It’s a ‘final exam’ for the entire organization. Marketers, project managers, developers and operations personnel are all graded on the product’s acceptance and success. The launch itself reveals how agile and innovative a company is, how well they understand their market, and how effectively they can execute and promote their vision. Yet, for all the effort that goes into product development and promotional planning, launch day can feel like a roller coaster ride of data and emotions. What can organizations do to make their product launches a more planned–and scripted–experience?
When launch day comes, it’s important to have a well orchestrated plan. This plan should include both scheduled activities and contingencies to possible outcomes–our responses to launch data. Product launches often fail when they can’t adjust in real-time to market uptake. All others–regardless of dollar success or failure–are learning opportunities as we switch among our prebuilt plans for launch management. A best practice many successful organizations use to manage the variety of outcomes that can occur during the rollout process is to deploy two teams to manage launch contingencies:
• A Tiger Team in charge of predicting and documenting adverse outcomes of all kinds – from a launch communications failure to reach the intended audience, to demand outstripping launch day supply, and everything in between.
• A SWAT Team in charge of converting those outcomes into ‘on the ground’ actions to be taken under each scenario. Both types of team are vital to securing every possible revenue dollar, market share percentage point, and Net Promoter Score possible. Regardless of dollar success or failure, all product launches are learning opportunities as we switch among our prebuilt plans for launch management.
It’s also vital to consider product design and innovation as a process, rather than a discrete event. Automobile manufacturers already have next year’s models of their vehicles in final testing now, while the models for the next year after that are being loaded into CNC machinery and the versions for the year after that are in clay mockup. Product launches fail all the time across a broad variety of sectors, and from brands we come to think of as innovation leaders – Apple’s Newton, for example, or Amazon Fire Phone were both catastrophic failures, and yet we think positively of both. That’s because, in part, these products were part of a long catalog of innovations that the company rolled out, with more success than failure – so the failures tend to diminish in our memories compared to the successes of products like iPhone and Alexa. Plan for a long horizon of product introductions – it will move your brand in the customer’s perceptive space to being an expected innovator for customers.
Finally, it’s important to establish a set of quantitative metrics for gauging success. Measuring coarse demand for a product can provide some surface-level guidance on success or failure, but it’s important to establish granular KPIs for launch measurement. Is demand conforming to the projections by customer segment and demographic? Is the product the topic of vital word-of-mouth engagement on social media? How is the product launch affecting complementary products – and those sold by competitors? A successful product launch yields more than revenue and margin dollars to the organization; it also suppresses interest in competitive products, sustains its launch velocity through customer promotion activity in public forums, and moves the organizational brand in a positive direction.
At Ronin, we use a five-point framework to ensure our clients’ product launches are successful in the broadest sense of the word:
• Prioritize the long view. Is this product a one-off for your organization, or is it part of a broader line of products that will be rolled out over a period of time? Either way, while the initial success or failure of the product is important, it’s imperative to keep the long view in mind. Unexpected success on the part of a one-off could mean that you’ve identified an untapped source of potential sustained demand. Unexpected failure on the part of a first-of-many launch doesn’t necessarily mean that the product family is doomed – it just means changes will need to be incorporated into subsequent launches.
• Plan for failure. This doesn’t mean that you should expect a product launch to fail; rather, it means that you’ve anticipated the primary failure points and built sub-plans to address them. What will you do if your splashy press intro is drowned out by a massive news event? How will you react if your promotional offer servers go down at peak demand? Gary Klein in a Harvard Business Review article recommended a premortem – a meeting scheduled near the start of the product management process in which the group discusses what might cause the product to fail and preemptively finds solutions to enact along the way and avoid predictable surprises.
• Plan for success. Conversely, is your organization ready for supernormal demand? The history of product marketing is littered with examples where a company planned for a typical “hockey-stick” demand pattern, only to see the stick’s “handle” materialize faster than expected – leaving millions of dollars in unmet demand, and customer frustration, on the table. Pricing out additional servers that could be spun up quickly, or additional manufacturing to take on unexpected load, is cheap insurance that can pay off handsomely if your demand slope gets ‘telescoped’ by an interested marketplace.
• Get ready to learn everything you can. A common oversight is to architect our data capture framework to only meet our expectations for a product launch. But what if unexpected customer segments are first movers? What if entirely new customer segments emerge? Be sure that your data intake model can ‘see’ unexpected variations in demand – and provide predictive and prescriptive analytics to support those paths to product success.
• Socialize launch data upstream. If pricing sensitivity proves to be more pronounced than expected, or if buying demographics skew sideways from the plan, product planning groups in charge of subsequent launches can benefit from that data immediately – switching, say, to lower-cost providers or revisiting the launch promotional materials. By socializing launch data to upstream product development groups, the entire organization gains agility and can use the latest interface with the market to improve its performance.
Ronin Technology Advisors offer many services to support product development and launch, including outsourced project management, marketing and social media support, as well as prescriptive and predictive launch analytics. Our team of specialists can support your product development, launch, and post-launch data management tasks. We also provide support frameworks and personnel for long-term innovation roadmap planning and product lifecycle management. To learn more, contact us at 303.678.1844 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.