Ninety-five percent of product launches fail in the first year. Dorit Shackleton heads up integrated communications for Global Corporate Affairs, and is involved in the newest of the new cross-enterprise topics at tech giant SAP. She has the street cred and the chops to provide insight based on a career helping executive teams move from concept to market-ready killer launch plan. Turns out, there's a lot to consider. A robust integrated communications approach that includes assessment, strategy, and execution and enablement may just be the difference between success and failure. This piece, the first in a three-part series, will cover the four questions you should answer before creating a launch plan.
Skills like Shackleton's are rare and so needed. Venture capitalist, Jeanne Sullivan, has a great saying: "You need more than a team, a dream, a PowerPoint and a dog to be successful". When you work in tech or any other industry where businesses compete on innovation, it's hard to avoid getting caught up in the excitement that a new idea brings. I see it in the large corporations I work with and with the founding start-up teams I advise.
It's a tough situation and one to which most of us can relate: You spend days, weeks, or months creating the best, brightest, most amazing new product or service the market has ever seen. You are in love. Everyone in your innovation team is in love. It's hard not to be when you create the coolest new shiny object on the planet.
A lot of gumption is needed to take a step back and ask some humbling questions, ones that could potentially delay a launch. "When it comes to releasing a new idea or product, you rarely get a second chance," says Shackleton.
Once your product launches, much of the launch success is out of your hands. If you haven't done the fine-tuning of your launch plan, considering questions your spokespeople should anticipate and be prepared to answer from the media or other influencers, or how your target customers will experience your offering and how it will change their lives for the better, "you significantly limit your chances of market traction and success," says Shackleton.
The first step in a launch requires you to do the tough job of assessing if your idea is as great as you think it is. Shackleton recommends you ask and answer these four questions:
Question 1: Why are we doing this? The answer to this question cannot be found within the walls of your business. Instead, look to the market for your answers. Strive to understand if the market is ripe for your new offering. And, if you are a B2B player, don't just stop at your direct market; look at the markets that your customers serve. In other words, ask yourself if you are launching truly helps your customers' customers.
Question 2: Why should others care? Focus on your priority audiences. You have to define, specifically who are targeting and why they should care. How will their lives be better because of your offering? Consider how your offering creates efficiencies and value that override the competition, and don't stop at currently available products. Emerging products will also be competing for the hearts and minds of your priority audiences. Include what you can find publicly available on where your competitors are investing.
Question 3: Why now? Shackleton refers to this question as "picking your moment". The answer to this question cannot be answered with "because we are done with development". When you make a big announcement, you risk contributing to the noise in the market versus setting yourself apart. Consider multiple components in this step: Market conditions, buying trends, product and roadmap readiness. Ensure that enough of the market conditions are in your favor
Question 4: Is what we are doing ready for prime time? Answering this question may feel particularly painful. Gather all the right people together from product, sales, marketing--anyone who can provide a dynamic view of your offering. Consider if waiting to launch would give time to make the product better. If the end goal is more about grabbing the spotlight and less about fulfilling expectations along the customer experience, chances are, the launch may not be ready for the limelight just yet.
The art of assessment isn't about command and control. It does require discipline, courage, and empathy for the customer experience. The assessment should be led by someone who has been-there and done-that and can guide the executive team on when the timing is right due to competitive pressures, customer urgency, and newsworthiness.