When it comes to product launches or any launch, really, it can seem overwhelming. But, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. With proper planning, your launch can run smoothly and without a hitch.
Remember that it does not have to be perfect. Each launch almost runs with a personality of its own and there are always ways to improve every launch. So, take a deep breath, document your steps as you go through them, and learn from each launch so that each subsequent launch is that much more improved than the launch before it.
There is a great infographic here on the pakwired.com website. Take a look. You can use it as a baseline to create your own checklist. In the meantime, there are some essential elements to consider, and we have listed some of them here:
Goals and Objectives
Before starting any launch, or any project for that matter, you will want to figure out what the main objective is. Also, for product launches, you will want to define your unique selling proposition. It is helpful if you have a mission statement. That way, while you are going through the planning checklist, you can reference this mission or purpose statement and keep yourself aligned. Be sure to share these documents with your team and virtual team, so that they can stay on the same page as you, throughout the launch period.
The launch period is that timeframe from beginning the process (even the planning phase) until the launch and a few days past that (post launch).
As a part of your goal setting exercise, be sure to include financial goals. Be realistic about what you need to make this work. Pad that estimate by 20-50% to allow for unforeseen hiccups (especially if you are new at this). Project out a year, at the minimum. Be sure to include salaries and contractor pay! After you have calculated what you need and padded that number, determine if you are funding it yourself (i.e. company income), with investors, or even a crowd-funding campaign. If it is one of the latter two, you will want to be sure you get the planning in place for that as soon as possible.
At another time (because it can get tiring all-in-one sitting!) set out your goals for the blogger campaign(s), social media marketing, and any other facet of your launch. Think of it like a funnel and you are taking your overall objectives and goals and working down to the more detailed goals.
You may want to keep the documentation of your goals in a binder, available for offline review. Also post them online, for your team to view them. You could post them on a private note in Evernote or even shared within Google Docs or Dropbox. However it is shared, it is recommended that it is set to private access so your competitors are not accessing it.
Decide on your approximate launch date. Make sure it is at least 90 days out from today’s date. If you are really clueless right now (on when you want to launch), just pick that date that is 90 days out from today. You can change it as you go through the planning process.
Pencil it in — a strange term when many calendars are online. The idea is that early in the planning process, this date may change. That is ok. Also, unless absolutely necessary, keep it a bit vague in your announcements, to give you wiggle room just in case. So, instead of saying, “Launching September 6, 2015,” say, “Launching in September 2015.” That way, if you have to change the actual date, as you get closer, you still have room to do so. It would be advantageous to aim for a launch date early in the month so that your wiggle room is the rest of that month. In the case of the example, above, if your actual 90-day out date is September 30, then choose a launch date of October 1st for your penciled-in launch date. That gives you 30 days of wiggle room if you need it.
Don’t forget to schedule a launch party date at the same time. Use this as something to entice the team members and keep them motivated as they are helping to build buzz around the launch.
You can create an offline party, an online party, or a combination of both (the best) with the offline party streaming as an online party. If you do the “both” option, be sure to have team members ready to engage with the audience online, so they feel included. You can use a website like ustream or even Google Hangouts on Air (to stream the offline portion) for the combo party.
Create Margin… in everything!
Just like we mentioned with the date, be sure to create buffer and margin. If you anticipate spending x number of hours or x number of dollars, multiply that by 120% for a 20% increase in amount. That way, you have created a buffer, to cover for unexpected bumps.
Plan out what posts you what to include on your website, to build the anticipation of the launch. Include these topic ideas in your blog editorial calendar.
This is also the time to reach out to other bloggers and companies to announce the launch on their sites, as well. You could incentivize this and even run contests. Just be sure to follow the laws in your local region and be aware that any contests that provide the prize in another region may also need to comply with those laws, as well. You may want to consult your attorney to be sure.
Social Media Marketing Campaign
In the same way that you are planning your blogging calendar and outreach, start planning your social media marketing outreach. You can create graphics in a tool like Canva and start scheduling your posts in a tool like Post Planner or Social Oomph (recommended because of the ability to schedule and have recurring posts).
Tell the Story
Find your story that you want to share. Everyone has one. It may be the story of the launch or the CEO/founder’s story. Find something that evokes emotion. Then, record it! It could be a blog post, but a video interview may be even more useful in building buzz. Then, be sure to include it in your social media marketing planning. Create that desire and that feeling of “need” for your product.
Announce the upcoming launch in your newsletter. Build the excitement with each issue of your newsletter. Be sure to space it out (i.e. your normal schedule) so that you do not annoy your subscribers, making them think that it is spam (i.e. 10 emails a day). At the same time, remember that your newsletter is one of your biggest marketing assets and use it! Include incentives for people to subscribe to your newsletter, with free downloads, white papers, ebook samples, etc. Encourage your subscribers to share the newsletter with others. You may even want to incentivize the sharing (as mentioned above, in the “Blog Campaign” section).
Don’t feel like you have to tell the entire story in the first newsletter. Instead, build the excitement. Leave your audience and readers wanting to know more and eager to read the next newsletter. This will have them eating out of your hand and even wanting to put your launch on their calendar! (That isn’t a bad suggestion, by the way, to encourage them to put it on their calendar ;) ).
Ensure that your product or service has a launch page with the anticipated launch timeframe. Again, keep it vague at the beginning of the 90-day period, just in case the date changes. As you get closer to the launch date, lock in the actual date and let people know about the party, too. You will want to lock in that date about a month before launch. If you are not sure if you can make it, then extend the launch date out further, remembering the concept of the “margin” needed (see above reference to margin).
On the launch page, give an opportunity for the visitors to subscribe to the newsletter to keep updated on the launch. That way, you will be able to continue to build the anticipation with the newsletter. Don’t forget to also provide them with an incentivized download, in exchange for their subscription.
Build the list while building anticipation!
Recognize those who are helping to build buzz, both on your team and your clients, as well as your fans. These people are a part of what we musicians call, the “street team.” You may even want to set up a “leader board” to calculate social media buzz. Be sure to reward your street team generously! By rewarding them, you are building your community and the street team is more likely to be there for you for the next product or service launch.
Set up some events along the way, like a midway-through-the-launch party. Keep it a little bit more low-key than the final party, so that that final launch party really gets the buzz, but these other parties can help that momentum during your launch phase. You could even coordinate with other bloggers or sites to include it as a part of their blogger campaign.
This is something that you might want to include in your budget and may want to hire someone to plan all this for you. Ideas for online parties include Twitter Parties and Hangout Parties and there are plenty of experts who can handle this for you.
Ideally, you have already tested your product, but during this pre-launch period, as you get closer and closer, be sure to test it again. This is especially the case if developers are still finishing up on the final details of the product while the launch is happening.
It isn’t often that the developers are 100% completed and the brand just waits an additional 90 days until launching, for the sake of waiting 90 days. So, in most cases (I almost dare to say all cases) the 90-day launch period (or longer) actually coincides with the final development phase. That said, don’t skip (or skimp) on anything related to testing and quality assurance.
The quality assurance is another area where you may want to bring in a paid 3rd party who specializes in quality assurance and developing test plans. In addition to this (or in place of, if the budget is tight), solicit some free beta testers and offer them a year of service or something similar, if they will become beta testers for your product/service.
Earlier in the process, you planned the blog campaign(s) and the social media marketing campaign(s). Now is the time to make sure all of that is lined up and ready to go. If you haven’t already scheduled those posts, tweets, status updates, be sure to do it now. There is a social media scheduler for almost all major social networks. Even Pinterest has schedulers with ViralTag and BoardBooster.com. Post Planner and Social Oomph are linked above and are useful for Facebook and Twitter. The Chrome plugin, Do Share, can be used to schedule G+ updates.
Don’t forget to ask Influencers to share you launch posts. Ask them nice and without pestering (so you don’t turn them off to the idea of helping you).
During this period, encourage your street team and your internal team, who may be getting tired. Get the momentum re-vitalized. Shore up (re-enforce) your customer satisfaction department (customer support) so that they are ready for launch day, to handle all of the customer questions and support issues. Reassure them that you are also a part of the customer satisfaction department and you will be there for them.
After that wonderfully successful launch and the launch parties, go through the steps to button up the launch. In project management, this is the “lessons learned” phase and it is almost as important as the pre-launch activities.
Offer surveys (incentivized with additional product or service time) to your customers and to your team. Encourage them to provide you with honest feedback of areas for improvement or further tweaking.
Then, after the feedback, perform the tweaks as quickly as possible. This gives you another opportunity to send out a newsletter letting everyone know that you have fixed the bugs. This builds your credibility by letting your customers (and your team) know that you are listening to what they have to share. Remember, the product does not have to be perfect and it is not expected to be perfect. By soliciting feedback and responding quickly (by implementing quality tweaks as soon as possible), you are demonstrating your professionalism and how much your customers mean to you.
Resist the urge to send out an update for every tweak. Your subscribers and customers will be more likely to unsubscribe if you do. You may think that what you have to share is wonderful, but if they are seeing 10 emails a day from you, they will be done with you and likely they will not be thrilled with your product, no matter how wonderful it is. Save up your updates through the day and put it into one email, preferably one that is formatted well and looks like you took the time for a quality presentation.
Include a continued request for feedback and ask for reviews and testimonials when you send this update. When customers are excited about your product and feel warm and fuzzy because you are listening to them, this is the time to ask for that testimonial. If you do incentivize it, be sure to indicate that you want an honest testimonial and that the incentive is not related to the content of the testimonial (or review). You do not want to appear to be “buying” positive feedback. The idea is that you are saying “thank you” for the time that it takes to provide the testimonial or review and not soliciting a specific response.
If you have a podcast or weekly community meeting, this is a great time to get people involved. Include the announcement for your event in that follow-up newsletter. This is the time when customers are forming habits as it relates to your product. Not everyone will form a habit, but this is the time when it is most likely to happen, with all of the excitement surrounding your launch.
Now that you have accomplished a successful launch, you are ready to start planning your next launch (or your vacation!). You will want to store all of the feedback and the notes from this launch and this product/service development process and refer to these notes (“lessons learned”) in the next launch. Who knows, by the time you are done, you may have enough material for a book on “How to Launch” and monetize that for your next big project.