Fans have been anticipating J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for over six months. In reality, they've waited much longer, but the official book announcement came out on December 21, 2004, when the publisher revealed the book's release date.

Whether you are talking books or more complex products, the timing of release dates can be critical to your success—especially if those products or bundled services are being sold to businesses instead of consumers.

So when do you announce a new product's release? See what readers have to say.

Next Marketing Challenge

Have a few spells of your own? Help this reader make her invisible professional services appear in the minds of prospects.

How would you package services?

Click here to offer your advice.

Top Secret: Announce a New Product or Keep It 'For Your Eyes Only'?

We're a small company in a niche market and we're doing well in the industry. At a user conference, we introduced new product concepts to get feedback from our target market. The audience responded positively to our presentation, so we're moving forward with installing the products at select client sites.

So what's the problem? Our marketing team wants to move forward with launching the product and spreading the word to our markets. However, Mr. Bigwig, spy wanna-be, wants to keep it under wraps because he doesn't want enemies to find out about it. What strategies do you take when it comes to bringing a new product to the marketplace and communicating that to the market?

—Laurie, Director

Since timing is critical to the success of a product launch, the majority of the marketers who responded say it's best, before launching the product, to take some factors into consideration—such as how much your competitors know about the product and how long it actually takes to produce the product. Once your plan is in place, there's no reason to keep your secret any longer.

Their advice falls into three categories:

1. See how much your competitors know.

2. Look at timing for production.

3. Announce it immediately.

1. See how much your competitors know

A reader says that competitors may already know about your concept from your test at the user conference:

If that's the case, they are already planning activities and sale pieces to blunt your launch efforts. But, they probably can't move fast enough to match your new product concept. I am marketing manager for a packaged goods company, and we subscribe to 'go big on the launch or go home' strategy.

If you are able to fill orders and meet the customer's expectation on the new product, get the word out there and go for it. Also, by going ahead with the launch now, you are able to control the messaging instead of your competitor's doing the talking for you. It's also an opportunity to build excitement with the launch instead of coming with a flat launch effort.

No doubt, you want to keep the product launch and surrounding marketing efforts in your control. Being on the proactive side has more power than finding yourself in the position of having to react.

2. Look at the timing for production

How long it takes to create the product is a critical factor in determining when to reveal the big news. Clare Fletcher, business consultant at FletchWorx Global, shares her experience looking at the timeframe it would take for a competitor to build a copy:

It depends on how long it would take the competition to ramp up with a copy-cat. No matter how hard you try, something always leaks. It's better that the internal and external communication is handled in a way that shows respect for, and earns two-way trust with, both sets of stakeholders. Human nature being what it is, people respond positively and become supportive.

There's danger in keeping people in the dark like mushrooms. A simple confidentiality agreement would help. The company I have been consulting for recently launched a new product (huge budget) that was two years in the making. It was real, secret squirrel stuff, which caused some culture issues around the "them and us" mentality.

My observation is that if the company had been more inclusive and won the hearts and minds of its employees (and key market players), there would have been more buy-in. The company lost opportunities as a result of some employees being kept in the dark, which led them to be ambivalent about the new product.

If something takes two years, telling the world about it may not go well even if you provide updates on a regular basis. The new becomes tired, and the launch is too far down the road for prospects to consider. Your competitors and timing play the biggest role in your launch decision.

3. Announce it immediately

Once you've considered your competitors and timing, go for the gold. Edeas, manager at JSA, is in favor of taking the leap and says, "Announce it. It's never your last new product. Keep innovating; the more you show, the more you will go faster—Showing is the engine of innovation."

Next Markeing Challenge: Can You Help?

Packaging the invisible: services

I recently accepted a job with a company that offers professional services. My new employer wants me to package the services offered. I'm not sure if packaging services into product offerings is the right approach. How well (or not) does selling a service as a product work? If marketing services as a product does work, what is involved?

—Anne, Director of Marketing

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Hank Stroll ( is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.