A product launch is the process of planning, executing, and tracking the debut of a new product or significant changes of an existing product to the market.
The main focus of the launch activities is to raise awareness about your new (or updated) product in the market and generate sales. That focus differentiates a product launch from a product release.
A product release occurs whenever the product team releases product changes to production. Product releases can happen anywhere from quarterly to multiple times a day. Not every product release requires big fanfare from marketing. A product launch happens when you release a significant new product or change to an existing product.
As a part of product launch activities, you craft messaging around your product’s purpose, differentiators, relevance, and value. You also need to coordinate all the departments charged with going to market to make sure you have a shared understanding and that everyone is clear about their responsibilities.
A successful product launch requires a company-wide effort including product teams, marketing, sales, customer support, and customer success.
Here’s a description of the part that each team plays in a product launch. The actual responsibilities at your organization may differ, so it’s important to gain clarity on who does what for your product launches.
Use a tool such as the DACI framework to get agreement on who does what and their level of involvement for every activity.
The biggest contribution product teams provide to a product launch is the product itself. This includes developing and testing the functionality identified for release, as well as a clear plan for deployment of that functionality.
The product team contributes key information about the product including:
who they’re building the product for
what problem it’s intended to solve
the key features that will solve that problem
metrics used to gauge the success of the product during launch and ongoing.
If you’re releasing a new product your product team may also establish a pricing model for the product.
In effect, most of the product team’s work is input into the product launch itself, so their main role during the launch is to support everyone’s efforts to get the word out. And of course, make the product itself available.
The team that has the biggest role while you plan for a product launch is most likely marketing. They spend the time leading up to the launch itself using the information the product team put together to craft a comprehensive, compelling message to release to the market.
They’ll share that message in a variety of formats that may include:
Emails and newsletters to existing and potential customers
Press releases to spread the word about the product launch to various news sources
Promotional videos and webinars to demonstrate key features of the product
White papers that help customers understand how the product will help them
Website updates explaining the product
Social media campaign to attract attention to the new product
The specific formats you use for any given launch depend on your product, your organization, and your market.
The sales team’s main activity comes during the launch period itself. During that period they focus on identifying leads and converting them into paying customers.
Depending on your organization, the sales team may spend some time preparing for the product launch and carrying out sales enablement activities. They may make updates to their demo environments, put together talking points for their sales calls, and create sales collateral.
Your customer success teams spend their time prior to the launch making configurations to your CRM and ordering systems so that they’ll support the sales process. They also put together training for success and support staff as well as work with the product team to put together user help and documentation.
During the launch, these teams act as the front line for customer and user questions when they start using the product. They use these interactions to tweak user documentation and their own support notes. They also provide customer feedback to the product team to identify bugs and potential new features.
When you first start planning your product launch, one of your first decisions is determining which approach you’ll use for the launch. The three most common types of product launches are soft launches, full-scale launches, and feature launches.
A soft launch, also known as a beta launch, is when you launch your new product or product changes to a subset of your overall customer base. You’ll look for ways to limit the customers who have access to the product, either through inviting specific customers or requiring customers to express their interest in being involved.
Keeping your target audience small provides you the opportunity to test your messaging and your product features and get feedback about both.
You can get reviews and testimonials during a soft launch that provide additional social proof for your full-scale launch.
Soft launches can also get your internal teams up to speed on what they need to do to support sales and onboarding.
You typically want to do a soft launch when introducing a new product or a significant change to an existing product.
A full-scale launch, also known as a hard launch or official launch, is when the product is fully available to your entire customer base and your marketing messages are sent to your entire target audience.
The purpose of the full-scale launch is to create a great deal of interest and excitement about your product and (hopefully) generate a lot of sales. That means full-scale launches involve a wide range of content and outreach activities.
It also assumes the product is ready for wide use.
Full-scale launches are usually reserved for new products, and its good practice to have a soft launch to work through all your plans before pouring a bunch of time and effort into a full-scale launch.
A feature launch is when you put forth an effort to build interest and excitement around the release of a new feature in an existing product.
You only launch a new product once, but any healthy product will have changes happening to it on a regular basis. Many of those changes usually don’t warrant much fanfare, but every so often you’ll make a change significant enough that you want to publicize it. That’s where feature launches come into play.
A feature launch is usually smaller in scope than a full-scale launch in terms of the content you produce and the sales activities that surround it.
You do a feature launch when a new feature represents a big enough change in the product that provides a substantial new benefit to existing customers, or it will help you attract new customers.
Following are 10 steps to performing a product launch.
Although I laid out these steps with a full-scale product launch in mind, they apply to soft launches and feature launches as well. The main difference is that the work involved in each step is not as extensive for soft launch and feature launches as they are for full-scale.
The steps usually occur in three phases: pre-launch planning & preparation, launch activities, and post-launch tracking and analysis.
Step 1: Form your team and kickoff launch preparations
Because a successful product launch involves people from across your organization, you want to make sure you get alignment early on and get agreement on what you’re trying to accomplish.
Bring together the relevant people from product, marketing, sales, and customer success. Discuss the purpose of the product launch, and establish some initial agreements on how you’re going to work together.
Step 2: Confirm your target audience and market research
You’ll want to get clarity on who your product launch is going to target (your target audience) and what kind of message you want to get out to those people. To properly set that message, you need to have a clear understanding of the market and the organizations you’re going to compete against to get the attention of potential customers.
The product launch is a continuation of your ongoing product development efforts. It builds upon the discovery and development work you did surrounding your chosen problem and solution, as well as your go-to-Market strategy. Specifically, when you start planning your launch you should already know:
Your ideal customer and which of their problems you’re solving
What features in your product apply to different use cases
What differentiates your product from others in your market
Your product’s pricing model if you’re introducing a new product or potential changes to the model if you’re adding new features to an existing product
Without figuring these things out before planning for your product launch, you may find that you’re working on a solution that no one wants, or that no one will pay for.
The best time to figure this out is when you’re deciding whether it makes sense to build your product. The second best time to figure these things out is when you realize you haven’t done them (ie right now).
Step 3: Identify your product positioning
Product positioning is a strategic marketing exercise that challenges you to decide how you want your product to fit in the marketplace. It’s all about how you want the market to think about your product — and requires you to communicate how it can solve your customers' problems better than your competitors.
Work with your team to create a product positioning statement and then run that statement by your key stakeholders to ensure there’s agreement in your organization about your product’s position in the market. The feedback you get may cause you to revise your product positioning, and it may drive you to make some tweaks to your product.
Your product positioning serves as the basis for the content you create in step 5.
Step 4: Create product launch plan
Once you know who you’re trying to get the message out to, and how you’re going to position your product, it’s time to put together a formal plan for your product launch.
Pull the team together that’s working on the product launch and collaboratively complete the plan together. That way, you can make sure you’re all in agreement about what everyone is going to do, by when, and why you’re doing it.
Your product plan should include the following:
The target audience for the launch (see step 2)
Product positioning statement ( see step 3)
Success metrics for the product launch
Planned launch date
Constraints you have on your launch including budget, people, resources, and time
The channels through which you want to share information about your product and the content you want to produce (see step 5)
The tasks included in preparing for and executing the launch along with owners and key milestones.
Once you’ve created the launch plan, don’t shove it in a drawer. Consider it a living document, that everyone will refer to, as you plan, execute and analyze the launch. Don’t be afraid to revise the plan to account for new information you encounter during the launch.
Step 5: Create content
Since you’re trying to build awareness and excitement for your product, content plays a large role in your product launch.
There are a variety of means you can use to convey the necessary information about your product. The ones you choose depend somewhat on your target audience, your product, and the type of launch you're doing.
Pick the channels that your target audience pays attention to and create content that works best in that channel.
If you’re doing a soft launch, you may limit the content you produce to things that you can control who can see them, so you may use emails and webinars for that type of launch versus more publicly available types of content for a full-scale launch.
With that in mind, here are the different types of content you may produce for a product launch:
Social media posts
The copy for these different pieces of content is based on the earlier work you did on target audience and product positioning.
Step 6: Prepare the team to sell
While some members of the launch team create the content that builds attention and excitement about your product, others will focus on preparing the organization to sell your product.
These sales enablement activities may include:
Changes to systems that support the sales process
Setup demo environment
Train sales staff on the new product
Create materials for use during sales calls
Create user help documentation and FAQ
These activities assume you have sales staff involved in selling your product. If you’re using a product-led approach, most of the activity to support sales is included in the product itself, such as sign-up and onboarding flows.
Step 7: Publish Content and Reach out to Customers
Truth be told, most of the work for a product launch comes before the actual launch date. You expend most of your energy planning and preparing for the actual launch.
When the launch date comes, you want to make sure all the content goes out as planned (even though most of that was probably scheduled ahead of time). Otherwise, your launch team focuses efforts on supporting the sales staff as they reach out to potential customers and customer success as they start to on board new customers.
Step 8: Keep the lines of collaboration open during launch
Your other main activity during launch is keeping everyone involved with the launch in close contact. There will no doubt be some surprises. You may get unanticipated questions from new customers. A bug might pop up in the product where you least expected it. You may find that some of your content is landing with a thud and not having the impact you wanted (or worse, your product messaging inadvertently offends a key portion of your target audience.)
Keep your launch team in close contact so that you can quickly and effectively address any surprises that come up, both the good surprises and not so good surprises.
You’ll also want to establish strong communication channels with new customers so that you can get feedback and testimonials. That will also put you in a strong position to ask your customers to share your product with their networks.
Step 9: Collect data and feedback
Feedback from new customers is one piece of evidence that tells you how effective your product launch is.
You’ll also want to gather stats about the content you produced for your product launch to see if it’s hitting home. Collect information about how many people are viewing the content and sharing it with others.
Look for metrics that will help you gauge when viewing a piece of content drove a potential customer to take a closer look at your product and purchase it.
You’ll also want to look at data about actual customer usage. If people buy your product, are they getting set up quickly and are they actually using it?
Step 10: Conduct a retrospective on the product launch
All of that evidence feeds into the final product launch step - a product launch retrospective.
During the retrospective you look through all the evidence you gathered in step 9 as well as reflect on your personal experiences to identify lessons learned from the launch.
The idea is to identify what worked well, and what things you should change for your next launch. A product launch retrospective is especially helpful for soft launches where you can apply what you learn during the smaller launch to subsequent full-scale launch.
Now that you’ve seen what it takes to launch a product, let's look at some successful product launches.
When Cox Communications prepared to launch a children’s educational app called FastTrack, they needed to be noticed in the crowded EdTech market. They chose to use an email campaign to get in touch with potential customers.
Commission-free stock-trading app Robinhood invited potential users to gain invitation-only, early access to its private beta instead of asking them to join a mailing list. The result? Robinhood built a waiting list of over 1 million people who wanted to try their app.
When decision-making platform Planview launched Insight Analytics - an analytics application - segmented their audience into three groups so that they could have highly targeted content for each audience. The focused messaging led to three times the anticipated response rates.
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