketing funds, the launch will by stymied.
What to Do:
Is the business product-focused? If so, now’s the time to develop new strategic marketing and sales muscles. Otherwise, a revolutionary device ends up collecting dust in a warehouse, or a radical software or service offering goes unnoticed due to flabby brand communication and awareness.
3. Marketing is myopically handled in-house
It’s not about vanity or arrogance. It’s about love. But when a company falls in love with the little bundle of joy they have to offer the world, they lose sight of how to communicate with customers. They’re so close to their product that they forget to answer simple questions like “what job does my customer need to get done?” Of course there are great in-house marketing departments building world-class brands. The key is that these companies have made marketing a core competency, which is something that could easily become a distraction to the innovation and operational capabilities in other firms. A launch is not the time to save money by hiring inexpensive in-house people, or to expect in-house staff who have been effective with traditional lines, to understand the complexities of new offerings and new markets.
What To Do:
Decide (with brutal honesty) what the core business strengths are, then find great partners to handle the other functions. This applies to functions across your business, not just marketing.
4. Underestimating the entrepreneurship of “new”
Everything about a launch is new, making a product launch an entrepreneurial act. Perhaps hardest-hit by surprise are corporate executives in the role of launch entrepreneurs for the first time. Those who don’t allow the time for personal growth and to put themselves in the frame of the “beginner’s mind” may be in for a challenge. In the world of new product launches, each market is a whole new and uncharted sea to navigate.
What to do:
If this is the first time launching a new product (or first time in a new category), don’t jump straight in. It might feel like “the time is now,” but take some extra time on market research. Iron out product kinks with user feedback. Then experiment, experiment, experiment with different marketing strokes to see which work best, relying on those while discarding the rest. Expect things to take longer, and be more difficult than planned. Expect the process to be more rewarding, too.
5. Marketing like the big boys, without the big budgets.
We’re surprised at how often marketers fall into the trap of buying big media for a new launch. It’s probably a reflex from prior corporate days, learned in bigger markets and with bigger brands. Sometimes it’s just hubris, the arrogance and pride of wanting to “go big or go home.” However, disappointing sales volumes can dig a very deep hole, out of which it is hard to climb.
What to do:
Newly launched products occupy niches, whether incremental improvements or new category pioneers. And niche markets are best reached with niche media. That means finding, mapping and entering the social, trade and other influence channels with valuable content that engages exactly the audiences that need and can benefit from your offering. In a time when customers want to buy, and not to “be sold,” launch marketers must nurture large numbers of conversations, to convert them into customers.
There are many ways a product launch can go wrong. This is our short list of the causes that can ground the launch of potentially great products. They might seem simple and obvious, but for launch marketers in the middle of the experience, it’s difficult to be objective, and to continually question tradition to find the most effective way to market.