OK. It's Friday at 4:45 p.m., and your CEO or VP of Marketing says, “We need to release Product X next month (or even next week).”
Do you panic? Instead of pulling your hair out, implement the following tactics in your next product launch, and you will be successful.
1. Plan your work and work your plan
This is a cliché that definitely works and should be at the top of your list. Whoever is in charge of your launches, whether the Launch Manager or Product Marketing Manager, should be an integral part of your product team. That person needs to understand the product and objectives to be able to help develop effective messaging and positioning so that the product gets into the hands of the right target audience.
While you will have an overall product plan, you need to also have a formal, structured launch plan that includes the actual plan, product launch timeline and product launch checklist.
Deliverables from your launch plan will be in the marketing plan and will include all of the marketing materials and sales tools, marketing programs, PR, advertising and any other activities that you will use to promote your solution. Remember, you will have internal as well as external-based marketing programs. And, in line with this, you should have a budget for these promotional activities included in the launch plan.
It is very important that objectives, milestones, benchmarks and success measurements be realistic and time sensitive, and be set up front. In addition, a mechanism for monitoring and tracking launch progress and execution must also be in place.
The Product Launch Manager is in charge of assembling the cross-functional team and ensuring that the plan is executed within the expected budget and timeframe.
Each company is different, but a rule of thumb is that your launch plan should begin being implemented at least 3-6 months before your launch. That means your plan and launch team should be in place well before that so there is a clear road map in place before the launch team has its kickoff meeting.
2. Commitment is key
For your launch to work, you must have an experienced cross-functional team that is committed to the plan, timelines and checklist. Additionally, a C-level “champion,” or sponsor, such as the VP of Marketing or another executive, should help the Launch Manager steer the launch so that its objectives are realized.
Your “stakeholders” must buy into this. Make the process fun as well as rewarding to help the buy-in process. Consider a kickoff party. Some suggest that team members sign a commitment letter, committing to the project goals and timeframes at hand. Set up weekly meetings that are conducive to team member communication and interaction.
3. Involve Sales
Marketing and Sales cannot afford to operate in silos. Marketing needs Sales to help it develop the right products that customers want, and Sales needs Marketing to help it connect with the right prospects.
Sales must be involved in this process from day one, as it will be helping you to launch the product and extend the launch benefits, and Sales needs you to provide the right sales tools to target, attract and convert the right customers.
4. Invest in the right positioning
It is so easy to position the product from an inside-out perspective. Don't fall into this trap. The product must be launched as it is developed—for a specific customer segment. Therefore, your positioning must appeal to your target audience—what is their “pain” or issue that they are trying to resolve, and why is your product the only product that will resolve their “pain.” That's why you hear of companies that have multiple communications pieces for multiple audiences; it works, and you need to do this as well if you want to be effective.
You have to ensure that your positioning is revenue focused. You do this in two ways. First, you create the appropriate messaging that will generate awareness, interest, desire and action. Second, you position your product and messages where your target audience is.
In addition, you should, at all times, be aware of where the prospect is in the buy cycle, and you should provide the right communications at each specific point in that continuum.
5. Tap the employee as brand steward
I mentioned that marketing activities are both internal and external. The internal activities are all about getting your employees excited about the new solution and understanding it enough to be able to sell it.
What? Employees selling solutions? You bet. You have heard of “word of mouth,” right? Your employees can generate enough “buzz” about the solution to help extend your brand. So don't forget that the employees are your internal customers, and treat them as such, providing them with information that they can use.
6. Test and measure
This definitely will not be your last launch. So before you implement your plan, make sure that your benchmarks and success measurements are in place. Then, during the implementation and management phases, test and monitor your success.
Document what worked and why, and what didn't work and why. In effect, you need to create a SWOT analysis for each launch so that you can use it as a guide for subsequent launches.
7. The launch is not a specific point in time
Consider the launch as the journey, not the destination. While there may be a particular day that the public launch commences, the launch will be in process throughout the lifecycle of the product. Whether you divide your tactics into Pre-Launch and Post-Launch, the fact remains that the launch is continuous.
Deploying these seven tactics will help you have a successful launch. And even if your CEO asks you to move quicker to get your product to market, you will still have the means to get you there virtually bump free.