An effective product launch strategy helps you generate awareness, build intrigue, and validate your product positioning. But it’s not a linear journey.
The best product launches take into account the product lifecycle—understanding where it fits into the bigger picture, and how to transition through each phase.
In this article, we’ll explain how to build a resilient product launch plan that survives a non-linear journey. We’ll also share when to transition to the growth stage in the product lifecycle so you can drive conversions and revenue off your momentum.
(Want to get better at product launches? Take the Product Marketing Certification Training program).
Treat your product launch as a phase in the product lifecycle to sustain a nonlinear journey
The typical product lifecycle can be broken down into four stages:
- Introduction: Your product may still be in development and your marketing goals focus on generating awareness and motivating users to sign up and purchase.
- Growth: A sharp increase in users and sales. You’re adding new product features and looking to capture more market share from your competitors.
- Maturity: The height of your product’s adoption and profitability. Your goal here is to sustain revenue and your position in the market.
- Decline: New user sign-ups and revenue begins to decrease. Here, your focus should be to earn new sales from fence-sitters and consider new revenue streams.
A product launch lives primarily in the introduction phase (merging into growth once it generates enough demand). But the path from introduction to growth (and beyond) isn’t a one-way street. Thinking like this is too narrow.
Understanding how your launch plan fits into the bigger picture will help you discern:
- How to build awareness in the introduction stage (this strategy will vary based on product type, industry, target audience, etc.)
- When to transition from one stage to another, and how long you should be in each stage to hit your goals (e.g. X demos booked in introduction, X revenue in growth)
Without a plan, you may hit your introduction goal of 100 demos and not fully realize how to monetize ‘triers’ into ‘subscribers’ to reach $50/user in monthly recurring revenue, for example.
This plan is your go-to-market (GtM) strategy, which should be informed by:
- Market conditions and competitive positioning
- Ideal customers and target audience
- Product offer and pricing
- Lead generation and customer acquisition process
These insights will help you choose a GtM strategy that will attract, retain, and grow your customer base.
How a product launch strategy creates awareness and earns consideration from potential buyers
An effective product launch strategy builds awareness and pushes products up a steep growth curve.
But only if you get your product in front of the right people, at the right time, in the right way. Many founders assume if they build a great product or service, people will flock to it. That’s rarely the case.
Instead, you must develop a product that meets market needs (and actually delivers the experience they want).
The launch process should build hype and anticipation and speak to your target audience’s needs and desires (based on product research and feedback). If it fails, iterate and optimize your product positioning until you get it right (more on this shortly).
This article assumes you’ve built a product that offers unique benefits that improve the lives of your users. It also assumes you’ve validated your idea and have run a smoke test to ensure the desire is there.
Those prerequisites take time, effort, resources, and money. Your new product launch will go to waste if you don’t follow the right strategy.
Step 1: Create pre-launch documentation that refines your messaging and builds employee buy-in
Pre-launch documentation helps ensure everyone is on the same page before you begin shipping your product. Your team needs clarity on and belief in what they’re selling in order to persuade others to purchase, download, or sign up.
There are several documents you can create in pre-launch to encourage buy-in (no matter the size of your startup or organization):
Sales messaging guide
Develop a sales messaging guide to create consistency around how your team describes the product, showcases its benefits, and differentiates it from competitors.
Even if you aren’t running a sales-led GtM strategy, it’s important that your team understands how to position their outreach and respond to inbound leads.
To ensure the messaging resonates, put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Understand how the unfamiliar will perceive your product—which will likely differ from how you’ve been discussing it internally. This is a good thing since you’re not selling it to yourself.
- How the product will be perceived
- How its features will be described
- How the value will be discussed
Sales messaging with only internal or stakeholder input will lack customer insights and perceptions. Without this, your team may struggle to engage and excite leads, leading to minimal interest and suboptimal conversions.
Based on the audience response, tweak your messaging accordingly. (More on how to test, analyze, and optimize messaging in a later section).
ContentCamel offers a template that includes information on ideal customer persona (ICP), how they research solutions to their problem, and several use cases:
They also suggest including information on before-and-after scenarios. What is the current state of your user’s lives and business? What are the negative consequences of continuing on this path, and how does your product lead them to the promised land by solving their problems?
Documenting the buyer’s journey with their goals and pain points allows for more compelling messaging. Include this as part of your messaging guide to ensure user’s needs are met at every stage of the funnel.
Creating an internal press release helps you put yourself in the customer’s shoes and clarify how the product will be perceived.
An internal press release helps your team iterate on the product messaging until they get it right. It should speak to the core problems the product addresses, define how it solves them (or improves on where current solutions fail), and explain how it makes customer’s lives better and easier.
It will require you to consider:
- Why should anyone care?
- What are the benefits this product brings to customers?
- Why is this solution superior to other available options?
If the internal press release doesn’t immediately grab attention, iterate until you develop benefits that sound compelling.
Working backward from a press release is a fast and cost-efficient way to clarify how to position your content in the most intriguing way.
For example, in the press release below, Huawei unveils the future of smartphone photography with the new Huawei P20 and Huawei P20 Pro featuring artificial intelligence:
In this press release, Huawei accomplishes a few critical things:
- They stayed focused on the newsworthy hook instead of other phone features.
- They made the added value of their product clear, obvious, and innovative.
- They steered clear of technical jargon and focused on the benefit to the consumer.
When written correctly, press releases are an effective tool for increasing your reach and building anticipation for your launch.
Building a user manual takes you through the user journey and helps you understand how a customer will engage with your product. If you have multiple user segments, create multiple user manuals.
This exercise will help you identify the user journey and position the product in a way that speaks to these insights.
For example, Slack’s Help Center breaks down the most common user requests into six categories for easy browsing. For many inquiries, they include both videos as well as written instructions that are easy to understand and navigate.
Slack is known for its user-friendliness and intuitive design, and having this in-depth help center helps reinforce that product image.
Put yourself in the shoes of someone using the product and consider all the questions that may arise. Consider both brand new and advanced users to account for all use cases.
Then, answer the questions you come up with in your product launch campaign.
For example, a common question might be “Is my money really safe in this banking app?” You can play to that fear as a solution in your launch messaging. That may look like, “Deposits up to $50,000 are stored and protected under the Safeguard Scheme”.
Answering FAQs in your launch campaign can grab the audience’s attention, increase engagement, and drum up interest.
Take the FAQ page for meditation app, Headspace, as an example.
The Headspace app aims to relieve stress through mindfulness and meditation. Their user experience has to be seamless and stress-free to align with their mission as a whole.
Their FAQ page is simple to navigate, doesn’t over-explain, and gives an overall sense of peace. It’s an effective example of how to answer questions as well as add to the overall user experience.
Step 2: Conduct user and competitor research to define the customer experience
Digging deep into user research and competitor analysis allows you to tell compelling product stories, build intrigue, and move the target audience from awareness to consideration.
Conducting user research to understand their needs
To define the customer experience, you need to conduct user research. This will help you determine:
- If your product is intuitively understood (or not)
- If your UX aligns with customer expectations (or if it misses the mark)
- How customers behave when using your product (e.g. if they continuously click ‘see more’ it may be worth expanding the text snippet to satisfy intuitive behavior)
User research is only successful when you have a working MVP. Asking users to report back on a buggy product is a waste of time and resources.
Examples of user research questions include:
- What is your (first) impression of this product/feature?
- What do you think this product/feature will do?
- Do you feel this product is similar to something you’ve used before?
- What hesitations or concerns do you have around using this product?
From the answers, you can compile user intent, drive, common behavior, and thought processes. If these differ by customer segments, build several user personas, as your messaging will vary based on the target segment.
User research will separate the intended from the actual user experience. This will help you skew your messaging (and product or feature) to satisfy intent and match expectations.
As you gather customer insights, take note of voice-of-customer (VoC) data. VoC helps you gather qualitative and quantitative insights into how your customers describe their wants, needs, pain points, and hesitations towards your product.
By using your customer’s language in your copy, you’ll be able to build stronger connections and increase conversions. You can also use a service like Wynter to run message testing and gain intel on a specific web page, ad, or email copy.
Further, by focusing on Jobs-to-Be-Done (JTBD) research, you can uncover what your customer is trying to achieve, the surrounding circumstances, as well as any social and emotional connections they have attached to the task.
Do a competitor analysis
Competitor research helps you identify user experience gaps, uncover market trends, and sell your product more effectively:
- Take note of their pricing strategy, shipping costs, and any perks or bonuses included with their offer
- Review their social media presence, preferred platforms, and level of engagement they receive
- Research their content marketing strategy, sales tactics, and other outreach strategies
These insights can help you win the battle for customers and gain a competitive advantage. For example, by evaluating Buffer’s pricing page, we can determine their product is built for small businesses and marketing teams:
This, coupled with a basic understanding of this audience, allows us to determine that pricing is a key factor when these segments make a decision to invest in software.
With this information, you can make practical decisions on early consideration stages of the customer journey.
Do you meet the market on price, or deliver an enhanced experience and featureset in order to move upmarket and charge more? These are the strategic questions that competitive research allows you to answer.
Develop your value proposition
With the data you’ve gathered, you can now create a value proposition that explains how your product will solve specific pain points and challenges.
It should be a clear statement that showcases:
- Relevance. Explain how your product solves real and imminent challenges your customers face.
- Measurable value. Explain how the product delivers specific benefits or results.
- Points of differentiation. Tell the ideal customer why your product is superior to the competition and give them a reason to choose you over others.
To bring your value proposition to life, make sure to also incorporate language from your VoC research.
Take Airbnb’s value proposition as an example. When Airbnb entered the hospitality industry, they needed to showcase their benefits to two distinct groups: travelers who needed a place to stay, and hosts who wanted to rent their homes or property.
Airbnb’s value proposition is, “Hosts offer one-of-a-kind stays and unique experiences that make it possible for guests to experience the world in a more authentic, connected way:”
It’s a perfect summary of the relevance to hosts and guests (a place to stay), the value for travelers (unique, authentic experiences), and makes a strong argument against the alternative—cookie-cutter hotels and vacations.
Step 3: Build suspense by teasing the product (and validate the product positioning in the process)
Building hype in advance of your product release allows you to leverage people’s natural readiness to anticipate something. Anticipation is linked to well-being, in part because it provides comfort, gratification, and eagerness to look forward to something positive.
Creating anticipation also helps validate your product positioning. If teasers and hype are garnering interest, your pre-launch messaging is on point. If not, tweak and try again.
If you’re not regularly experimenting with how you market and sell, you’ll struggle to position yourself effectively, even if your positioning has worked well in the past.
Clubhouse did a great job building suspense and anticipation. They used the ‘velvet rope’ strategy by starting out as an invite-only app that was exclusively available on iPhone.
As brand awareness and interest increased, many people scrambled for an invite to see what all the excitement was about. They began with 2,015 monthly downloads in September 2020. By February 2021, they had 8,918,198 monthly downloads:
Whether or not Clubhouse matures successfully and lives past the hype is yet to be seen. But their awareness and engagement campaign is one for the record books.
Other ways to validate that you’re building suspense effectively include:
- Earning increased engagement or interest on social media from your target audience
- The number of sign-ups for relevant lead generation efforts
- Achieving a certain waitlist goal or securing a number of pre-orders
- Success with test-launching smaller or related products
For example, by pushing smaller but complementary products on Product Hunt, you can see what earns attention and engagement from your audience. This helps build awareness and further validate demand.
Step 4: Implement your product launch marketing strategy and iterate with feedback
Hitting ‘go’ on your launch is just the beginning. Pay attention to how your product is perceived by the market and adjust your messaging based on customer feedback.
Use multichannel promotion
A product launch should not be seen as a single event or communication. Use a variety of marketing channels and content formats to create a stream of attention, expand your reach, and connect with customers at each stage of the buyer’s journey.
Leveraging different channels further embeds your product into your target community and positions your company as an active and present resource in your target market.
Multichannel promotion looks like:
- Building a landing page for your new product or service
- Incorporating your new product or service into your home page
- Writing blog posts
- Posting on social media (both organic and paid)
- Setting up email campaigns
- Conducting influencer outreach (more on that shortly)
- Running webinars
- Conducting outbound sales
- Leveraging PR (more on that shortly, too)
- Targeting users with in-app messages or push notifications
The key to success is consistency. Your brand (and product) should be easily recognizable no matter the channel you’re promoting it on. This familiarity engenders trust, which helps to build awareness and loyalty.
When Mercedes-Benz launched their new CLA model, they used a multichannel marketing plan to spread the word. Their strategic mix of digital and social media channels included:
- An online community called “Generation Benz” to build strong customer relationships
- A traditional Superbowl TV ad
- Facebook ads linked to branded video content about the CLA model
They even partnered with popular YouTube vlogger Casey Neistat to reach his audience of millennials and gen-xers:
After only a week on the market, the Mercedes CLA sold more than 2,300 units, skyrocketing them to their best sales month ever.
While investing in Superbowl ads is a lofty goal for even the most successful brands, the takeaway is this: be where your audience is for the duration of your product launch.
Facebook ads, influencer partnerships, and timing your debut on Product Launch can all work toward compounding attention on launch day.
Influencers are liked and their opinion is valued, making them an asset for spreading the word. You can partner and establish relationships with them to:
- Write guest blog posts
- Host sponsored content
- Create product reviews
- Become an affiliate partner
Unsplash did this successfully when they ran a Kickstarter to thank photographers who had contributed photos to their site:
They exceeded their goal by $25,000 thanks to influencer involvement. The influencers’ essays and photos were included in the book, which significantly added to its perceived value.
Utilize paid ads
Paid ads are a reliable way to get in front of relevant audiences for your launch. Paid advertising options include:
- Sponsored content
- Native search ads
- Podcast ads
- Email newsletter ads
Naturli’, a Danish vegan food company, used Facebook ads to raise awareness and drive sales of their new plant-based alternative “Joe’Kurt”:
Their video-based campaign achieved a 9.5-point lift in ad recall and reached 50% of their target audience through Facebook and Instagram ads—all while spending less than 15% of their total budget.
Spread the word through public relations
Contact editors and news agencies to get an article or press release published about your launch. They’ll be able to help get your product in front of new audiences and increase brand awareness.
To earn media coverage, especially for a new product or service, you have to prove its value. Show that it actually solves a problem that’s yet to be addressed. Get specific about how your innovation surpasses the competition and fills an overlooked gap.
Take Nikon’s press release for their COOLPIX P1000 camera:
Their opening line “Meet the camera that thinks it’s a telescope” immediately conveys that this camera has a super zoom lens. Read a bit further, and you learn that this product is “the world’s only compact camera to boast a 125x optical zoom”.
The market clearly yearns for:
- A high-resolution zoom lens from a large distance
- Achieving this functionality without having to lug big equipment around
Voila. Nikon clearly demonstrates they’re the first to market with a solution. Reading this press release is enticing and exciting.
Done right, your PR campaign should incentivize media outlets to pick it up. CNET did just that after Nikon’s announcement:
Optimize based on feedback
For each of the above tactics monitor and encourage feedback from customers:
- If it’s a physical product, use a QR code to link to a survey for easy access
- If it’s a digital product, prominently display a link or button to a feedback survey within the interface
- Send automatic follow-up feedback surveys via email after a demo is completed
- Create a slack community, and within it, create a slack channel dedicated to feedback
- Use social media to request feedback and enter users into a contest or giveaway
- Offer exclusive bonuses to early adopters if they agree to provide feedback
Getting feedback has the added benefit of showing your customers that you value their opinion and are actively looking for ways to improve their experience.
If possible, use multiple channels to gather feedback so you can gain insights through their entire journey with your product.
Step 5: Analyze your data to reassess and know when to move on in the product lifecycle
By analyzing a blend of both qualitative and quantitative data, you can paint a full picture of your launch progress and decide how to best move forward.
It’s common for new products or early-stage startups to lack sufficient quantitative data and metrics to see meaningful themes or patterns. But even with a small amount of qualitative data, you can generate high-quality insights.
For example, Wonderflow, a VoC analytic company for B2C clients, was working to learn why their client’s innovative baby monitor failed to meet buyers’ expectations post-launch.
Once they reviewed qualitative parent feedback, it became clear. The developers assumed that parents would only want to be notified if there was a problem, so they designed the monitor to be silent if there was nothing to report.
Instead, parents interpreted the lack of updates from the monitor as a sign that it was faulty or non-functional, rather than a signal that everything was fine.
Because none of the product developers were parents themselves, this emotional aspect was overlooked. Once they adjusted the monitor to provide regular updates, sales improved.
Another example, when analyzing data to develop the new positioning and messaging for Wynter, it was done purely with qualitative data. This was gathered through demos, sales calls, live chats, social media engagement, and more.
Ultimately, reviewing this feedback helped to clarify Wynter’s target audience and reassess if the new product met customer needs.
Look for ways to shorten your feedback loops so you can quickly generate the data and feedback you need to optimize your launch.
At the end of the introduction and beginning of the growth stage, your product is increasingly accepted and used by consumers, the industry, and the general public. As a result, sales, revenue, and profits are on the rise.
Some reliable indicators that your new product is headed into the growth stage include:
- Sales volume has increased and/or profitability begins to rise
- Sales conversations shift to focus on competitors instead of your UVP
- You’re ready to release product updates or new features
- You’ve built awareness through free demos and trials and now need to monetize
From here, you’re ready to exit the initial launch phases and focus on sustainable long-term growth and maturity in the market.
An example of a product shifting from introduction to growth is the Tesla Model S. The model was introduced in 2012, back when there was still low consumer awareness around electric cars.
Since then, Tesla has successfully built product awareness and consideration by the general market, increased sales volume, and competitors have begun to build momentum.
Tesla also released an updated version called “Model S Plaid”. Their creation of product updates and features is another indicator of the growth stage:
Tesla is an example of the non-linear launch journey that created long-term revenue and awareness for their brand.
To ensure your product launch strategy generates results, you need to create one that is resilient (and set up for a nonlinear journey).
Do as much as you can in the early stages to create awareness and earn consideration from your target audience. Conduct in-depth research to connect with your audience so you can develop powerful messaging and value propositions.
Once you hit ‘go’ on your launch, remember to continually assess feedback from customers, positioning, and your marketing efforts to maintain momentum towards the growth and maturity phase.
Working on something related to this? Post a comment in the CXL community!