Woody Allen once famously quipped, “80 percent of success is just showing up.” While that may hold true for some things, it unfortunately doesn’t apply to a product launch.
As anyone who has put out a new product will tell you, it’s usually not enough to simply show up to market and expect things to work out; most launches fizzle quickly or slowly flounder, leading to lost time and money.
Sometimes these failures are due to bad luck and bad timing, but all too often they’re caused by needless mistakes made during the launch and post-launch process.
In particular, the six common errors below are responsible for many failed product launches. The good news is that they’re all avoidable, especially with help from modern digital tools.
Mistake #1: Failing to initially define and test the idea
A product is doomed to fail if there’s no demand for it.
That may sound like common sense, but it’s a fact often ignored by businesses.
Before launching something new, it’s important to sit down and establish your value proposition by answering key questions such as: Is there a need for this product? Does the broad idea connect with people? What is the market willing to pay for it? What need is it serving?
Some of these questions can be tackled internally, while others need external feedback to be answered properly. For the latter, a SurveyMonkey poll sent to existing customers or a core group of trusted advisors can give you a quick gut-check, and online platforms such as UserTesting allow for more in-depth reactions from easy-to-assemble online panels of consumers.
Mistake #2: Not defining your target audience
Hand-in-hand with establishing a need for your product is defining the target audience early on.
After all, if you don’t know who is supposed to be buying how can you create an effective marketing plan, sales plan, and launch strategy?
This step comes down to answering a few key questions, as well. Make sure to ask yourself things like: Who is most likely to use this new product? How big is this market? What are the most effective ways to reach this group?
Again, there is a host of online resources that can help with this process. In particular, the U.S. Census site is filled with invaluable demographic and geographic data—though it often takes some time to find what you need.
Mistake #3: Not developing a full-fledged marketing plan and launch strategy
Once you’ve established a value proposition for your new product and defined the core audience, it’s time to develop an in-depth marketing plan and launch strategy.
The key thing here is detail. Simply outlining a few ideas and channels—“we’re going to have a party, then do some search engine marketing, social media promotion, and maybe radio”—is not enough.
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A truly effective marketing plan for a new product must be both broad and deep. It should outline the core messaging and product benefits, cover the full cycle from building awareness to encouraging purchase action, define which marketing channels will be used in which ways, clearly assign budget spend, and summarize the timeline.
Mistake #4: Failing to schedule properly
Speaking of timelines, one of the biggest product launch mistakes made by businesses is poor scheduling.
This is most clearly seen in setting an unrealistic launch date. While the Steve Jobs approach does pay off sometimes, more often a launch date that’s too aggressive leads to postponements—creating uncertainty and ill-will both externally and internally.
Timeline failures also go beyond just the launch day. With a new product there are a myriad of earlier dates—development, marketing, sales, etc.—that must be met for a successful unveiling.
To keep everything running smoothly, make sure to clearly assign responsibility and regularly track deliverables. This can be done via any number of project management/productivity tools on the market, such as Asana and Basecamp.
Mistake #5: Failing to soft-launch/beta test
Does your new product actually work? Are there any major bugs/issues? These questions are essential to answer, and they should be tackled before launch.
While businesses understandably want to rush to market with fresh offerings, it’s invaluable to build in time for a lengthy soft-launch period. This can be done with beta offerings for digital products, tester versions for physical products, and even sneak-peeks for brick-and-mortar businesses.
Doing this has two key benefits. First, it allows you to iron out any big problems before launch—making early customers happier and averting bad reviews/press.
Second, and just as importantly, a properly structured soft-launch period can build interest and even a sense of community. A great example of this is Jet.com’s recent approach to launching their platform.
Mistake #6: Not tracking performance closely post-launch and prepping for different outcomes
Finally, here’s something to know right off the bat: Product launches never go exactly according to plan, and that’s okay.
However, it’s not okay if you don’t know what’s happening post-launch and aren’t prepared to deal with new events. To avoid this, make sure to closely monitor performance and contingency plan as much as possible.
For example, be ready for major variations from your initial sales predictions. If there is more demand than expected for your product at launch, are you ready? Have you tested your website to see if it can handle a jump in traffic? If you have an external manufacturer, have you talked with them about what it would take to rush additional units to market?
Conversely, if demand is softer than expected, have you allocated some reserve marketing spend? Have you planned for soliciting customer feedback to find out what’s working—and what’s not?
Again, all of this is dependent on measurement. By regularly looking at core metrics—sales, traffic, etc.—you can see exactly how your new product is performing. These insights will let you make quick, informed decisions, which will ultimately give your launch a much better chance of success.
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