The Top 7 Problems that Can Kill a Product Launch

Of all the missteps that can give a company a black eye, a failed product launch surely tops the list. This is especially true for products that have a long development cycle: Medical devices, pharmaceuticals, advanced software, etc. Nothing is more frustrating than developing and testing a product for years, only to have it flop at the moment when it should become commercially viable.

Sure, there are many problems that can happen before a launch: Questionable persona research, poor market fit, quality concerns, supply chain issues, pricing challenges…every business owner knows these problems all too well. But what I am talking about here are problems that can kill the launch—or, if you prefer, problems with the marketing of the product itself. For the sake of space, we’ll assume you have a product that has been tested, that works, and that (potentially) is a good fit for your market, priced correctly, etc.

The marketing of your product is extremely important at the launch stage, because nothing is more frustrating than having a good product ready to go but then seeing it flounder because the launch just did not capture anyone’s attention. So many good products die because the marketing was just an afterthought.

Here, then, are the top seven missteps we’ve seen companies make in planning their product launch marketing campaign:

  1. Scattershot messaging
  2. Trying to say too much
  3. Feature-based messaging vs. value-based messaging
  4. Not differentiating your product
  5. Treating every marketing piece as lead gen
  6. Not collaborating with sales
  7. Starting too late

#1 Scattershot messaging

You’ve developed the product, and now you have to tell your market about it. What do you say?

There’s a lot you can say! The temptation is to get as much information as possible from everyone involved in the product’s development. That includes engineers, R&D folks, marketing professionals, leadership, etc. Pretty soon, you’ve collected a lot of information…but it’s not focused. In fact, the messaging is everywhere.

The misstep here is two-fold. One issue is that no one sat down all of these stakeholders in a room together to determine what the messaging should be. The result is messaging that is Frankensteined together and fails to tell a coherent story.

The second issue is where the information comes from. Sure, you need to check with your team to learn important features (for example). But have you checked with potential customers to see what their needs are? This is key. Chances are your company has already piloted the product, or had trials where users could interact with it. If so, find out what their experiences were like. What pains did it solve? What made it better? That kind of intel will unify and magnify your messaging so much better than a list of features or stats about efficiency.

These two sides of scattershot messaging tend to metastasize and breed two more problems… 

#2 Trying to say too much

We’ve seen this so many times: A company with a good product puts out an ad in an event program, or trade magazine, or online in a display ad. That ad is just riddled with copy: They try to say everything they can about the product on just half a page. There’s a cute headline, and a tagline, several feature write-ups, and even a company history. This is often an outcome of the kind of Frankenstein-messaging discussed above.

And you know what? No one reads all that.

The main job of an ad is to get a person’s attention. It needs to stop the scroll, or delay the turn of the page. That’s it. It’s an awareness play. You’re not writing your dissertation about the product – that’s what a white paper or research study is for.

Your ad has very little time to grab that attention, less than a few seconds. But it also has to catch attention in a way that resonates—enough so that your audience becomes curious and wants to learn more.

Details about features, use, and pricing can come later, during the sales call. For the launch, focus on ads that build brand awareness first. Cut down your messaging and simplify your visuals until you have a single, unified, attention-grabbing message. 

#3 Feature-based messaging vs. value-based messaging

When going to market, you will be tempted to list out all of your products’ neat new features. Here’s the thing: No one really cares. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but it’s true. Your audience first wants to know what your product can do for them. They care about value, not features.

Here’s a great recent example: How many ads and promotions have you seen for technical products that boast their use of AI? It seems like everyone has an AI tool these days. But do those AI tools really help you get your work done?

We get why everyone is touting AI: It’s a buzzword, and not having it makes a product look old school and out of touch. But AI is a feature. The people buying a new tool or solution don’t care if it has AI or not. They care if that AI can make their work go faster, run smoother, or get done more cheaply. That is the language of value.

It’s OK to capture the latest technology—just do so with caution. There will always be new technology around the corner. But the value of a product reflects user goals, and those don’t change as fast. A silicone chin rest is a feature, but greater patient comfort is value. Hi-res 4k cameras are a feature—better diagnostic imagery leading to quicker diagnosis is value.

#4 Not differentiating your product or offer

What you don’t want to hear is one of your prospects saying: “OK, so your device basically does what [Company X’s] device does. I get it. But theirs is about 40% cheaper, so I’m going to stick with their product.”

Most customers are not ALL about the price. But, if they can’t see any difference between the two products, they will go with the cheaper option. If entering a space with similar products and you do not want to only compete on price, you must convince prospects that the products are not equal.

Always emphasize how your product is different from all the others that exist in the market. This is especially important if there are many competitors, or if your price is on the higher end for the market.

Again, this is where customer research comes in handy. What makes your product stand out in their mind? Even small differences can make a huge contrast when it comes to making a customer impression (and justifying your price tag).

#5 Treating every marketing piece as lead generation

When a customer buys a product, it is rarely on a sudden impulse. There is an entire customer journey, and it starts well before a customer visits a website, or sits down for a sales demo.

This means that a lot of what you do in terms of marketing will not lead directly to a sale. For example, you might run ads and have speakers at industry conferences just to build brand awareness. While those activities enable connecting with a client and eventually closing business, they rarely generate leads themselves. And that’s OK.

Recognize, then, that you are building an entire marketing plan, not just a single lead-generation campaign. Once you have the pieces of the plan in place, you can begin examining your hourglass to find out where the holes are in that plan. It might turn out that lead gen is where your hole is…but maybe the issue lies elsewhere. You won’t know until you look at the customer journey as a whole.

#6 Not collaborating with sales to give them the tools they need

This is a natural consequence of #5 above (treating everything as lead gen). If all you use marketing for is to generate leads, the only thing you’ll ever hand to sales are lists of said leads…and those leads probably aren’t very “warm.”

Again, there is an entire customer journey that happens. Sales comes in at a critical stage, and to do their job well, they need the support that comes from the rest of the hourglass.

For example:

  • Have you produced enough ads to generate brand awareness? If not, then customers are going to brush off your sales teams when they come knocking.
  • Do you have collateral that will help sales make their case? Think case studies, testimonials, battle cards, white papers…there is a lot of content you can use to arm your sales team!
  • Have you trained your sales team? Do they understand your messaging, including your product’s key value, differentiators, and so on? Do they know what to say when they meet objections? Do they know what they can’t claim?
  • Do you have a plan for following up after the sale? How will you leverage existing customers for testimonials and case studies? Do you have a plan to cross-sell them other products? Earn their trust and referrals?

Ideally, your sales team should have a hand in these activities. They are a key source of intel on your customers and prospects, so use what they know when putting your marketing plan together.

#7 Waiting too long to start your marketing

The time to put together your marketing is not when trials are over and you feel the product is “market ready.” By then, you’re too late.

There is a lot you can do before final approval or testing of your product. For example:

  • You can do your customer research to discover pain points and experience using the product.
  • You can gather testimonials and/or begin a case study based on trials/pilots.
  • You can begin to craft and refine your messaging.
  • You can collaborate to build your branding.
  • You can line up the tools you will need to run campaigns (email marketing platform, social media posting tools, analytics platforms, etc.).

Most importantly, the thing to start planning right now is the timing of your marketing for the launch. This does not need to be in terms of actual dates—after all, many things can delay a product launch—but should be in terms of days and weeks needed to execute on various tactics. For example, if you suspect it will take a month to get your messaging and branding together, you need to begin that process a month ahead of creating any collateral. The collateral itself might take a couple months to put together, so that messaging/branding process will need to begin at least three months before launch. And so on. And don’t forget to include the time needed to go through your legal, regulatory and medical affairs approval process.

The idea is to start moving on your marketing so that, whenever the launch happens, you have all of your tools, materials, and tactics set and ready to go. The larger the company, the longer it will take (many cooks make for a slow kitchen!). If they are not ready in time for launch, you’ll waste valuable time and delay earning meaningful revenue.

These Missteps Feed Off Each Other…But They Don’t Have To

Although I’ve listed them separately here, these seven problems tend to dovetail with each other. For example, if you are late with planning your marketing, chances are you won’t have the resources to support sales when you launch. And when you do put those resources together, it will be a last-minute sprint to get your messaging and branding together. Instead of talking to customers, you’ll try to develop what you need in-house, on the fly…and that leads to scattershot messaging that just dumps a list of features in the customer’s lap…but fails to get their attention by demonstrating value.

And when all of those ads, brochures, and demonstrations fail to get any traction, sales will get discouraged, and pretty soon it’s back to the drawing board.

In short, all of these problems are really just symptoms of a single disease. Each is a “red flag” by itself, but they all indicate an underlying process that is broken to begin with.

If that’s what you’ve witnessed—or if you’ve just had less-than-stellar success with your own product launches—talk to us. We can put together a roadmap for your product’s launch that will help keep things on track so the launch can be a success.

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