From how to build your community to how to get press and more
It’s every project owner’s greatest fear. You spent months grueling to build a product you think your customers will love. Your dreams are filled with TechCrunch features and top spots on Product Hunt. The big day arrives. You flip the switch, and…
According to the Marketing Research Association, only 40% of developed products ever make it to market.
And of those 40%, only 60% will generate any revenue at all.
Unfortunately, too many people have a “build it and they will come” mentality to their product launch. They’re blinded by the work they’ve put in and assume because they think their product kicks so much ass, other people (and customers) naturally will think so, too.
But there’s too much at stake to be complacent. If you’ve put your blood, sweat, and tears into making a product you believe in, why stop now where you’re at 98%?
In fact, a successful product launch comes down to just two factors: Getting the right product in front of the right people.
Sounds simple. But it’s far from it. In this guide, we’re going to cover everything you need to do to ensure a successful product launch, from validating that you’ve built the right product, to marketing strategies for getting it in front of the right people.
A successful product launch is full of moving parts and requires your whole team to be on the same page. Use a tool like Planio to track your progress and guide your team from pre-launch to the after party.
Pre-launch: Deciding what to launch and how you’ll get there
If you think this guide is going to be all about how you’re going to promote your product, I’ve got news for you: Your product launch starts way before launch day.
The only way you can ensure your launch is a success is by knowing for certain the product you’re making is valuable to the people you want to buy it. Not only that, but you need to let them know about it, get them interested and invested, and do everything you can to make it a no-brainer decision for them to buy when you do finally launch. Here’s where to start:
1. Dig into your data to discover what people want (or where you’re missing the mark)
No matter how splashy or well-covered your launch is, success ultimately comes down to providing value to your customers. So, the first step in your product launch strategy is making absolutely sure that people want what you’re selling.
Start with your own business data. What metrics can you look at to see where people are coming to you and why?
Do you offer multiple products with one being the clear hero?
Do people bounce from a certain page on your site (meaning what you’re selling doesn’t match their expectations?)
Have you seen a drop in usage or sales while your competitors are killing it?
Look for patterns in the data to uncover where you can create value for your users. However, remember that this is only a starting point. Being too data-driven can stifle creativity, but just the right amount is a powerful tool.
2. Talk to your customers
Your best insights will come from actual users. Unfortunately, so many businesses skip this part or think that data tells the whole story. But talking to customers has a number of additional benefits:
- You get to know them, their specific needs, and why they chose you in the first place (which you’ll use for writing customer personas)
- You get candid answers about the features they use (which can help validate your product and give insights on new features)
- You get to hear how they talk and the language they use (which is gold for your marketing pages)
Customers are rich sources of insights. But you have to let them speak their mind. I know you’re excited about what you’re building and want to tell them about it, but let them speak freely and uninfluenced before you chime in. Open-ended questions will bring you unexpected answers.
But just like with your data, you need to use this information as a source of inspiration, not a guidebook. As Steve Jobs famously said:
It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.
3. Research the market and turn your ideas into strategy
The last place to look and get insights for your product is from the market itself. What’s currently out there? Who are your users going to be judging your product against?
One place to start is with a list of your competitors and a SWOT analysis (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat). Or, you can simply look at your product and ask “what makes it different?”
Remember, you can’t just say your product is better. You need to be able to give specifics.
What are people going to talk about during your launch? If you put your product and a competitor’s side by side, what would make someone choose yours?
These key differentiators are the backbone of your product launch strategy. Which is why it’s so important to identify them early on.
With all the information you’ve gathered, it’s time to actually test whether you’re on the right path.
This all comes down to the process of validation — testing your product on a group of real users.
Sure, you might think you want to keep some mystery and suspense around your product. But not testing your ideas with real users is like trying to shoot a target with a blindfold on.
When Sir James Dyson set out to design the world’s best-selling vacuum, it took him 5,126 prototypes before he found one that people wanted.
Create an early feedback group of trusted friends, power users, and even some new users and get your product out in front of them early on. Are they using it as you intended? Are they seeing real value from it?
All this research ensures you’ve nailed the what of your product launch before you start trying to sell something people don’t want.
5. Start building your community and audience
Yes, there are billions of people online every day. Yes, there are probably tons of people who would want to buy your product. But if they don’t know about it? Or the first they’re hearing about it is on your launch day? You’re most likely going to flop.
Instead, you should be building an audience around your product and your brand well before your launch date.
Just look at the example of Ryan Hoover, founder of ProductHunt, who says his company wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t got his own audience-building efforts:
ProductHunt wouldn’t exist if I wasn’t writing prior [to the launch] and building this audience of people who love tech.
Ryan chose to write about the space his product was going to be in as it’s one of the lowest effort ways to connect with likeminded people. However, he says you can’t just write about your product (this isn’t a press release). You need to write about the problem you’re solving. The issues you are personally facing that drove you to look for a solution.
If you’re launching a consumer product, or something more visual, another option is to build a following on Instagram or Pinterest. This will show your potential customers that you’re in their niche and you understand their specific needs. As Hoover explains:
“If you start doing things that you’re passionate about, you’ll find and attract people who are just as passionate. They will not only be your first people to talk to for feedback, but they’ll be your first users and your first customers.”
6. Define your ideal customer (just one per product!)
You probably already know who your product is made for. But when it comes to a successful launch, you need to become hyper focused on who that person really is.
Rather than simply looking at a wide demographic — like saying your product is for 18–35-year olds — your product launch will be so much more impactful with a clear audience in mind.
Because, as Matt Certo, CEO of digital marketing agency Findsome & Winmore says:
Brands die in the middle, trying to appeal to everyone.
Instead, Certo explains that you need to know who your best customers are (and learn everything you can about them.)
“Profile them. Sketch them. What do they like about your services or product? How are they using your product in their daily lives? How do you, as a business, improve that person’s day to day life?”
One great example is Lululemon. The activewear brand narrowed their entire audience down to two specific personas: Ocean and Duke. Each persona has specific characteristics like age, annual income, interests, and even relationship status.
For your own product launch, going into the same level of detail on your ideal customer persona will help you solidify your launch strategy, product development, and marketing.
If you’re launching a consumer product like Lululemon, ask similar questions:
- Who is my ideal customer?
- Where do they live?
- What’s their annual income?
- What are their interests?
- How does she use our products?
- What other specifics can you pinpoint about them?
If you’re selling a B2B product, you’ll want to focus more on their business and the issues they face. Asking questions like the size of their company, buying cycle, pain points, and more is a good place to start (Or, check out this ideal customer template for more in-depth questions).
7. Take a page from Steve Jobs and craft a compelling narrative
You know who your customers are. You know what they want and that your product fills that need. Now, you just need to be able to tell them exactly why you’re the horse they should bet on.
In other words, it’s time to shift from the what to the why of your product launch.
And if you’re looking for inspiration, no one did why better than the late Apple founder, Steve Jobs.
Jobs was a master storyteller when it came to product launches. But where he excelled wasn’t in just telling the story of the product itself, but of the people using it. Jobs’ stories made you feel like you had to have their latest product, which is why Apple users are such a devout group.
When you’re crafting your own product launch narrative, you need to remember to focus on the people, not the product. Humans remember and connect with emotions more than facts. And if you simply focus on improved speed or design or some other feature, it’s easier to be ignored.
Instead, craft your narrative on what those features enable your ideal customer to do.
A common template used by everyone from Jobs to Hollywood screenwriters is to follow the 3-act structure: Setup, Confrontation, Resolution.
Your setup shows the customer where they are now. It paints them as the hero. In the confrontation, they hit a problem. This is the pain point you understand and that your product is solving. In the resolution, the hero has conquered their problems (with your product) and the world is a better place for it.
In other words, before we put hard-earned money down on a product we want to know that you understand us, our problems, and have a solution that works. Nail all three in your narrative and you can use it as the basis for so much of your product launch copy.
8. Write a mock press release using the Amazon formula and create a list of target publications and journalists
Press coverage can blow up your product launch and be a huge multiplier for its success. The problem is that a lot of marketers think journalists are going to care about their redesign or updated product. (Spoiler alert: they don’t.)
Just like your customers, journalists care about a story. You need to show them that your product has the potential to get people excited and reading. At Amazon, they believe so much in the power of writing a strong press release that every product needs one before it’s even built!
As Amazon GM Ian McAllister explains:
If the press release is hard to write, then the product is probably going to suck.
Here’s Amazon’s template, which is a great place to start:
- Heading: Name the product in a way the reader (i.e. your target customers) will understand
- Sub-Heading: Describe who the market for the product is and what benefit they get. One sentence only underneath the title
- Summary: Give a summary of the product and the benefit. Assume the reader will not read anything else so make this paragraph good
- Problem: Describe the problem your product solves
- Solution: Describe how your product elegantly solves the problem
- Quote from You: A quote from a spokesperson in your company
- How to Get Started: Describe how easy it is to get started
- Customer Quote: Provide a quote from a hypothetical customer that describes how they experienced the benefit
- Closing and Call to Action: Wrap it up and give pointers where the reader should go next
With your press release template in hand, create a spreadsheet with target publications and blogs you want to reach out to. Research each one and find relevant reporters or editors who are more likely to write about you. Make note of any similar products they’ve covered or common angles they take. You’ll use this information to tailor each press outreach message to the individual writer.
9. Shortlist and reach out to press, partners, and affiliates
We already spoke about creating your press release and a spreadsheet for who to target at each publication. But who else can help you with your product launch?
Who are your partners or complementary companies you can connect with? What about influencers in the space who will talk about you or review your product? Lastly, are you going to be running an affiliate program and can you connect with relevant bloggers or partners to help sell your product?
Use another page of your press spreadsheet to highlight each of these opportunities and shortlist who you want to target, why they’re a good option, and their audience size/value to you.
10. Write and design your marketing page
Your marketing page is where you’ll send all your customers on the day of your launch. You can think of it as third base for your product launch. You’ll do a lot of work just to get customers there, but once they are, you have the best chance of bringing them home.
This means there’s a lot of pressure to make it visually compelling, have strong copy, and be easy to use.
We wrote a full guide about how to run a website project, however, at this stage you’ll want to make sure you’re putting together the key elements:
- Your solution
- Core features
- Value prop
- Social proof (testimonials/quotes from users)
- Call to action
When you’re writing the copy for this page, you want to use everything you’ve learned from crafting your narrative, talking to customers, and digging into your own data. Share your messaging with everyone and see how it resonates. Talk to your early feedback group and use their language to home in on how exactly you’re going to make your product the most compelling.
This in itself is a process, and one that you should be constantly updating on your way towards launch day.
11. Outline your customer journey and start gathering creative assets
Most marketing studies agree that you need 6–8 “touchpoints” with a customer before you’re likely to get a sale. In other words, customers need to see you, hear from you, and read about you multiple times before they say yes.
During a product launch, you’re going to be dealing with customers who both know you and who don’t. And the more “touches” you can get in before the launch, the higher your chance of success.
One of the best techniques for getting these touches in is to map out your customer’s journey from never hearing about you to being a paying customer. And then create assets for each step. To do this, ask questions like:
- Where do they hang out online?
- When did they first hear about you?
- Who are people they trust?
- Where do they go to ask questions?
- Do you have their email or are you able to get it?
- What concerns are they going to have about your product?
From there, you can start to map out the creative content you’ll need to make sure they find you at every step of the way. This could mean:
- Blog posts on relevant sites and publications
- Videos on your homepage
- Facebook ads
- Comments on relevant Reddit, Quora of Facebook group threads
- Email nurturing campaigns
- Partnerships with influencers and thought leaders
- Early reviews of your product
- Podcast appearances
- Testimonials from customers
Make a massive list of all the places your potential customers might find you or hear about you and start outlining what you can do to get in front of them.
12. Take a cue from crowdfunding and use pre-orders to build hype
Selling your product before it’s even available lets early adopters get in. It also let’s you build a community around your product, test marketing messaging, and validate your pricing strategy. Even better, it can create a sense of scarcity if you give limited discounts to people who buy early.
However, if you are considering doing some sort of pre-sales, remember that it will need attention and work. If you’re building a community, you’ll have to be engaged with them. If you’re offering discounts or special offers, you can’t drop the ball on them.
And if you’re being public about your “limited supply” of products to build hype, you better work hard to make them sell. There’s nothing more depressing than a crowdfunding campaign with $0 pledged, and the same goes for your pre-sales page.
13. Set ambitious, “if-everything-goes-perfect” goals
To have a successful product launch, you need to have a clear vision of what success looks like.
Be realistic, but don’t be afraid to shoot high. These goals should be something your entire team can rally around and work towards. Think of them as your “if-everything-goes-perfect” goals. If your entire plan goes off without a hitch, what would you expect to happen?
This is a product launch and the goal should be on hitting a clear target of sales, sign-ups, or subscriptions. So don’t just get caught in vanity metrics like social shares and traffic.
14. Put everything together in a launch day strategy (and use your project management tool to track it all)
If it isn’t already clear, there’s a ton of moving parts to your product launch strategy. And keeping it all together and moving smoothly is a huge task.
This is where your project management skills are going to come in handy. Launching is a team sport. And having a reliable and well thought out launch plan and schedule will help you organize everything that needs to be done across the varied teams that are working on it.
- Is your product on track to launch on the deadline?
- Does your sales team have all the assets and training they need to sell it?
- Does customer support know to expect a big influx of customers and are they ready to help?
Not only that, but are all the potential paths of product launch promotion in play? Are you working with an outside PR or marketing firm? Do they have all the assets and support they need to successfully support your launch?
A good product launch doc is more than just to-do lists. It considers all the tasks, their timeframe, and their dependencies. Dependencies are especially important as you’re coordinating cross-functional teams who might not be used to working together.
Talk to all of the teams involved and let them help create a schedule and milestones that make sense. If they build the schedule, it’ll be more realistic, and they’ll be more likely to live by it.
A project management tool like Planio helps you keep all of the moving pieces of your product launch in order by letting you see all your tasks in one place, assigning deadlines, priorities, and role-based workflows.
The end goal is a strategy doc that covers everything needed to get this product out the door, and lets everyone involved in the project know:
- What their responsibilities are
- What information their deliverables should include and in what format
- What the sequencing of their deliverables are
- Who are they dependent on for their deliverables
- Who is dependent upon their deliverables
Detailed, early-stage planning like this lets you see how everything will work together and gives you time to see if you’ve missed anything big.
And while it might seem like a lot of work (it is), a successful product launch follows the same formula as Thomas Edison’s definition of genius: 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.