Just like your sister’s wedding, product launches are special events. They’re a cause for celebration. There’s nothing like the feeling of a well-planned mission, executed to perfection, generating results that will make everybody smile. Product launches are also complicated, gut-wrenching, ulcer-inducing activities, and while nothing ever goes as planned, they can be incredibly satisfying.
Start with 33 Questions
Is the product ready? That’s a pretty basic question, but even the simplest product can be quite complicated if you deconstruct it. Using a pen for an example, here are some considerations in the product readiness checklist:
- Is the product complete?
- Has it been functionally tested?
- Has it been safety tested?
- Has it been drop/transport tested?
- Has it been performance tested?
- Is environmental testing complete?
- Can it be produced in quantity?
- Are the packaging graphics complete?
- Have safety/warning labels been approved?
- Are we or is it compliant with brand standards?
- SKU numbers and codes in ERP?
- Is the warranty finalized?
- Are translations complete?
- Are certifications complete?
- Have pilot builds been completed?
- Has it been beta-tested in the field?
- Is there an obsolescence plan?
- Is the documentation complete?
- Is the Bill of Materials complete?
- Has pricing been finalized?
- Competitive comparison and differentiation?
- Is packaging finalized?
- Are alternate vendors selected?
- Is the manufacturing process stable?
- Have sales procedures been defined?
- Have stocking levels been established?
- Is the instruction manual finished?
- Are we or is it e-commerce ready?
- Are shipping instructions defined?
- Is the distribution plan defined?
- If needed, have hazardous materials declared?
- Is the launch time coordinated with management for maximum impact?
- Are the launch materials prepared?
Typically, a product is born in R&D, of proud product manager parents. They’ve gone through 9+ months of cravings and contractions known as the product development process, and they will be glad when the whole process is over, and they can turn their baby over to marketing to take it from infancy to maturity.
Handoff to Marketing
Ideally, marketing has been involved in the product development process alongside product management and has facilitated the gathering of Voice of the Customer data in the product definition stage, beta testing in the development stages, and definition and refinement of the marketing requirements.
- Marketing Plan
- Launch Plan
- Advertising Plan
- Digital marketing plan (email)
- Promotional plan
- Distribution plan
- Lifecycle management plan
- Product positioning
- Sales training\
- Customer service training
- Service training
- Global rollout plan
For each of the plans, execution plans defining activities, responsibility, and timing are needed — similar to the example below.
“Apollo” Gel Pen Launch Plan – Launch Date June 1, 2020
|Sales Training (US)||Bob||w/o May 14||OK|
|Website product pages||Sally||w/o May 21||OK – may need help|
|Press release||Martin||Final due May 29||OK|
|Video||Bob||Active June 1||OK – need script|
|Banner ads||Greg||Active June 1||OK – Landing pages?|
|Landing pages||Greg / Sally||Active June 1||OK – need content|
|Web content||Bob||w/o May 21||Help needed|
|Brochure||Ashley||w/o May 1||Complete|
|Tech data sheet(s)||Bob||w/o May 1||Complete|
For each product launch, the launch team needs to know their responsibilities, resources, deadlines, and interdependencies. They need to know who is leading the campaign and set the expectations for all stakeholders. Good project management skills are the top selection criteria for the leader because launch dates cannot be missed. It pains me to say it, but there is an “out” if, at T-5 days from launch, there is a glitch that is going to cause a delay in product availability — the (dreaded*) “soft launch.” In a soft launch, there is little to no marketing push, and the product can be released to a limited audience until production catches up. Many times, soft launches are scheduled in advance as a strategy to either test the market or test the marketing campaign.
*dreaded due to loss of enthusiasm and forward momentum.
Are We There Yet?
The two biggest questions surrounding product launches are:
- When should we start preparing the marketing plans for the launch? The easiest way to plan is to work backward from the launch date. Prioritize your tasks, determine the gating items or interdependencies, and allow a little extra time for hiccups. Coordinating schedules for meetings and getting approvals will be difficult to manage unless you limit the number of approvers and minimize the number of meetings.
- How long does the launch preparation take? The answer to this depends predominantly on the complexity and the requirements of the launch, the resources you have, and the state of the materials you have when you begin planning. All of your materials and preparations should be complete at least 5 days before the launch date.
The best way to plan is by using a spreadsheet and a Gantt chart, named after Henri Gantt. The Gantt chart is useful because it will show the interdependencies of everyone’s efforts, and people will ask for it, even if they don’t know what it is, or how to read it.
Thirty days after launch, the launch campaign manager should schedule a post-mortem launch review to see what went right and what can be improved (post mortem” literally means “after death (which is probably not the best choice of words since you have just brought a product to life!). Once you have a launch process perfected for your organization, reuse the process for the next launch. With careful planning and execution, you increase your chances of a product launch you can be proud of — every time!
Product launches can be challenging! If you need help or want to review your plans, contact us for a 30-minute consultation.