One of the biggest challenges for marketers is “the launch.” Whether it is the initial company launch, the launch of a second-generation product, or a launch into a new market segment—the process is similar and the results are equally important.
“Launch” is one of those tricky marketing words. If you ask three people for a definition, you will get three different answers. I define launch as the beginning of an overall integrated marketing campaign. When a launch is planned as a stand-alone event—a big party with industry press, analysts and customers—you will usually see a spike in press coverage. That spike will generate awareness and demand, which leads to initial sales. But then it tends to flattens out. This is when people start to second-guess their revenue forecasts. Sales starts to question whether Marketing is doing its job. Marketing starts to question why Sales can’t close the deals.
Every launch has a beginning, a middle, and an end. If planned well, one launch will lead right into the next. A launch can take many different forms. It can be a “big bang” or “crescendo” where activities lead up to or are triggered by a specific event. It can be more like “rolling thunder” where activities are happening over a period of time. The key here is that a launch is not an event. It is a series of related marketing activities focused around a single purpose—achieving your business objective.
Planning your launch so that each activity is integrated with the next takes teamwork, organization and patience. I like to start by picking a launch date—you have to start somewhere. Remember the launch isn’t an event, but it is always helpful to have a deadline. The date can be tied to an industry event, a holiday or season, or basic product availability.
Once you have your deadline, the launch date, you can begin to develop a launch plan by working backwards. List all the activities you have planned for the launch. Identify the dependencies. For example, you need creative content from the landing page to include in the email campaign; you need the messaging before you create the datasheet; you need a customer testimonial for the website and the sales presentation. Based on the timing of each activity, create a timeline of when each item is due, and who is responsible for getting it done.
Your plan should have three main sections. First, activities leading up to the launch date like developing the messaging, creating the webpage, sales presentation and datasheet. Second, specific activities that occur on the day of the launch like when and how the website goes live, the email campaign begins, the press release is issued. Finally, activities to continue the excitement like feature articles, customer webinars, sales contests, email and viral campaigns.
Steve Larsen, CEO of Krugle, used participation in the DEMO conference as one element of his plan to launch Krugle in 2006. Larsen’s goal for DEMO was to get 1–2,000 users signed-up for the beta product. Three days after the conference, Krugle has signed up 35,000 users. The follow-up communications became a critical element in Krugle’s marketing plan. The event was only the beginning. The real work had just started.
Your launch plan doesn’t have to be complicated. It does need to be a living launch plan. Things have a way of changing. You need to be able to adjust quickly as you learn more, and identify the impact of changes on other activities. Having everything written down helps you identify the impact of changes across all elements of the launch.
It also helps minimize the “oops” factor—that tiny little detail that falls through the cracks, and that your boss and colleagues will remind you about for years to come.