Having worked with more than 100 component companies, many developing new innovations in semiconductors and related electronics, I've experienced many unique situations that have created opportunities and challenges for a successful product launch. Based on many successes (and a few missteps), below are 10 key questions to consider when bringing a new product to market.
1. Who exactly are your customers and what are their decision processes?
For many companies, product design may occur in the US, often in collaboration with Asian manufacturers. But there are often centers of expertise in other geographies, such as Russia or Israel. Your key customers may number only 10 or 20 companies, so you need to understand with almost forensic detail their decision making process.
2. What is your new product's value proposition?
Think about whether the new product represents a new capability, adds functionality to an existing product, and/or represents a basic-level, lower-cost model; and think also about positioning versus current and anticipated competitors.
3. Who are your new product's real and perceived competitors?
While this seems obvious to you, to your customers and potentially others in a value chain the answer to this question may be more nuanced. Your customers might be looking at other products that include the feature set of your product, or looking at other products that could act as a substitute for yours.
4. What is your product's market potential?
Media and analysts will often ask about the product's market potential in terms of current and future revenues. It's often valuable to quantify your estimates with one or more outside observers.
5. Where is your product in the value chain, and will your new product alter that value chain?
If your new product disrupts an existing value chain by, for example, eliminating one phase of the chain, you have a greater challenge. You may now compete with existing customers and sell to a new group of customers.
6. When do you plan to launch your product?
While your most important customers may attend the large tradeshows, you may be able to get more "quality time" with them at smaller tradeshows, niche conferences, or through one-on-one meetings.
Consider announcing your launch at a time different from the tsunami of announcements that take place the first day of a large tradeshow. Resist the temptation and pressure from your board, customers, and others. Don't launch your product prematurely just to time its launch to coincide with a tradeshow -- or any other event, for that matter.
7. What's the role of industry analysts?
Industry analysts can be an important sounding board for your new product's market positioning and provide an outside, objective perspective. Many will discuss their take on your market opportunities and their view of your new product.
8. What's the role of media?
The primary role of media is to report on news and trends. It's important to understand their interests, availability, and how they like to receive information. Your marketing team should focus on building relationships with key editors, not simply contacting them during product launches.
9. What is my announcement chronology?
While every launch is different, there are a few key activities that will help ensure success:
- Organize briefings under NDA with the most influential analysts and media 5 to 10 days prior to a launch.
- Optimize release timing for key market(s); e.g., Asia time if launching at an Asian tradeshow.
- Distribute press release on launch day and email release to targeted industry analysts and media.
- Share via social media if appropriate, maybe using teasers on social media to get people excited leading up to announcement.
- Consider using email blasts to alert key customers/prospects.
- Analyze resulting leads and coverage to evaluate quality of message penetration. For example, did the lead flow meet expectations? Did coverage reflect the message communicated in the press release and website?
10. How do I know my launch was a success?
It's important to establish metrics prior to the launch process that will allow decision makers to determine the ROI. For many, basic metrics include short-term sales uplift, long-term sales uplift, and contribution to brand building.
Product launches are often critical periods in the evolution of a company. Conducting relevant research, creating key messaging, organizing core activities well in advance, executing aggressively, and evaluating results versus metrics contribute to ensuring success.
— Tim Johnson is President of Stearns Johnson Communications, a marketing and PR agency that works with both startups and established companies.