Three Key Steps to a Successful Product Launch
By some estimates, more than 90 percent of new products ultimately fail.
That’s an alarming number, but it’s not altogether surprising. In the ultra-competitive software industry, for example, products fail for several different reasons. It could be due to poor user experience, weak feature sets, under-capitalization, terrible customer service, or entry into an already overcrowded market.
And while it’s virtually impossible to definitively predict which new products will succeed or fail, new research from Nielsen suggests that products go through five distinct stages — salience, communication, attraction, point of purchase, and endurance — that can indicate the likelihood of long term success.
In my experience working with expansion stage software companies attempting to build momentum for relatively new products, I found Nielsen’s recommendations fascinating. Especially because the firm claims that its research uncovered 12 steps that increase the likelihood of product launch success to 75 percent. Nielsen studied 600 product launches and 20,000 concepts, so their claim is certainly backed up with significant research.
Below are three of those categories, their corresponding steps, and a few thoughts on why I think they’re particularly relevant at the startup and expansion stages.
According to Nielsen, the Salience stage can be broken into two key qualifiers:
- Distinct proposition: Nielsen found products that were truly innovative and had a distinct value proposition had a much higher success rate. A new product should be something that people need and want.
- Attention catching: New products must have the ability to catch their buyers’ attention. After all, what’s the point of investing significant capital in a new product if no one knows it exists?
For smaller startup and expansion stage software companies, salience is hugely important. These businesses are sometimes competing against bigger, more established companies with better product or brand recognition. They may create a product that’s beautifully engineered and usable. But if it doesn’t create unique value and do something that catches the market’s attention, it will inevitably be an uphill battle to succeed.
Like Salience, Nielsen breaks down the Communication stage into two distinct categories:
- Message connection: Particularly at the startup and expansion stages, products need to market themselves. Founders are often a young company’s first salesmen, but successful products should stand out from their competitors and make for an easier sales pitch.
- Message clarity: If a product is difficult to explain, it’s probably going to be difficult to sell. Product messaging should be brief and crystal clear. It should focus on the two or three things that matter and portray the product’s personality.
As a new player in an existing market, it’s unlikely that prospects will give you much time to explain who you are and what your product does. If you have a clear, concise message that resonates with their pain points, you won’t have to do much talking.
In a down economy, customers are going to be much more selective with their purchase decisions. Successful products meet these four categories within Nielsen’s Attraction category:
- Need/Desire: If a product would simply be nice to have, but not necessary, it’s not likely to succeed — especially in a recession. Great products are easy to use and fulfill a definitive need for their customers.
- Advantage: New products have to prove why they’re more valuable and will continue to be different from similar choices in the market. The advantage to buying it has to be clear and enticing.
- Credibility: Today, flashy packaging and advertisements don’t fool consumers. For new brands, finding a way to establish credibility can be a significant challenge, but it’s a necessary step to launching a successful product.
- Acceptable downsides: No product is perfect. But attempting to hide your flaws can be a big mistake. Instead, new products must embrace, acknowledge, and be willing to address their shortcomings.
In my experience, software customers place a premium on convenience and ease of use. And, as Nielsen’s research confirmed, they also hate being surprised by product or usability flaws. So, it’s critically important to only begin marketing and selling a product if you’re sure that it’s bug-free.
As an article in the Harvard Business Review highlights, Microsoft made that mistake with its Windows Vista product. Its numerous flaws and compatibility issues caused even its most loyal customers to cry foul and Apple jumped at the opportunity to spear its arch rival.
Nielsen’s research may outline 12 key steps to improve product launch success, but it also serves as a reminder of how difficult it can be to launch a new product.
All of the steps above must work in harmony with each other in order to be effective. One weak link can mean the undoing of an otherwise strong product. And that, unfortunately, could mean that it ends up in the scrap heap with the rest of the new products that failed to experience long-term success.
Faria Rahman is a market research analyst with OpenView Labs. You can check out her blog, The Focal Point, for more tips and musings on the world of market research and analytics.