When launching a new product or service, go for the value, not the flash. Value builds revenue, company growth, future funding. Flash is transitory.
Your public launch of a product or service will raise the profile of your company.
It’s a marketing event – a kickoff party of sorts, so be prepared. What you need for a launch is a compelling product or service plus a handful of early customers providing gushing testimonials. I am frequently invited to “big hat, no cattle” flashy launch parties. The goal of these companies is to build buzz and visibility in hopes of getting press… but for what? For throwing an expensive party? It’s much better to have a launch when you already have some customers and some revenue and problems are being solved—now there’s a real story! Don’t spend money on a flashy launch party when you have no accomplishments to back it up. Spend your marketing budget on making the press and blogging community aware of your really cool product, PLUS the companies that are using it, PLUS the problems and pain your product is removing, and the specific benefits that have been the result.
Prepare for your launch by asking yourself the following questions:
Which companies are using our product/service?
What specific problems are being solved?
What associated pain is our product/service removing?
What have the tangible and quantifiable benefits been to our clients?
Your only goal is to craft a clear message of customer problems and pain, and the benefits your product/service have provided and will continue to provide. This is what the press should be made aware of when you launch a product or service. This is newsworthy.
From the above questions you’ll be able to formulate a few customer case studies which will illustrate the many benefits of using your product. Case studies are key to a rockin’ launch. Tell the story from the customer’s perspective. And if the press insists on calling a customer to ask about your product, rest assured they’ll spend less time doing so—the case study told the whole story already.
There’s no magic number of customers or amount of sales you need in order to execute a launch. If you’re a privately-held company you don’t have to disclose either to the press. You’ll launch when you are ready to gain traction and when you have the infrastructure set up to handle an increased number of inquiries and sales. Make sure you’re ready though—many startups sell their product for 6 months or more before they officially launch.
Pick a point person for the launch.
This person will be internal or external, and have a blend of marketing and PR skills. They’ll spend a great deal of time on preparing marketing materials (web site updates, customer case studies, customer testimonials, press releases, product fact sheets, etc). They’ll also distribute press releases, pitch journalists and influential bloggers, answer frequently asked questions, book customer interviews, and a lot more. The pre- and post- launch activities take months of dedicated time. Doing it right is well worth it.
A Sample Launch Process
Back in the 1990’s I started a company while standing in line at Starbucks. In time we funded it with venture capital, built it up, and a few years later I sold my shares to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. It might be helpful at this point to tell you more about the key steps from founding to sale to better understand how your launch process and timeline should look. The route I took ended up having 12 key steps. While your own launch process will be tailored to your specific industry and product or service, seeing how one of my companies progressed provides an interesting case study on startups.
1. We wrote the business plan in order to clarify our vision. We wrote our funding pitch in a PowerPoint presentation and our first year’s budget in an Excel spreadsheet. We created a formula-based dynamic model so we could plug in numbers for different “what if” scenarios (what if our expenses were higher, what if our revenue were lower, etc.).
2. We mocked up our web pages so others could visualize how our site would work and how consumers, retailers, manufacturers would interact with it. Always do this. Many people you’ll pitch to will be visual.
3. We designed the architecture so others could visualize how we’d do certain product functions such as data analysis and data mining. Providing a schematic of the backend architecture helped boost our credibility with the potential client’s information technology teams that would have to interface with our backend.
4. We got our first round of funding! We sold 33% percent of our company for 18 months’ worth of operational cash.
5. We hired key staff: VP Engineering, VP Sales, and VP Marketing. This company was very engineering and sales intensive. We needed to have a solid architecture and we also needed to get started on the incredibly long sales cycle for retailers and manufacturers. Marketing worked on collateral — sales support material like brochures and data sheets — while the sales guys hung out with potential customers and asked for their suggestions on our product design. This helped get the potential customers more emotionally engaged in our success and also increased their likelihood of buying a system they had helped design. I love creating a “Customer Council.” It’s like an advisory board without compensation, as this would be a conflict of interest for the prospective customer.
6. We secured our first customers (both retailers and manufacturers) and web site strategic alliances. We raised our profile with trade associations, and distributed a white paper we had written which illustrated the future of online, targeted promotions. We positioned ourselves as the experts. This is like declaring victory as you’re stepping onto the battlefield. Do it!
7. We launched a 90-day beta test.
8. We got our first consumers using the beta system. We did zillions of speeches to manufacturers and retailers. Then we cranked up the PR engine and started getting press.
9. As a result of the above, we got more funding.
10. We demonstrated our product’s data analysis capabilities to customers. They were wowed and we were able to up-sell them to a more premium (read: expensive) service.
11. We expanded our customer base. We released a complete Version 1 of the system. We did zillions more speeches. Whew! That was a lot of talking for me and my executive staff! And we got more press.
12. And yep, you guessed it. We got more funding.
So you see, the launch process is cyclical. Each time there is a progression and growth associated with the interaction with the customers and the press more funding follows. You must repeatedly demonstrate growth with each step of the launch process.
Also, you don’t need to pay a market research company big bucks to write a report on you. Gartner Group, Jupiter, Aberdeen, there are many reputable, influential—and expensive–groups that can raise the profile of your company. I prefer gaining credibility from customer case studies, from showing specifically how you are solving problems as opposed to paying someone to write about you. You’ll be written up once you’ve gained traction. So hunker down and get to work! That said, you may need the credibility boost of a research report from a third party if you are selling a 6 digit product to enormous enterprises and your executive team doesn’t have fabulous accomplishments in their past.
So that’s the high level net-net on how to launch your company’s product or service to gain maximum effectiveness with the press and the market. Are you preparing to launch? When and of what? If you have questions regarding the process, I’d be happy to answer them.
Christine is CEO of Mighty Ventures
www.MightyVentures.com, a business accelerator which helps businesses to massively increase sales, product offerings, and company value. She has built and sold 5 of her own businesses with an average 700% return on investment, served as a board director or in-the-trenches advisor to 36 startups, and has invested in over 200 startups as a venture capitalist or angel investor. Christine has consulted to the White House (Clinton and Bush), 700 of the Fortune 1000, and hundreds of small businesses. She has repeatedly identified and championed key trends and technologies years before market acceptance. Christine’s best selling book, Rules for Renegades, is available now on www.RulesForRenegades.com or wherever books are sold.
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