Getting a new product from inception to launch day takes a lot of time and effort. With a hero or best-selling product, it can take even longer. As a leader, you have to prepare yourself and your team for this journey-- especially when fatigue sets in.
I can speak from experience. After years of product design, fabric testing, market research, and more, my company, ThirdLove, recently launched an activewear line. Activewear is a new product category for us, which meant that to successfully launch the product, we had to reinvent the wheel. We couldn't ride our past success to a breakthrough in activewear. We needed an entirely new product, vision, and marketing approach.
So far, the launch has gone well. But when you compare our activewear numbers with our bras -- our hero product -- it is still just a small percent of our business, and there is a long way to go to grow the category.
This can make the team feel like their efforts didn't pay off. But after a new product launch, businesses need to stay the course. They need to commit to the product: its value, its positioning, its key messaging. Especially in a new product's early days, here are a few techniques leaders can use to galvanize their teams.
1. Give the team appropriate context
A product launch is a marathon. It starts long before the launch date and extends long after it. But when you're part of the team that brings the product to market, the launch date feels like the finish line.
Leaders have to put the journey in context. In our case, it took more than two years to bring our first bras to market back in 2014. It's taken another seven years -- and our fair share of challenges along the way -- to bring them to their current level of prominence. Yes, it took years to bring activewear to market, but it's not the end of the marathon. It's more like mile one. We're just getting started.
2. Share customer wins to keep morale high
Total sales is not the only way to measure success. Success has many sides, and particularly in the early days of a product's life in the market, one of the surest measures of success is how customers are responding. To support a new product enthusiastically, your team has to understand its purpose. Its purpose is not to merely bring more revenue to the company. Purpose is grounded in impact.
In ThirdLove's all-hands meetings, for example, I always include customer quotes. For the past couple of months, the customer quotes have all revolved around activewear. While total sales gives you a bird's-eye view of a product's performance, customer stories give you ground-level accounts of the product's value. They center on personal stories rather than dots and lines on a graph. They give you a sense of real-world impact: what the product is doing for customers, not just what its sales are doing for the company.
Customer wins boost morale. They show your team the true value of the product and keep them dedicated to expanding its reach.
3. Use the right KPIs to measure performance
Numbers on their own mean next to nothing. Numbers compared with other relevant numbers can mean everything. To accurately measure the success of a new product, you have to pick the right key performance indicators (KPIs) and appropriate comparisons.
A few years ago when we first launched underwear, an underwear email produced only about a 10th of the sales that a bra-focused email did. Comparing those two numbers, our team could conclude that, well, underwear emails don't work.
But that was the wrong conclusion. Underwear was in mile one of its marathon, while bras were somewhere around mile 11. Relative to mile 11 expectations, underwear emails were underperforming; but relative to mile one expectations, they were doing just fine. The same is true for activewear, and for any product that's been on the market only for a few months.
Different points on the journey should all have their own KPIs.
4. Home in on one unique pillar
In the early days of launching our hero 24/7 bra, we were discussing what we stood for. When somebody said "ThirdLove," what did we want them to think of? We decided it was: We're the only brand that has half-cups. For the next two or three years of my life, every press interview I did, I talked about half-cups. Why we thought of them, how we developed them, why they were important for women. It went into our podcasts, our website, our tagline.
Now, people know us as the brand that has half-cups. If you didn't know the background, it might seem like that's just how it is. But the reality is, we talked about it for years, until we were blue in the face, and then we talked about it some more. The bra's current status is the result of years of effort, repetition, commitment to the brand ideal.
Now, we're doing the same for our sports bra, honing in on what this bra brings to the market that makes it so unique and special for our customers.
The moral of the story: All products need the same commitment.
Leaders have to make sure their teams understand that a new product is a journey, and inspire them to commit for the long haul. It means taking care of both the rational and emotional sides: establishing factual context and providing emotional fuel.