Product teams spend a lot of time and resources figuring out what to build. From defining personas to writing user stories, there’s no shortage of debate and meaningful, thoughtful discourse. Once that’s settled, even more energy gets expended, determining how to build things and executing that plan. Next, UX designs, developers code, QA tests, and finally, that vision becomes an actual shippable product. A successful product launch requires tremendous planning, foresight, and communication.
A product launch can accelerate trial and adoption. The launch also has the potential to create buzz around a product. When done well, a successful product launch can carve out a place in the competitive landscape. But a lackluster debut is equally possible and potentially devastating.
Creativity and subjective judgment play a role in every product launch. Read on for a comprehensive guide to what it takes to turn product launches into a triumphant success.
What is a product launch, and why is it so important?
A product launch is a company’s planned and coordinated effort to introduce a new product to the market. It encompasses every element of this debut, from the timing to the messaging to the purchase order.
Product launches play a pivotal role in a product’s success or failure. As they say, you only get one chance to make a first impression. A successful product launch determines what that first impression is for large swaths of potential buyers and decision-makers.
Product launches often also serve as an introduction for the entire business to a specific market. In these cases, the business creates awareness to build up its credibility. The messaging should convey the product’s distinctive value proposition.
Meanwhile, the operational processes, tools, and systems must be in place. For example, the company must send critical launch messages over various channels. These messages help craft the story of the challenges the new product solves for customers. Moreover, they can also be used to accept initial product orders and other customer-facing tasks. The scope and scale of these activities span nearly every aspect of the organization.
A poorly executed product launch can damage or even doom a new product. Any stumble or setback can potentially derail the company’s plans. And the derailment can jeopardize the corporate strategy and ruin morale.
Early adopters usually turn into your biggest fans and evangelists. However, they can quickly become a flock of naysayers if the product experience falls short of expectations. The result can lead customers to churn rapidly.
A rocky start can also shake the confidence of key stakeholders—including board members and investors. Key stakeholders anticipate a positive reception, rapid growth, and a clear pathway to profitability. As a result, they potentially will advocate pulling the plug entirely, limiting additional investments, or firing a few sacrificial lambs.
A well-planned product launch
However, a successful product launch gives the product a headstart for achieving its goals and objectives. Clear and concise value propositions can reach the right target market, sparking interest, trial, and adoption. This early cohort of satisfied customers creates a network effect. Positive praise spurs another wave of prospects filling the sales funnel.
Meanwhile, analysts and the media can latch onto how the product solves problems. Additional users can create even more feedback. In this case, the product can improve with each iteration and position itself for sustained growth and revenue.
Product launch vs. feature launch
Introducing a completely new product isn’t the only time businesses get to announce new offerings. Companies constantly update and improve their product lines with additional capabilities, design overhauls, and minor improvements. The goals and stakes for a feature launch differ significantly. Let’s compare the two.
A successful product launch aims to:
- Find product-market fit
- Capture new customers (and upsell existing ones)
- Increase revenue
- Improve the company’s reputation
New product launches usually look to make a splash. Organizations hope launches can fill the sales funnel and articulate their value proposition to brand new audiences. However, these launches must educate the market while simultaneously offering promises that this new solution solves real problems and addresses meaningful pain points.
In cases where the new product is a line extension or additional offering from a business with existing users, the objective is capturing a larger share of the wallet for a portion of those customers. It may also convert users from free products to paid offerings that generate a larger ARPU from a significant part of the total addressable market.
Meanwhile, a feature launch’s goals are generally planned to:
- Re-engage dissatisfied users
- Increase customer loyalty by offering additional value
- Boost retention and reduce churn
- Respond to user feedback
Typically, these new features improve the user experience and make the product more valuable, functional, and attractive. In addition, the new features keep current fans happy, improving Net Promoter Scores while enticing less engaged users or previous customers to give the product another shot.
New feature launches may also mark the beginning of a product’s entry into a new vertical target market or application domain. For example, when Spotify added podcasts to their offering, it added an entirely new utility to the product, previously focused on streaming music. As a result, consumers go to Spotify and see it as a one-stop shop for all things audio. Moreover, they provide exclusive content, which brings in additional users.
The strategy and execution for feature launches differ from new product launches because they utilize channels and targeting unavailable to new products. Thanks to an existing customer base, there are more channels and user-level segmentation opportunities.
Feature launches can tap into in-app messaging to promote new features during the user experience and use mailing lists and targeted advertising campaigns to leverage the user information they already have. More sophisticated campaigns can use product data and analytics to identify current or lapsed customers with specific behaviors and usage patterns for tailored messaging, finding new uses for product churn feedback.
For a new product launch, there are many targeting options and channels to use, but the business must, by necessity, cast a wider net and tell a complete story to entice new prospects into the funnel. These tactics often require a longer timeline with multiple touches and A/B testing and experimentation to determine which audience segments respond well to different messages, creative, and channels.
Making successful product launches collaborative
No other activity in a company involves as many people, teams, and resources as a product launch. Launches touch everyone from the C-suite to the mailroom.
Because it encompasses so many different parts of the organization—many of which generally may not interact very often—it’s tempting to think that a top-down, “follow your orders” approach may be the most efficient method to create a successful product launch. But handing down edicts to the rank and file while a few decision-makers work in secrecy is a poor approach.
For one thing, a lack of context and visibility into the big picture doesn’t give the individual contributors responsible for critical deliverables much sense of ownership in the launch’s success. Instead, you do so grudgingly and only strive to meet the minimum requirements if you follow orders.
When everyone feels like they’re part of something larger and understands how their role fits into the bigger picture, they will be far more invested in the product launch’s outcome, putting forth a more rigorous and thoughtful effort. This is often the job of the product team.
Looping in external team stakeholders
Additionally, including a broader spectrum of folks earlier in the process decreases the likelihood of the product launch missing something important. For example, the finance representative might bring up a previously overlooked international taxation issue. At the same time, sales operations staff may recognize that the CRM needs some tweaking to track leads or generate sales quotes.
These unglamorous details don’t get the same scrutiny as the marketing slogans or logo design, but they’re no less important in the grand scheme. A more diverse and extensive set of colleagues involved in a successful product launch plan can spot and address blind spots and loose ends before they spiral into crises and last-minute scrambles.
The product launch project kickoff represents the ideal opportunity to get as many departments as possible represented during the formative phases of the launch process. Consequently, this will put the eventual big event on everyone’s radar to stay attuned to any potential issues or oversights that might hinder the business’s plans.
While they’re all unnecessary for every meeting and document review, periodic check-ins with the larger team throughout the launch process are best practices. Their feedback, insights, and concerns should be welcomed at any time, even if it’s news no one wants to hear or it creates more work for others.
Ensuring every part of the organization stays in the loop with an assigned designated “owner” for each group helps de-risk the overall launch and increases the chances of success. However, this doesn’t mean giving an accounts receivable manager the ability to veto an ad buy or anything that extreme, but it does provide them with a forum to raise issues relevant to their domain. Product launch management software can help facilitate this transparency while retaining the ability to reserve details for those who need to know those subjects.
Aligning tactics with strategic objectives
The launch team must scrutinize every move they make. While a successful product launch prep time may span months, the actual launch window is brief. A new product release or news item will quickly steal the spotlight, so whatever tactics they employ should maximize the ROI.
But to properly compare, contrast, and prioritize among these options, the launch team must align on what they’re trying to accomplish. Of course, the team wants to get the product out the door and get people to buy or use it, but most businesses have slightly more nuanced objectives.
Many products have North Star metrics and KPIs. A product launch can be a critical lever to achieve those goals, while layering in business goals that might typically fall outside the purview of the product team. Differentiating between a goal of getting more people to try a product versus buying it might seem trivial, but how you execute against those goals differs quite a bit.
These goals should dictate everything from your release plan, to your marketing approach, to your sales strategy. Like a coach calls wildly different plays based on the score, situation, and time remaining, the team can tailor their product launch tactics around desired outcomes.
Deep research into buyer and user personas sets the table for launch campaigns and budget allocations aligned with strategic objectives. Experimentation and A/B tests can accelerate learning about which tactics land and generate action from different target groups.
But at the end of the day, each decision to add or remove an element from the product launch plan should always boil down to how much that item helps the company achieve its launch objectives.
Product launch checklist
The sheer number of tasks and contributors to pull off a product launch necessitates a comprehensive list of what must be done and who’s on the hook.
Documenting information gives everyone involved in the product launch an apparent reference of the entire scope of work to be done. Many items on this list will extend beyond the product team. But a single laundry list of every facet of the launch is helpful on two fronts.
First, when initially devising the product launch plan, it serves as a master repository for every to-do item. Every possible action is in one place, and colleagues can review the checklist to see if it contains the information they need to stay informed.
Second, as the team dives into the months-long execution process, the team can continually look back at the list to see what’s left. Because like any plan, once it’s in motion, reality might throw a few additional obstacles and unforeseen detours in its path.
While this level of documentation may seem like a drag, it pays dividends when the product launch process commences. Key steps can’t get skipped and forgotten. When the team leaves the steps unchecked, this provides a helpful reminder that more work remains.
The actual contents of each product launch checklist will vary based on many factors, including the type of product, its target market, its business model, the launch budget, and the company’s overall brand and reach. But the following are table stakes for the most successful product launches. Moreover, it’s a good starting point for building out a checklist:
- Product launch objectives
- KPIs and success metrics
- Timeline and launch date
- Key stakeholder approval
- Business model defined (i.e., freemium, SaaS, advertising-driven, one-time sale)
- Agreement on the cost of goods sold (if applicable)
- Competitor pricing understood
- Pricing (including any product tiers/options)
- Wholesale vs. retail pricing
- Discounts (volume-based or promotional) defined
- Strategy for communicating pricing to the market (shared freely or only by request)
Marketing team readiness
- Target user and buyer personas
- Value propositions
- Competitive landscape review
- Additional context to ensure messaging connects with the target audience
- Public relations strategy
- Analyst strategy
- Paid media/advertising strategy
- Social media strategy
- Influencer strategy
Product quality standards and launch readiness
- Unit testing
- QA completion
- System stress testing
Purchasing/acquisition systems in place
- Sign up forms/registration pages
- Download bandwidth
- Payment collection
- User agreements, terms, and conditions, warranties, and return policies are defined, reviewed by legal, and available to customers during the purchasing process
Data tracking and analysis
- Agreement on what should be measured and tracked within the product
- Product instrumentation in place
- Marketing metrics to be calculated defined
- Tracking and analytics for marketing assets, advertising, and website in place
- Reporting and dashboard creation
- Cadence and audience for metrics tracking set
- Necessary assets defined and completed
- Reviewed by key stakeholders
- Distributed to the internal sales team and channel partners
- Reviewed with customer-facing staff and partners to ensure their fluency and familiarity with its contents
Sales team training
- Market landscape overview, including current alternatives and competitors
- Briefed on target user and buyer personas
- Trained in presenting and articulating key value propositions and product differentiators
- Basic product usage
- Prepared to give demos, including which key features and capabilities to demonstrate along with any required training supplies or materials
- Briefed on common questions and objections and how to respond
Customer support/success and account management team training
- Basic product usage
- Customer setup and onboarding process
- Common questions, issues, and problems customers may encounter and how to respond and resolve their issues
- Escalation process
- Knowledgebase and documentation
- Feedback channels
- Awareness of timelines
- Socialized the product’s “elevator pitch” and unique selling proposition
- Preparedness for questions/key talking points
- Impact on non-product-related systems (billing, operations, inventory, logistics, etc.)
- Product roadmap socialization, so the organization knows what’s next for the product post-launch
Self-serve user support
- Help documentation
- Technical documentation and user manuals
- Ability to contact support
- Ability to submit feedback