The 4 Types of Product Launches

Launching a product is the pinnacle of days, weeks, months, or even years of work. It’s also the beginning of an equally pivotal point in a product’s trajectory. The period marks all that time and effort spent developing the product. But not all product launches are created equal, and they’re not the same as introducing a new feature. There’s a significant difference in the goals and objectives for different types of product launches.

Whether it’s the company’s first launch or its hundredth, unpacking these differences and tailoring each launch accordingly is critical in driving the launch’s success. This article describes the four different types of product launches and how their differences impact their expectations and execution.

1. Breaking In

The most common product launches occur when a company debuts a new product into an existing market. Whether it’s a new four-door sedan or a new photo editing app, product launches all have the same thing in common. There’s already an existing market being served with relatively similar products.

The company doesn’t have to explain what a car is, how to drive one, or how owning and using a car changes your life. There are plenty of examples and an established familiarity with the product’s overall utility. Mechanics know how they work, gas stations already have the gas they run on, and owners know how to drive.

The product typically attempts to displace or replace the preexisting competition in these scenarios. They’re not trying to convince people to try out a car for the first time in most cases. This means the messaging and marketing focus on educating the market about what differentiates their new product from the available alternatives.

Product differentiation

Therefore, product differentiation takes the lead in what gets communicated and emphasized during the launch. This new product may have superior performance, a better aesthetic, a lower cost of ownership, or a cheaper price tag. Whatever makes this new product better and different becomes the focal point for the launch.

In some ways, breaking into an existing market simplifies the launch because the market already understands and appreciates the base value proposition. But at the same time, the current competition has numerous advantages due to its incumbency as a known quantity.

Articulating the new product’s advantages and improvements over its more established rivals requires messaging and tactics that garner attention from buyers and swiftly highlight why it’s a better choice. It’s a balance between standing out and fitting in, getting enough potential buyers interested without alienating too much of the total addressable market with bold claims or disparaging comparisons to established brands.

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2. Breaking ground

Honestly, novel products face additional hurdles at launch because they’re trying to make a name for themselves while also establishing an entirely new category. New ideas face an uphill battle because they must educate the market on why anyone needs a product like theirs, not to mention why this particular solution is worth the investment.

Nearly every product humans interact with daily once upon a time faced this problem. These products disrupt the status quo by presenting an entirely new way of solving a problem. This, in turn, demands a fuller explanation of why this problem must be solved and why this particular solution is the game-changer you didn’t know you ever wanted but now can’t live without.

For example, Airbnb convinced people to swap hotel rooms for guest bedrooms. Uber helped people ditch taxis for rideshares. iRobot’s Roombas replaced sweeping and vacuuming with robots.

In each of these cases, other ways to solve the problems of finding a place to sleep, getting from Point A to Point B, or cleaning floors existed. But these products changed the entire paradigm of how to solve those problems at a fundamental level.

Category-creating product launch

For a category-creating product launch, education takes the lead. The market didn’t even know these problem-solving methods existed before the product appeared.

Therefore, the launch has two key objectives.

  1. First, create the category through education and building awareness.
  2. Second, establish the product as the go-to pick for this new category.

In many ways, the second part is actually harder. Because the category creator must spend time on both education and building a brand, they’ve also set the stage for a latecomer to swoop in and build off that foundation.

These examples litter the landscape. Facebook is the top social media company. However, MySpace did the heavy lifting to put social media on the map. Yahoo! and AltaVista pioneered search and Internet indexing, but Google’s worn the crown for decades. With every new beachhead the category creator establishes, they’re making it that much easier to quickly usurp the leadership position.

3. Brand Extension and Expansion

Established brands are seldom content to sit on their laurels and simply rely on one or two products. They continue growing with no new innovations or offerings. Diversifying their portfolio protects them from changes in market dynamics, consumer behavior, or economic disruptions.

As a known quantity with a (hopefully) stellar reputation, brands stay sharp by creating new products that leverage their existing brand equity to expand their reach.

A quick walk through a supermarket includes dozens of brands selling new products. They build off their established customer base and market prominence, from mango-flavored Pepsi to churro-flavored Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. We’re just as likely to see these moves in technology, such as Microsoft’s OneDrive drafting in Dropbox’s wake or Amazon streaming music to keep up with Spotify.

For these product launches, brands are building on their reputation as a trusted, known quantity. In addition to their built-in familiarity, these brands may also tout integrations and interoperability.

This is especially prevalent in enterprise settings. Large companies may opt to get their cloud services or virtual meeting software from Microsoft because of preexisting relationships. For any brand launching an extension, they must maximize the advantages they have thanks to their established customer base and track record of success.

4. Conquering New Territory

The fourth type of product launch isn’t a launch at all, but a repositioning of an existing offering. In this case, the brand takes a current product and pushes it to an entirely new market.

Although this occasionally includes some modifications, enhancements, or tweaks of what was previously available, such as different price points, additional templates, or new integrations that appeal to this new market, it’s mostly about selling an old thing to a new type of customer.

Identifying new customers

These new types of customers might represent a new demographic, a new geographic territory, or a new industry. In any of those cases, the product launch must take into account the preferences, habits, language, and specific pain points of the new target market.

Launch teams research which channels can best reach these newly desired prospects. They achieve this by recreating the messaging and imagery used to market the product. User and persona research should have already uncovered which product attributes and capabilities resonate most with this new market. The launch highlight and feature those in its outreach, so be sure to include those steps on the product launch checklist.

The launch also shouldn’t be overly reliant on customer lists and testimonials from its existing markets.

Instead, create a product and brand story focused on where the product wants to be. While this launch builds on a track record of success, it needs to resonate with the new target customers.

Every Launch is a Snowflake

If the above hasn’t already made it abundantly clear, no two product launches are alike. Each type of launch has its own purpose that dictates the strategy and tactics that follow and populate the product launch roadmap.

Creating a category, entering an existing one, extending a brand, or tapping into a new market each has its own objectives and requires a customized product launch strategy. The competitive landscape, target market, resources, and budget all add even more variety and nuance to the mix.

So give every product launch the individual care and attention it deserves to maximize the impact. You only get one chance to make a first impression.

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