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Let's Do Launch: Ten Tips for a Successful Product Launch

Welcome to KnowledgePoint Marketing's words to the wise. A tome could actually be written about how to prepare, plan, and execute a successful product launch. We know because we've done hundreds of them.

Below we attempt to provide a snapshot of the key stages of launch process management. Depending on the size and complexity of your organizational structure, some of these elements will take varying degrees of time and effort. Spearheading a high impact product launch, which provides measurable results is the lifeblood of any technology company. We hope this list will provide you a few insights to use on your road to success.

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1.  Determine (measurable) launch objectives.
2.  Identify the key stakeholders and/or core team.
3.  Define the communication process and assign accountability
4.  Develop a differentiated and focused message platform.
5.  Give yourself enough time.
6.  Define the launch plan components.
7.  Create the launch tracking spreadsheet with milestones and due dates attached.
8.  Publish a corporate launch plan.
9.  Continually reassess the plan through implementation.
10.  Complete a post mortem.

1. Determine (measurable) launch objectives.
This step involves diving below the revenue number alone and gaining an understanding on other key elements of success such as awareness among a new target audience. It will be far easier for you to be accountable for performance if at least some—preferably all—goals are measurable.

Launch objectives could also address any of the following areas:
  • Revenue/unit sales
  • Current customer base vs. incremental sales
  • Brand/product attitude/awareness/usage shifts
  • Sales channel training
  • Public relations/analyst relations

2. Identify the key stakeholders and/or core team.
A large company with thousands of employees and numerous divisions located across the globe make this step critical. It is important to step back and consider all the different groups that could be impacted by the product launch. Obvious groups include marcom, field sales, and training. But how about your leasing division or customer support? How about that division in Colorado that makes a complementary product? How will this affect your International markets? If you want maximum leverage, it is far better to invite the broadest group to your party and then let them bow out if the launch does not appear to be relevant to their division/group's mission.

Once you've established your team, publish a list including key contact information (phone/email) as well as each individual's division/function. It's best to get everyone on the list including agency contacts, consultants, outside graphic designers, etc.

3. Define the communication process and assign accountability
Establish your communications process and meeting schedule upfront. Are you going to meet every week? Every two? Will meeting notes be published - and by whom? Will it be conference calls or face-to-face? Who will track the tactics to be accomplished, the deadlines, and the responsible party and monitor the progress? How will you involve those divisions/groups outside the U.S. (or outside of your headquarters location).

Establish your communications process and meeting schedule upfront. When everyone understands the plan and what is expected at the beginning, there are fewer conflicts later on.

4. Develop a differentiated and focused message platform.
This seems so simple and rather obvious, but you'd be surprised how hard it is to keep a message clear and focused once everyone's unique perspective is discussed. You'll have launch team members representing every possible perspective—but remember the only perspective that counts is that of the potential customer. Always considering the customer first in message development will help keep you away from the pitfall of marketing to yourself.

Whatever the right message is for our products, it should meet two golden rules:

  • Rule One: A simple focused message (value proposition) is 10-15 words long, max.
    How can you break through the clutter when you are trying to put a paragraph of information into the headline? There will be nothing more effective than meeting this rule when it comes to having an impactful communications plan that drives the point home.

    Once you've determined your value proposition, select the 3 or 4 most important points that support it. This is where you can put the other key message, including product features. But try and keep those support points succinct as well. And also make sure they actually serve as proof to your value proposition.

  • Rule Two: Differentiate
    As if rule one isn't difficult enough to accomplish, the best value propositions are also differentiated from the competition. It's something they can't say. The most obvious example of this is the use of claims (words like "only" or "the fastest") that are substantiated through empirical data.

5. Give yourself enough time.
Depending on your organizational structure and size, we recommend starting at least 6 months out from your product launch. The amount of lead-time you allow will directly correlate with the options you'll have to do things on a grand scale, in a new and creative way, or to secure advertising and begin training

6. Define the launch plan components.
The first step in developing the launch plan is to define all the components involved. Of course there are launch product development milestones and planned ship dates. Additional plan components might include:

  • Advertising plan
  • PR and Industry Analyst plan
  • Collateral plan: brochures, data sheets, electronic vs. hard copy
  • Corporate web site
  • Internet marketing
  • Current customer base marketing
  • Field/channel communications and training plan
  • References/success stories (from beta testing)
  • Customer service plan
  • Tradeshow plan
  • Financing credit plan—depending whether your company actually provides credit options to customers

7. Create the launch tracking spreadsheet with milestones and due dates attached.
It is critical that a document be created to track launch plan development and progress as the components are identified. It may make sense to get functional representatives to meet with their respective groups and develop the tactical plan for their area of expertise. Then they can come back and present the initial plans to the launch team, where you can look for potential areas of synergy (for example, between PR and advertising ) and/or conflict.

You can't manage what you don't keep track of.

8. Publish a corporate launch plan.
The launch team will work off the "launch tracking spreadsheet" but this will likely be too cumbersome for general consumption at your company. Something more user-friendly and higher level should be created to inform the various contingencies of the launch plan. The corporate launch plan should identify the names of the launch team, the product functionality/features, product positioning, messaging and all the "go-to-market" strategies including plans for advertising, PR, training, customer support, etc. The corporate launch plan should be created at the beginning of the launch process and circulated to the team and management for review and feedback on a regular basis.

9. Continually reassess the plan through implementation.
Murphy's law is the law of product launch. There will likely be setbacks and changes along the way. Since you are meeting with your launch team on a regular basis, however, you will be in a strong position to reassess the impact of changes on the launch plan and make immediate, necessary changes. A complete and current plan circulated to the correct audience should minimize the surprises that could impact your product launch.

10. Complete a post mortem.
Oh how tempting it is to launch that new product, take a long weekend in Tahoe, and come back to put out the next round of fires at your company. However, we recommend that you take a step back for a moment and complete a post mortem of your launch process and results.

A couple weeks after the launch, pull your launch team together, and discuss the launch process and how things went. Solicit suggestions on how to improve the process. This is also a great forum for starting the quantitative post mortem process, where you capture the sales figures, PR articles published and all other relevant statistics that are outcomes for the launch. Start from the original launch objectives and drill down from there. Nothing makes a team look better to management than a post mortem providing quantitative results and recommendations for future launch processes

In Closing
Launching a product takes a lot of time, effort and expertise-and many of you have job to do already. That's why KnowledgePoint Marketing has managed hundreds of launches on behalf of their clients. No launch is too big or small. Retaining a professional Launch Manager can really make the difference in delivering a launch that is on time, on strategy, and on budget!

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