This is the third in a series of four articles each looking at products and brands and utilizing the recent Caitlyn Jenner launch as illustration.
Some (but not all) Important Pre-launch Considerations
- A specific product R & D & launch goals objectives & strategic and tactical plans: should be developed, maintained and updated by the cross-functional team throughout the development process. Decisions should be made based on the launch goals and objectives outlined in the plan. Often what happens in an organization is that there are separate functional plans developed independently of each other but no integrated cross-functional master-plan with all strategical and tactical elements aligned across functions and directly linked back to corporate objectives and goals.
- Cross-functional product team should be initiated and assigned to the product as early as R & D investments are first made in a product concept. Subject matter expertise is essential as early in the development process as possible, as many decisions may be made throughout the process that can have significant impact on the success or failure of the product in the market. Without the input of well-informed subject matter expert team members who are familiar with the product goals and objectives, ill-informed and ultimately negatively impactful decisions are more likely be made. Continuous and consistent collaboration and communication between key internal and external stakeholders is necessary to ensure that mistakes are not made.
- Senior Management Support: Senior Management are concerned with the overall effectiveness and efficient operations of the company. Goals have to be met and profits have to be made. Senior management are constantly balancing multiple commitments and priorities. If the overall health and viability of the organization is threatened, they will make decisions to address the threats. This often requires re-organization of corporate and strategic investment priorities in operations, manufacturing and R & D. Any of which can impact product development to a greater or lesser degree. Communication with this group is critical at all times.
- Senior Management Product champion(s) and internal advocate(s) are key in getting the product through the R & D process to launch.
- Conduct thorough competitive and market evaluation and assessments(before launch):
- Ensure that the product addresses an unmet / poorly met market need.
- The product or service offering can be clearly differentiated from the competitive offerings.
- Assessment of competitor capabilities and likely competitive responses.
- Ensure appropriate and consistent allocation resources before, during and after launch
- Investment Capital
- Human Capital
Inconsistent resource investment at critical points in the development and marketing process can result in poor information, poor launch infrastructure and ultimately in market performance. When senior management are looking for additional profit margins or to minimize cash-burn, R & D spend may be a very attractive place to look. Their immediate focus is the present, for them the product launch may be a few years off. In their minds, once this crisis has been addressed, there will still be time to make additional investments before the actual launch “to catch up”. Most often that doesn’t happen and the additional investment or time promised never materializes and consequently, either the product dies or the prospects of launch success are significantly damaged. Also, as discussed above management forecasts may have incorrectly accounted for the time needed to reach peak sales and when sales are not meeting projections management may make premature decisions that ultimately prevent the product from reaching peak sales albeit belatedly.
- Allow adequate pre-launch preparation time and post-launch execution time – For similar reasons to those outlined above such as conflicting priorities, budgeting pressures senior management may decide either to shorten or extend the product development time which can result in either to lack of market readiness at launch or late entry into the marketplace.
- Appropriate product research and development throughout the development and launch process:
- Early inclusion of all appropriate stakeholders in the product design and development process.
- Adequate testing and re-testing of all aspects of the product design and development and launch process with all appropriate stakeholders and targets.
- Conduct appropriate research in key areas of potential impact:
- Listen and act on all feedback in an appropriate manner.
- Focus on what is appropriate for the product.
- Ask the questions that get to the most informative response not just the response that conforms to the company perspective opinion and beliefs.
- Question Everything!
- Be open-minded to all information and potential solutions.
- Don’t ignore feedback as “incorrect” or the research methodology as flawed just because it isn’t what the company management was hoping to hear.
- Conduct appropriate pre-launch market research and analysis:
- Incorporate market needs and unmet needs into product design.
- Identify who the product is for and not for (will benefit, may benefit, won’t benefit) – Know the customer targets & segments.
- Determine how the product should be positioned in the minds of the targets.
- Identify and develop the product messaging that will resonate with key targets.
- Ensure the target market is large enough to sustain future growth:
- Have a target expansion plan
The corollary is also true and it may be very easy to get bogged down by too much market research and the resulting “analysis paralysis” which can slow or halt effective decision-making and so impact the development process. This too should be avoided at all costs.
- Realistic Financial Research and Analysis:
- Realistic market sizing, share and growth estimates and forecasts:
- Realistic and achievable
- Sustainable in the short and longer term
- Account for adequate resource support throughout the pre-launch process
- Ensure functional areas are ramping up appropriately (Manufacturing, Sales, distribution channels) to meet additional demand etc.
- Training and education of internal and external stakeholders.
- Cross-functional alignment and execution of Positioning, Messaging, Objectives, Strategies. Plans and tactics.
- Realistic market sizing, share and growth estimates and forecasts:
Many times the forecast is not realistic and far beyond the product and market capacity to achieve it, and/or the organizational infrastructure is not consistently prepared to address additional workload or increased sales demands.
- Diligent and consistent monitoring, measurement of Launch performance:
- Strategic effectiveness
- Tactical effectiveness and efficiencies
Adjust, refine add as necessary. It is important to plan in advance how product success is to be measured and in what timeframe? ROI may be the French word for King but it also stands for Return On Investment and as such, is a commercial and marketing necessity and should be conducted to validate all commercial and marketing activities and determine whether those investments are cost-effective and therefore worth continuing, or not. Discipline and a standardized company methodology are needed to ensure that spending is generating an appropriate return for the organization.
Potential Reasons for product failure
It is often hard to balance the resource needs of existing in-market revenue producing products with the insatiable resource needs of one or more products in development. Invariably the needs of the revenue and profit-producing products come first which lead to significant impact on the development and launch. This probably happens more often than not, but unfortunately the growth and expectations are not always accounted for nor are they adjusted accordingly and consequently bad decisions are made and not enough time is spent in understanding what the underlying issues are, and in making appropriate decisions to address them.
Again, Benjamin Franklin states it succinctly “Take time for all things: great haste makes great waste”.