How to Launch a New Product Today

Today’s marketplace is saturated with me-too offerings in virtually every category accompanied by a plethora of unremarkable marketing, making it a challenging environment in which to launch new products. It is, therefore, not surprising that many product launches fail and that up to 80% of new product launches fail to meet expectations.

In this post, I want to focus on our approach to launching new products here at Six Degrees, which is designed to ensure your launch has the strongest chance for success. Our approach achieves this by being a strategic process that is rooted in customer insights and adheres to key criteria (not just tactical performance indicators or KPIs) throughout launch activities. So, without further ado, here goes:

 

Step 1: Customer/Target Audience Insights

Many organizations take the time to conduct market research prior to launching a new product or service to understand the needs and wants of their target audience(s). Unfortunately, much of standard market research provides superficial or less than useful information, owing to a number of different reasons: Research participants want to please whoever is paying them for participation, they want to impress their peers and they generally don’t know what they may or may not buy in future, or how to express their opinions and emotions effectively. Consider that traditional market research prior to the launch of Starbucks would have found people unwilling to pay more than $1 for a cup of coffee of any kind and, effectively, nixed the company before launch.

Deep insights that are useful for product launch positioning and communication require deeper psychological tools than your typical focus groups or online surveys. It’s about identifying the perceptions, emotions, beliefs and attitudes (something we call, PEBAs) that represent barriers to overcome and the means to overcoming them to trigger purchase interest. Our customer insight work focuses on individual in-depth interviews and uses stimuli and techniques borrowed from psychology to gain relevant and useful insights for the ultimate product launch.

 

Step 2: Assessing the Launch Landscape

Knowing the target customer(s) and how to appeal to them is necessary, but insufficient in the absolute. A product launch does not occur in a vacuum. It is just as important to understand who the competitors (direct and indirect) are for the products and how they are messaging to and behaving in the market. This includes analyzing their marketing messages, mystery shopping their offering and conducting competitive product analysis.

Along with assessing the competition, it is also important to take a good hard internal look. Is the organization that is seeking to launch a new product or service fully aligned internally? Or has the need to reach internal consensus across different factions watered down the product or marketing perspectives to the lowest common denominator? If the latter, what can be done to realign around a more optimal view and put the strongest foot forward? Another issue may be that the organization has a suboptimal perspective on where/how the product should be marketed. A case in point for this was the introduction of the Viagra brand, which originally was targeted far too narrowly because of the biases of the organization. Once the real opportunity for the product was made clear, the brand achieved much greater success. Optimizing the internal side of a successful product launch is something for which an external partner is usually very helpful.

 

Step 3: Creating the Brand Strategy

On the basis of Steps 1 and 2, the next step is to create the brand strategy for the product. At a minimum, the brand strategy should consist of a value proposition for each target audience, a short and succinct brand promise and brand pillars (the perceptions the brand needs to work to create in the marketplace). The brand pillars, along with the brand promise, are what will govern the expected customer experience across the product’s lifespan. Collectively, these three elements are best worked out in a workshop setting with all the relevant stakeholders involved.

At the outset, I mentioned key criteria that needed to be adhered to for successful product launches. Here are the three we use at Six Degrees: (1) Relevance to the target audience(s), (2) differentiation from the competition and (3) credibility and believability of the offering coming from this organization. All three of these key criteria must be met by any value proposition, brand promise and brand pillars.

 

Step 4: Developing and Maintaining the Marketing Playbook

Unlike traditional and rather formulaic marketing plans familiar to those going through MBA programs, which we have found to be of limited use relative to the amount of time investment, we find that a marketing playbook is a much more useful tool for managing a new product launch.

The marketing playbook identifies the strategic messaging that informs the messaging of any particular piece of marketing communications to be developed as part of the launch. It also defines the marketing objectives, the channels to be used and the tactics, along with expected outcomes measures. Rather than being a once-and-done document (like a marketing plan), the marketing playbook ideally is updated with results obtained across individual efforts and reworked to accommodate changes in market conditions and new marketing opportunities that inevitably arise over time.

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Step 5: Creation of a Product Brand

While this step can technically occur in parallel with marketing playbook development (Step 4), it is essential to develop a consistent look and feel for the product brand and its communications across use cases. This may involve a logo, but need not, though it usually involves naming. The style guide for the product brand, which governs the dos and don’ts from a creative execution perspective, should become a chapter in the marketing playbook so that anyone creating marketing communications stays on strategy and on brand.

At Six Degrees, we add another customer research step at this stage. In this research, we identify the sensory signals associated with the brand pillars by the brand’s target audience(s). The results provide a sensory position that designers can use to ensure that the product design, packaging and communications reinforce the perceptions we are seeking to convey with the product.

Finally, this is also the stage when high-quality content for marketing should be created, including video and animation, blog posts, white papers, etc.

 

Step 6: Pre-Launch Marketing

It should come as no surprise that the most successful launches are the ones that build anticipation and excitement in advance of the actual launch. This is admittedly harder to do in regulated industries, but generating buzz by teasing the launch and/or providing “sneak peeks” or early access and/or prototype or pre-production input with, by, and from key influencers or opinion leaders, are all time-tested ways to prime the market for a successful launch.

 

Step 7: The Launch and Beyond

Finally, all of the preparations culminate in a launch campaign and launch event(s) to officially reveal and release the product to market. For our B2B clients, this will likely happen at a, if not the major tradeshow or conference of the year and involve coordinated support across many different media channels and platforms. For B2C clients, this can take the form of a major advertising campaign with or without physical/retail events. Post-launch campaigns are often part of the marketing playbook and should be planned (or at least sketched) out in advance.

 

Step 8: Measuring, Analyzing and Optimizing

Collecting performance data including awareness, traffic, engagement and leads is, of course, critical to optimizing marketing and communications over time. Which KPIs are of most use will vary depending on the specific marketing objectives, but it is always critical to remember the ultimate purpose of marketing is to create customers from prospects.

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Frank Schab
An experienced marketing and branding strategist, Frank has been helping clients optimize the value of their brands through insightful analysis and effective strategy for more than three decades. Along with holding positions at General Motors and Pfizer, Frank served as a Managing Partner at Interbrand New York and VP of Global Brand Research at Opinion Research Corporation before co-founding Six Degrees. His brand-building work in various sectors including hospitality, medical device, pharmaceutical, automotive and technology has taken him to 17 countries on four continents. Frank holds a doctorate in psychology from Yale University and speaks fluent German.

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