New products and services are a lot like babies. Entrepreneurs say it all the time. They call their business their "Baby" and then they get this faraway, loving look in their eyes.
It's no wonder that so many make the comparison. Just like a baby, new products start off as the twinkle of an idea. They grow, develop form and function and are born into the world. As your new product idea germinated and your team worked to put it together, you were preparing yourself and your customers for this new, wonderful addition to your business.
Instead of talking about the obvious promotional strategies for a product launch, let's go behind the scenes and look at what successful entrepreneurs do during the germination period of a new product. If your product were your "baby," consider this the "prenatal" portion of the launch.
1. Develop Buyer Personas Early and Modify as Required
In the same way that babies are created out of the love between two people, your new product should be born out of your love for your customer. Before rolling your eyes, take a moment to think about this: When you "love" someone, you look for ways to enhance that relationship, so you do nice things for that person. The same is true for launching a new product. It should be a sort of gift to your customers, or something to show them that you are paying attention to them and what matters to them, thereby giving them the gift of a solution.
To do this, you must have clear buyer personas. Moving forward in developing your product is like starting a family with someone you don't know. While success is possible, it's certainly going to be a rocky road for everyone involved.
Instead of focusing on demographics and psychographics alone, take a deeper look at what matters to your ideal customer as they go about solving the problem your product solves.
- Specifically, what is the problem they are solving?
- How do they currently think it's solved?
- What triggers the search for a solution?
- How do they search for a solution?
- How do they choose the best solution?
These basic questions along with a few more will help you create customer personas based on those features that truly matter to customers when solving their problem.
2. Don't Forget Your Brand and What You Stand For
When you're launching a new product, it's easy to get wrapped up in the cool features and ways that your customers will benefit. But don't forget to position those features inside your core brand message and your unique point of view.
Your customers aren't buying your product or service; they are buying a relationship and connection with YOU.
The best way to do this is to create a simple table and make a list of the following:
- What your customers want
- The features you have that support what they want
- Proof (such as data or testimonials that support the results)
- Your brand's WOW Factor: What's the unique benefit customers get from YOUR brand?
Your new product doesn't stand on its own; it's part of your entire brand family. Make sure that everything about the product supports what your brand stands for, and that your brand message is reflected in your product.
3. Focus on Your Team and Work on Contingencies
Product launches don't happen in a vacuum. It takes mad organizational, product management and communications skills to get everything coordinated, especially when it feels like you are herding cats.
One way to keep your team energized, motivated and able to work across disciplines is to follow a team model. One of my favorites is called the Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance Model.
This team model was developed by Allan Drexler, David Sibbet and Russ Forrester to optimize team workflow. One of the best features of this team model is that it gives voice to those moments when team members "feel" stopped but aren't sure exactly what to do about it and how to fix it.
The other benefit of using a team performance model is that it creates a structure for having conversations about contingencies. In the world of product engineering they call this "Failure Mode Effects Analysis" or FMEA. This is basically an "if this, then that" conversation that allows everyone to uncover and plan for all the things that can go wrong.
4. Check, Double Check and Triple Check With Legal
The last thing you want to do is end up on a #ProductFail list because you didn't do the proper due diligence with your product name, company name or website. Invest the time and money to do a thorough trademark search, and look for opportunities to register any product name or phrase for the appropriate trademark protection.
You don't have to spend a fortune on this process. There are plenty of online resources that will help you. Before hiring an attorney, do a quick search of the United States Patent and Trademark Office Database. If you don't have an attorney, you can also use a resource like Trademarkia. They will connect you with an attorney who will help you through the entire process. Ultimately, your best bet is to work with an attorney you can trust. To find a trademark attorney in your area, you can search Avvo.com, an online directory of attorneys.
5. Get Influential Customers on Board Quickly and Build a Community With Them
Social proof comes from two areas: big name customers and a thriving community. Don't wait until your product is ready to launch before starting to build these relationships.
You can start by looking at your existing customers and asking them to be part of a customer advisory panel. Choose those customers who are most likely to appreciate and value your product and who can offer important and helpful feedback. Get them into a conversation using a private Facebook group that you can open up after the product is launched.
Consider offering these customers early access to the product in return for helpful and honest feedback. Your goal is to leverage their networks and get them to share your upcoming product enthusiastically. This is also your opportunity to start identifying early customer service issues and how to address them.
Build enthusiasm and excitement about your new product by sharing existing features, teaching customers how to use these features and giving them information about other new features being considered, especially if these are features that they have requested.
One company that does this exceptionally well is CoSchedule. They are into a wave of new "feature" launches over the next few months, and they've been running a series of webinars for their existing customers where they've reviewed newer features and talked about upcoming features.
6. Build Relationships With the Press as Early as Possible
You can certainly hire a PR agency to do this for you, but there is nothing quite as effective as having your own relationships with media outlets and journalists in your industry and using your existing social media activity to build and leverage those connections. According to Donna Cravotta, founder and CEO of Social Sage PR, "Social media and public relations are powerful tools that when used correctly, can quickly grow your business and your reputation as an industry leader. By focusing on relationship building rather than selling, ROI and increasing numbers, you will easily connect with relevant influencers and media outlets, with opportunities that you did not know existed finding you."
Building connections with the media isn't something that you do once; it's an ongoing activity that should become an integrated component of your social media engagement. Start by using tools like BuzzSumo.com and RightRelevance.com to identify key influencers in your area of expertise and your industry. Think of this as finding the most influential people who are central to the main conversation around your product or service.
Once you've identified the key influencers, media outlets and journalists in your area, put them in appropriate Twitter lists. You can create Twitter lists of influencers, journalists and perhaps people who are actively engaged in your core conversation.
Here are a couple strategies you can use. The first thing you'll need is a list of core hashtags that your audience uses that center around your new product. For example, if your product is a social media tool, then you might follow #socialmedia, or if your product is a market research service, you may follow conversations that use the #MRX hashtag. Use Hashtagify.me to research hashtags and choose one that has the highest popularity percent.
Next, you can automate the Twitter list process by using IFTTT (if this, then that). Simply select the recipe that will build a Twitter list from a specific hashtag. Here's a sneaky tip: Come up with a flattering name for your list such as "Rock Star Journalists." You want to do this because when you add someone to a list, they get a notification that says "@person has added you to the list 'Rock Star Journalists,'" and that makes them feel good, opening the door for a conversation.
Your Product Is Your Baby: Practice Proper Pre-Launch Care
When you are launching a product, the assumption is that the conversation starts once the product is ready to launch. But it actually starts months and sometimes years before then.
As you think about your next product launch, remember to keep your customer and your brand promise at the center of the conversation. Put structures in place to support and motivate your team, protect your intellectual property and keep those media relationships and conversations going. If you start this pre-launch process early, the launch is sure to go smoothly.
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