Great companies are launching new products on a regular basis. But not every product is a smashing success. I’ve launched several products, some of which were successful, and some which weren’t. According to the Marketing Research Association, only 40% of developed products make it to market. Of those 40%, only 60% will generate any revenue at all.
Launching a product is a huge and risky undertaking. The risk is part of what makes it so exciting. Here are the eight tips you need in order to launch a product successfully.
- Figure out the right product first.
Product launch starts with product development. According to Harvard Business School Professor Thomas Eisenmann, most startups are hamstrung from the start because they create the wrong product. A product launch is a guaranteed failure if you create the wrong product.
Worry about developing the right product, and then you’ll be ready to go into product launch.
- Test all your assumptions about the market.
In product development, an assumption is not a fact. An assumption is an opportunity to conduct testing, research, and an in-depth investigation.
MarketingResearch.org explains it like this: “Strong assumptions often steer the…process; however, these assumptions may take you off course. A structured research process, rather than assumptions, will guide you toward a successful product launch.”
Assumptions are a double-edged sword. In some cases, they are those crucial eureka moments — sheer genius that strikes like a bolt from the blue. In other cases — as the product launch statistics indicate — such assumptions are dangerous indeed.
- Acquire customers before you have any customers.
There’s a simple way to advance on the market prior to launch. As you build excitement and anticipation for your new product, you’ll probably gain some search traffic. Create a landing page for your new product, and implement an email capture form.
Those who are eager about your product are the early adopters. These people form the crucial core of product evangelists. Now you have their contact information! Make sure that you keep them updated with information about the product, provide them with exciting breakthroughs, and provide them with a thorough education about the product.
- Gain customer feedback before there are any real customers.
When product development happens in a vacuum, separate from customer feedback, the product will probably be a disappointment. Why? Look at the end user — the customer. How can you validate their interest in the product if you haven’t quantified or qualified such interest as you develop the product?
You’re excited about your product. Your engineers, developers, and leadership are excited. But you’re leaving out a crucial component: Customers. What do they think? What do they want? What do they not want? What do they know?
When Sir James Dyson set out to make the world’s best-selling vacuum cleaner, he tested his concepts and innovation by understanding what it was that customers thought about his work. 5,126 prototypes later, he just so happened to create one that worked.
Market research itself can be deceptive, but there’s something to be said for testing a customer’s response to your product before you launch it.
- Don’t build out features. Just build the product.
There’s something to be said for creating a minimum viable product(MVP). A minimum viable product “is the product with the highest return on investment versus risk.” New products can be risky. Instead of spending years of your life and millions of dollars on a feature-rich product, create what can you with what you have. You can iterate features later, as you buy time, earn revenue, and respond to feedback.
Apple is a great example of producing minimum viable products. The first iPad didn’t have a camera, let alone the speed and visual panache of its more recently-released cousins. Launching sooner often trumps launching better.
- Test your plan before you officially launch it.
Not testing your new product can be an expensive mistake. For Target stores, the mistake cost them billions of dollars. Though technically not a new “product,” their withdrawal from the Canadian market shows us just how big of a problem you might have if you don’t run a pilot test of your new product or venture.
- Practice your launch.
One of the inherent risks of product launch is the fact that this is new territory. You’ve never launched this product before. Maybe you’ve never even launched a product, period. How are you going to pull this off?
It’s simple. By practicing. When you rehearse the launch process, you ameliorate a significant risk. If you expect your launch to be successful, you must control the features of the launch that are within your control. James Hackett, the former CEO of the furniture company Steelcase, described how his company rehearsed product launch:
By building practice into our formal process, we make sure everyone is given the time and resources they need to do it and do it thoroughly …If the effort is worth our collective time and we are playing to win, then we need to practice to perform. Practice, in this case, meant training everyone from the line workers who had to adapt their production protocols to the sales force and order management people to the board members who would be asked about the product line once it went public.
- Expect things to go wrong.
Expectations are a crucial part of launching a product. Why? Because your expectation shape both how the product rolls out, and how the company responds following the launch.
In Harvard Business Review, James Packett explains the “common trap” of product launches: Expect[ing] things to go well simply because they usually [do].” In product launch, there are no laurels upon which to rest. There is only progress to achieve.
Preparing for product launch disaster is one of the best ways to avert it.
Conclusion: Launch, then pivot.
Great companies know how to launch a product. But they also know how to pivot — to make a major directional change based on user feedback.
Product launches are perfect pivotal moments. When your new product hits the market, you will immediately gain feedback on its success or lack thereof. Whether the response is positive or negative is inconsequential to this fact: The company must change.
Regardless of the outcome, when you launch your product, you’ll have an opportunity to change your company for the better.
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