Product launches are quite possibly the most stressful moment in a product manager’s role. The culmination of months to years of hard work is finally ready to display to the world, and the ensuing public reaction will dictate much of a product’s future. Making sure that you have a good strategy for your product’s launch is of the utmost importance, so Kloudless was thrilled to be in the audience for Jen Taylor of Cloudflare’s talk at the Heavybit Devguild product marketing event; Ready For Lift-Off: Effective Product Launches was the culmination of Taylor’s years of experience in product marketing at companies like Salesforce, Adobe, and Facebook.
Taylor began by stressing that a major stumbling point that many product launches experience is to inadequately plan for their launch before a feature has begun development. Oftentimes, product managers will put launch preparation on the back burner to allow them to focus entirely on the product roadmap and development itself. Taylor warns that this usually ends up as a major hindrance in the launch, as the time to properly strategize for launch will now be sparse and end up being rushed. She breaks product development into 5 stages: Backlog, requirements, specifications and scoping, development, and finally shipment. Taylor stressed that the opportune time to begin preparations for a successful launch is just prior to development. That way, product managers can be properly prepared for the timeframe necessary to successfully launch a product.
What Type of Launch Do You Need?
There are 2 distinct types of launches, Taylor points out, and the difference between the type of company a product manager is working for is primarily the driving force between which launch they should choose to pursue. A big bang launch is generally associated with larger companies and Taylor used Apple as a comparison for going into the details of this type of launch. These companies generally already have a good buzz and public attention, while also possessing a budget capable of a major rollout. She went on to say that these companies usually have their market fit carved out prior to their launches and that they require much less time between announcement and shipping of the product.
The other type of launch she detailed was the soft launch. These companies are working on a considerably smaller budget, so they are forced to take more grassroots approaches to their launch than the former example. They usually begin by releasing functionality to a handful of users and then collecting data from that smaller launch to dictate the next steps in releasing the product to a more general audience. Users, buying, and pricing are all malleable in this launch and should be defined as much as possible by the data collected from the smaller group of initial users. Taylor poses that the power of word of mouth is critical to scale in this scenario.
How Will You Launch?
Taylor continued on with the differentiation in how these two types of launches should proceed with the structure of their launch.
For the big bang launch with a larger budget, she calls the strategy they should apply “Making a moment.” Because of the brand awareness and market space that they already possess prior to launch, this type of launch can command a larger reach to bring in a bigger audience. However, as this company has already carved out its niche in the market, they can target a consolidated audience through channels specific to their image or brand. This big bang launch, Taylor says, is inherently “newsy,” in that it will generally be covered by publications or outlets that are well aware of its brand prior to product launch.
The soft launch, on the other hand, needs to “Be part of a moment,” Taylor says. This launch might have a smaller audience, but those target users should be aware of the product and paying attention prior to launch. The budget for this launch is much smaller and therefore the launch does not have to be as much of a spectacle, but it should be large enough to show the product off well. The audiences for this launch should be distributed, and while the launch should be an interesting news piece in publications that apply, it doesn’t need to be a headline-generating launch.
Taylor spent the rest of her time going over ways that a soft launch can leverage their resources to be as effective as possible in targeting the right users and engaging them as well as they can. Her first step in this process was to “Drive awareness” through communication. Outlets for this are generally going to be less budget heavy, so she advocates for making a consistent messaging framework across a website, blog, advertisements, and social media.
She then advises that the next steps a soft launch should take are in relation to the product itself. She calls this “Taking action,” and it entails the user experience when first engaging with the product. A user should follow a strict path through their first time with the product, which should be for the user to create an account, log in, do something, and then immediately see the value in whatever they just did. By showing users the instant gratification that your product can offer, a product is less likely to lose a user’s interest before they have a chance to fully engage with it.
Next, Taylor goes on, should be the time to “Get successful” through the use of resources. This means providing users with a set of easily available resources that can walk them through any hiccups or missteps they may take when initially using the product. This should be done through well thought out documentation, tutorials, guides, and demo videos. If these resources are readily available at launch, the soft launch does not risk losing users without the time for a learning curve that a product may possess.
After that, Taylor believes a soft launch should work on “Staying successful” through support. This means making sure that customer support is ready to work with users through any of their possible issues as soon as they arise. She advocates for a ticketing system, engaging users on community forums and a Slack channel, and making absolutely sure to employ enough staff to deal with the number of users that may need immediate help upon launch.
Finally, Taylor postulates that a soft launch should ensure their long term success by “Growing” through engagement. This is done through a product’s blog, white papers, email journeys, newsletters, and events. This ultimate step is the longest running of the soft launch strategies as it requires close engagement with a product’s user base in order to craft the materials in a focused way and gauge the interest of possible new functionality to introduce into an already launched product.
Product of Chaos
“Expect the unexpected” is Taylor’s closing thoughts on a product launch. Things rarely go according to plan, so a company must prepare as much as possible for the unexpected. This entails defining ship and launch criteria as early as they can, identifying who is “the decider” when quick and impactful decisions must be made, setting review checkpoints to highlight possible problems early, and making sure that in the case of an unforeseen disaster, there is a “Plan B” to fall back on. These are all scenarios that are necessary to outline early, Taylor says, even if a company doesn’t ever end up having to use them. (Which ideally, they won’t!)
In closing, Taylor stresses that the long term success of a launch is due to the work put into planning ahead early, and in the support a user base receives after release. She makes clear that, in the eyes of marketing, if a user makes it to the conversion section of a sales funnel, then it should be considered a win. As she puts it, “The most valuable customer is the one you already have,” so keeping in touch with customers through survey, phone, email, social, and support is key. Nothing is ever perfect the first time around, so companies executing a soft launch should iterate and learn from their campaigns, and continue to identify new pain points to solve and sell.
When it comes to launching a product, Taylor simply reminds that the customer is always the best advocate with this quote: “Nothing is more powerful than a customer telling the success you create for them.”
Read all about our experience at the rest of the Heavybit DevGuild Product Marketing event in our blog post here!