How to Launch a Product for a Marketers Perspective
By: W. R. Widmer Jr.
How does a company get started? How does one create a business? Business schools try to give students the background to understand these and all the various facets of company creation. The topic related to building a company that I truly find fascinating is how does a “Start Up” company market itself when it launches a product. Business school marketing majors learn how to influence potential customers and guide the customer to purchase a specific product . Students learn to advertise and sell products. However, marketing is not as cut and dried as that. Seth Godin, in his book This is Marketing advises marketing people to work with a product that they can fall in love with (Godin, 11–13). When consumed by a product, it is easy to spin stories about the product that will grab the attention of the target market. It is this level of commitment that can make a product into a bestseller at its introduction or product launch. But it is not all.
In 1984 Steve Jobs and Apple announced the Macintosh and established Apple as the ultimate in marketing with its remarkable product as described in the article “20 Greatest Moments In Apple History”. Apple surpassed the Macintosh achievements in 2007 with the announcement of the iPhone. The combination of the right product and the right personality made Apple a tremendous success. Steve Jobs was “in love” with his new products. However, launching a product is more than that. It requires support from the entire company and a thoughtful implementation. Imagine the surprise General Dynamics had when they were sent back a crushed radio for warranty work after advertising during the product launch that their new military grade communications radio was “as tough as a tank” (Widmer). The customer, the United States Army, explained that a tank had run over the radio. This was a expensive lesson for the marking department — they did not know that the radio was not as tough as a tank.
Knowing your product is key to marketing success. This includes identifying what it does and who it is for (Godin, 257). Make sure that each component of the product is tagged in some manner and given a name that attracts the kind of attention that you want. Next find the right position in the marketplace for your product. Develop reasons to choose your product over competitors’ products and document its achievements. Maybe it is smaller or faster or cheaper than your rival’s brand. Is your product a discriminator or a commodity? This information needs to be distributed to all who are involved in marketing and sales.The basis for winning over your desired market space is your “value proposition” (Skok). The value proposition is a statement that directs your company to meet the needs of a specific set of customers and explains the benefits of your product and why your product is better than the alternatives. It requires knowledge of the target market as well as your product and is the rationale to establish metrics for evaluating the success of your marketing campaign and product launch. Understanding your target market demographics is a good place to start. Demographics refers to statistical data of the target population and includes age, educational level, economic standing, location and marital status and family size.
Next, you should identify your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. To verbalize your strengths and weaknesses you should carefully examine the company’s past performance. Figure out what products were successful and why, as well as what products were not successful in light of your value proposition. Strengths would result from having a large market share, good personal relationships with customers, and a reliable manufacturing process. Weaknesses are gathered by looking at factors which do not show up as strengths and must be targeted for improvement. The metrics collected while setting your value proposition should identify your sales trends, and customer base and identify the strengths and weaknesses. In addition, your employees are an important part of your success, so review employee retention rates and make sure employees are treated as essential assets and become a strength. Look for an above-average customer satisfaction rate, low employee turnover, loyal customer base, and particularly profitable products (“Analyzing Your Strengths and Weaknesses to Achieve Growth”).
Opportunities occur when you realize that your product can fill a specific market need that is currently not met. The opportunity may result from changes in social behaviors, technology or economics. Social behaviors evolve over time and products, especially consumer products, must be updated to change with the social conventions. Technology continually changes and things become miniaturized, more efficient, incorporated with innovation, more environmentally friendly and of course, quicker. Technology also enables an accelerated pace for time to market which may be an important characteristic for some businesses. Finally, the economy also dictates the opportunities for product development. In good times features can be added and in tough economic times, products should be made as cost effective as possible but still leaving a method to upgrade the product at a future time.
Threats to your market share also happen as a result of changes in social behaviors, technology and economics. Currently the United States is experiencing a large growth in the number of retired people. Although, this development was anticipated by census takers, it may not have been incorporated into products being brought to market and is clearly a threat to businesses that target middle class Americans. These potential customers have reduced spendable income as well as fewer demands. The impact of shrinking markets and changing consumer needs can be read as writing on the wall, but other threats are not as apparent. Raw materials may become unavailable because of excessive demand, labor groups may be difficult to work with, fad and fashion crazes may shift markets, and new competitors will enter a lucrative market. All these threats need to be analyzed with respect to your new product.
After developing your company’s value proposition and inventorying its strengths and weaknesses, your product needs detailed documentation. User manuals are essential for most products and can be used to highlight its features and benefits. The user manuals may need to be written by engineering and then passed on to marketing for further refinement. The marketing department should use their expertise to identify reasons for the public to buy your product. Product launch materials should incorporate the marketing approach to product features but not overstate its capabilities.
The next step is identify training needed. A key part of any distribution network is to insure that sales and marketing can correctly and efficiently explain to the customer how the product is designed to be used and how it benefits the user. In addition to having the support team, it is essential that the sales team has a dynamic elevator speech to attract attention to the product. The company must have a network of employees solely dedicated to the goal of making the transition from buying the product and using the product seamless.
A vital part of any company is their visual presence. How a company visually presents itself to the world and its customer base is crucial to its success. Two key parts of the visuals are their logos/branding and their web page. A logo is the most recognized part of a business and must be tastefully done and show the intent behind the company. Just as a sloppy signature by a business person is looked down upon, a poorly designed logo is cheapens the brand worth of the company. The goal of a logo is to build a picture that immediately brings to mind the name of the company. Changing a logo is a very tricky task so a startup should get it right the first time. However, it can be changed by changing small aspects of the logo in a serial progression over a long period of time.
It is in the best interest of the company to hire an adequate graphic designer to create a visual package that illustrates the company cleanly and elegantly. While a logo and branding are key in today’s marketplace a Ten-X type website is a must. Ten-X content is a philosophy that it is vital to create a visual picture of the business that is ten times better that the best content currently available. The startup’s website should have a clean concise layout that is visually pleasant and should be easy to navigate and insure quick response time. It is the responsibility of the start up to work with the website designer to verify that every visual representation of the company is pleasing and uniform.
Packaging is part of brand identity. Think Amazon or DollarShaveClub where you buy on-line or by subscription and a package is shipped to you. The packaging needs to position the company as innovative, creative, environmentally responsible and forward thinking. It should be easy to open, easy to find your product in the packaging, and then the packaging should be easy to throw away or (preferably recycled). An Industrial Designer and a Graphics Designer are key elements of the team needed to launch your product’s packaging.
In addition to logos and a website, the best way for a company to gain traction within its consumer base is to have a strong social media presence. Much of today’s commerce is marketed through social media platforms. By leaning on a variety of different platforms, a fledgling company can reach more people who may be interested in their product via social media. Through Facebook ads or ads on Instagram, you can reach out to potential customers who have displayed an interest in your market space or industry and market your product to them. By using social media analytics you can home in on to how efficiently market to the audience that you desire. In their book Traction, Weinberg and Mares identify many marketing channels that are open to low budget start ups. They suggest several internet based strategies for getting your word out, including blogs, search engine marketing, search engine optimization, email marketing, and viral marketing (Weinberg, 3–7). Anyone can host a blog and allow posts on any subject and the owner can manager it for posts he wants to allow or disallow. Search engine marketing is simply paying for advertising on a search engine. Search engine optimization is making sure your website shows as a top result of a web search. Email marketing is a great tool that can be enhanced by providing free Wi-Fi at your brick and mortar stores. When customers logon, you can catch their email addresses and use systems like zenreach to send out “smart emails” to first time customers, repeat customers and lost customers. Cogobuz also does this but sends out text messages as well (Shellenberger,3). Viral marketing simply encourages your customers to refer their friends and acquaintances to your product. An inexpensive give away (i.e. a coupon for a companion purchase) will make this an interesting offer to your customers.
A crucial part to any marketing strategy is to identify the competitors in your direct market space and understand the differences between your products and theirs. Once you understand the competitor products you can position yourself in the marketplace by highlighting the unique advantages your product offers compared to your competitors. For example, in 2019 Warrior Lacrosse along with Trevor Baptiste , the all-time collegiate faceoff winner, created a new faceoff head and used the marketing strategy of explaining the advantages that this new head had to offer and did not mention competitors products. As a general rule of thumb it is always better to highlight things that make your product unique in the marketplace rather than identify things your direct competitor has done wrong. This type of position reinforcement of your product’s capabilities gains position traction within your consumer base.
The sales strategy for a new company or product is to gain traction within your marketplace and gather new potential clients. A part of this approach is balancing the cost of marketing your products with making sure your cost per acquisition is sustainable while your company is starting to grow. There are two major types of sales strategies. One fits the profile of a company which is marketing physical product while the other fits a company that is selling services. The startup company must set an appropriate plan in motion based on the product for sale. Consider the story of Premier League Lacrosse.
In the fall of 2018 rumors started by lacrosse superstar, Paul Rabil, about a new lacrosse league started to gain traction. After of a month of speculation within the lacrosse community, the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) was announced. The main reason that I chose to write about the topic of launching a product has to do with the organization, founding and marketing of this brand new league. There were already two lacrosse leagues within North America. The first was Major League Lacrosse (MLL) which is the field lacrosse league, founded in 2001. PLL is a direct competitor to MLL. So both MLL and the National Lacrosse League (NLL) which is box lacrosse were the only two venues for professional lacrosse. The way these two leagues are structured is very similar to the other major professional sports franchises where each team is located in a city anywhere across the country. The cities of choice for these leagues are ones with large lacrosse followings. However, the PLL went in a drastically new direction at launch.
Before any teams or structure was announced Paul Rabil and the PLL locked in a television rights deal to air all games live through NBC affiliates. This is something the professional lacrosse industry had never achieved before. Furthermore, the differences do not stop there. Moving away from the one city/one team concept that is so prevalent in the United States, the PLL designed a barnstorming league. To further explain this concept, none of the six PLL teams will have a home base city. Instead the league will travel around North America playing in existing venues reaching growing lacrosse markets that never been tapped. Not only has the marketing for PLL been disruptive, but the overall strategy of the league is disruptive to the usual way that professional sports leagues conduct themselves. Currently in the United States, lacrosse is the fastest growing sport. The PLL has positioned itself to take advantage of this dramatic growth by inserting itself in cities and marketplaces that have been ignored and overlooked by the MLL and NLL. Another disruptive and dynamic strategy of the PLL, in addition to changing the logistics of the league, is from the start, they want to be a players first organization. Unhappy with how the MLL managed its players Paul Rabil wanted to turn the management of the league on its head by giving players more rights, benefits, and freedoms under this new model. This strategy was so effective that many key players from the MLL have jumped ship to play for the PLL.
Now with the players on board, and the six team having been announced along with their rosters, the marketing department is in full swing promoting the league. Just as most lacrosse information comes from social media, the PLL has become the king of spreading news through grass roots channels. It has successfully implemented the influencers marketing strategy and has their fans marketing to their followers.
It has been announced that the PLL will play their games during the summer so that it does not conflict with any other major sport other than baseball. Summer is the perfect time for youth camps and coincides with the league play. To take advantage of the youth interest, the league has started youth groups and camps even before the league has played their first game. The camps will heavily influence their specific target audience with positive notions about this league. This in turn, will lead to ticket sales. At the start of my own lacrosse career, I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. There were no long-standing professional lacrosse teams nor were there any camps or a professional lacrosse infrastructure. The PLL has changed this situation. In addition, the idea of players coming to the fans instead of the fans coming to the players sets a atmosphere of trust and allows fans to select their favorite team based on their favorite players. Fans are no longer forced to be a fan of the team closest to where they live reinforcing the benefits of the structure of a player run organization rather than an owner run organization.
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