Caitlyn Jenner -Vanity Fair

This is the second in a series of four articles each looking at products and brands and utilizing the recent Caitlyn Jenner product launch as illustration.


“Call Me Caitlyn” II

As any product launch should, Caitlyn J’s launch appears to be unfolding with a well-orchestrated media campaign and events and so far the launch appears to be increasing steam and gaining momentum.

Launching a new Product takes Guts!

The world is littered with failed product launches. However, percentage estimates of the number of new product failures vary quite considerably most frequently within the range of 62% to 95%. Matthew Keegan of Demand media states that “Bringing a new product to market requires extensive research and preparation, but only one of four products in the development pipeline ever makes it to the consumers. Of these, one in three fails at launch”.[1] This is a sobering statistic, given the time and investment and effort required to develop and market a product.

Pre-Requisites of a Successful Product Launch

The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” [2]

All of this activity has to happen prior to the actual product launch. The pre-launch period is the most critical time as it determines the slope and duration of the product life cycle.

In  addition, because of the high failure rate in product development and product failure in the  marketplace, high levels of risk and the long-lead time period, significant investments have to be borne by a company before (and if!), the product makes a profit and is a commercial success. Obviously, this places additional pressure in getting the product launch right first time.

The eventual success or failure of the Product-launch is dependent on the pre-launch period.

To a great extent, the success or failure of any product introduction is determined well in advance of the actual product launch itself. In many industries and categories, it may take several years or more, from the time of concept development to the product launch and eventual customer and market acceptance (or not, as the case may be). It is the design, development, work and preparation during this critical pre-launch period that will determine the sales trajectory in the first critical 12-36 month period and beyond, and ultimately how long it takes to reach peak sales and the extent to which the product is a commercial failure or success. If the basic pre-launch product and market development activities and assumptions are skipped, postponed or flawed in any way, the resulting outcomes may be take much time and effort to address after launch.

In the words of Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) “Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail”.

 The success or failure of a product launch is determined primarily before launch and less so after launch.

If the appropriate pre-launch preparations have been made effectively, the actual product launch should be relatively easier than the pre-launch period. Obviously, it won’t be without the refinements, mishaps and stressful moments but they should be minor and more tactical rather than strategic or structural in nature. Again, this will be true as long as pre-launch preparation activities have been appropriately addressed. The final arbiter of truth will be whether the product is commercially successful or not, as has been defined by the commercial forecast and planning expectations. More often than not, time is what is needed for the product to gain traction. This depends on the market situation and the degree to which the product innovation is disruptive to the category.

In summary, launching a successful product is difficult to do, definitely not for the faint hearted or risk averse, and is as much of an art as it is a science, requiring the successful alignment of pre-launch assumptions and post-launch market realities.

The launch is dependent on pre-launch effectiveness

Launch Period

I have used a lot of ink focusing on the importance of the product launch and its impact of the success or failure of the product. I have also noted earlier that product expectations and forecasts are themselves very fickle. They are after all, estimates based on assumptions, gut feelings, opinions, personal beliefs, superstitions etc. In other words, they can be, and often are, wrong. They are subject to the realities of the marketplace and the customers. One common error made is trying to live and die on the forecasts. Recent events at Toshiba Japan have highlighted the danger of unrealistic forecasts and assumptions leading to bad decisions[3]. This can happen during a launch that is not meeting expectations. Knee-jerk reactions in the absence of full understanding of the key underlying issues, combined with miscalculations of the actual time that may be needed to achieve peak sales may result in premature withdrawal of critical resources that may actually result in unnecessarily killing the product, needlessly. As Tacticus (55 – 120 AD) wrote:

Truth is confirmed by inspection and delay; falsehood by haste and uncertainty”

During the product launch the total focus is on execution of the strategic and tactical plans and programs that have been designed and developed in the pre-launch period. As with the critically important first night of a Broadway play, it is time to perform. Every-single person involved needs to focus on their individual performance and tasks and if the practice and preparation has been effective, it will all come together in a perfectly staged and superbly acted performance that thrills, satisfies and delights the audience. The years of planning, testing, practice and preparation are litmus-tested in front of the key demographic, the customer. The success or failure of that production can rest on the tactical execution of that first performance.

Preparing for opening night

However, if the strategic vision and production creativity of the playwright, the director and the other company personnel involved does not align and impact the audience as envisioned, then any amount of flawless execution will not be enough to overcome the strategic or creative flaws in the production. That is why the pre-launch preparation is so important and should not be compromised in any way. There are still opportunities to make some refinements but not for major re-writes or re-staging. If the play hasn’t bombed on the first and subsequent nights, the production company will focus those elements that can be improved upon to make the customer experience better.