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2012 -- 10 Updated Tips for launching a product or service
This post first appeared in late 2010 prior to CES -- with CES coming up next week, given the last year of launches, again let's remind new product and service vendors of what they need to do to launch properly.
So you want to launch a boomer/senior, home health tech, etc product or service. It's getting to be that time of year for launches and the press that accompanies them. This year, as always there are many vendors that have or will have new products and services or enhanced capabilities -- and want to get attention, prowling the vast aisles of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in search of possible channel partners, media attention and a list of who is in their space. In conjunction with that event, perhaps they will 'officially' launch. Or perhaps an existing company will officially launch a new product or service. Here is a checklist as derived from recent encounters and discussions:
1) Is the website crisp and clear? Start with the home page that has modest and friendly graphics and images which identify what the product or service does or is. These are not fear-generating; they are not paragraphs of narrative-laden terminology to wander through before it is apparent what the product or service does. Instead -- make sure to specify how it works, for whom (with multiple tabs if multiple markets), and what if anything is truly differentiating (mobile versus limited distance, self-install devices, no-install software, wearable or no-need-to-wear, works with any phone, call center supported, etc., etc.). 'Finally meets the needs of families and seniors', for example, is not specific and is ignored, so why say it? Resellers should be able to link to an architecture diagram of how the product works if there is more than one dimension to the product (alarm to response center, for example). For users of the product, very short videos (< 30 seconds) are good, videos of actual use are best. Ideally, vendors should have a slide deck for prospective investors, brochure for tradeshow, and website coordinated and available at time of launch. If you're doubtful about the clarity of the website or material, ask peers to review.
2) With every new launch, is there a press release? I'm not kidding about this -- a single release only costs less than $150 on PRWeb or PRNewsire -- content that will surface on newly-created Google alerts long after the launch date. Not a PDF file, not a Word document, but a viewable press release that can be found under your website category of "PRESS or NEWS." I am still receiving PDFs and Word press releases, and amazingly, I just got email yesterday about a new product in which marketer apologized because there would be no press release (why, why???). To be perceived as an ongoing concern and not have viewers speculate about whether the company is still in business, a press release should be issued for every significant change, including new executives or customers, moves to new offices, etc., with at least one in the past 3-4 months. And the reverse (see FloH Club below, see WellCore) is also true. If the firm has gone out of its previous or current business, please, please, PLEASE remove the website.
3) Are executives identified in 'About' the company? What's the point of keeping the identity of founders and executives a secret unless there's something to hide? Everyone has a bio -- even if prior experience comes from other industries. There is absolutely no reason to have to search Google or send e-mails to Info@XYZ - co.com in order to find out who is running the place or tease out that XYZ- co.com is actually a subsidiary of GIANT- Co.com or to call in order to find out that the real service is provided by another company, not identified on the website.
4) Can you get even a short article in a local publication? You're launching a business -- and the local business press is looking for entrepreneurs to write about who can make the home town folks proud. This becomes article-1 under the Media section of the website. Article-2 will be a news item placed by others about your company and its partnerships, article-3 will be about customers or presentations by executives at trade shows and how boomers-turning-senior will change the market landscape forever (or something similar).
5) Is the actual product going to be available near term? This is a thorny issue and is confounded by the need to court large-scale investment immediately after signing up initial friends, family, and even angel funding. So what does 'near term' mean? ('Available in early 2012' when it's February, 2011 is similar.) My definition: by the official launch date, some stages of evolution are complete or within weeks of completion. For example, there's a working prototype (i.e. no known installation or operational defects); there are identified manufacturers; an initial pilot is completed to validate product usefulness; the pricing is clear; power requirements are clear; the product registration and installation processes have been established and validated. It's not okay -- and I would argue a waste of money -- when the product can be described, a prototype can be demo'd, but resellers and customers won't be able to get there hands on it for 6, 9, or an unknown number of months later. Well-intentioned people will lose interest during that time and the vendor inevitably loses momentum. Or they can get their hands on it but are confounded by problems with any of above. Pre-orders seem like a great idea, but manufacturing snafus, stalls in funding, and other unknowns can make pre-orders stale.
6) Software vendors -- design with market input; pilot before launch. Prospective buyers are jaded -- they've seen many variants of software, for example, for the home care services, senior housing, or non-profit segments. This is not an industry ready for 'if we build it, they will come'. And I hear too many entrepreneurs say the following: "In my personal experience, my family had issues with (fill in the blank) with my own (grand)parents, therefore my offering will address those issues by (fill in the blank)." For most participants in the aging-related industry, a personal experience underpins passion and enthusiasm to be in this emerging space. If that is a given for your company, please shake it off -- validate prospective value through interviews, surveys, and follow with software design walkthroughs held with a seasoned review board -- before casting the solution into the concrete of release-ready code.
7) Service providers -- what's different, who will buy, at what price, where do they live? With an inbox filled with "we are introducing a new service for (caregivers, families, seniors, service providers) that will be the first comprehensive guide to (fill in blank)," perhaps I am just a bit jaded. But really, there is no need to do a nationwide media launch of a service that is only available within a single geographic region. And don't be like the abruptly defunct and now fully-evaporated FloH Club, a nationwide launch that was missing quite a bit of info from items 1 and 3, for example, focusing all of the launch press on its famous spokesperson. We, the apologetic and gullible, should have known better: if something sounds too cool to be true, it probably is just a flutter of fluff. And WellCore, no longer fall detection product for seniors -- it's now a pedometer. No press release or even commentary on the site.
8) What's that category, anyway? It helps those who might want to accurately position a product -- and this includes press, analysts, investors, prospective partners and resellers -- to understand the category placement and not have to inquire in a sea of obfuscation and inappropriate terminology. Is this a home health care service or a companion service, licensed differently -- or does the firm offer both, at different prices? Is this a tool for chronic disease management (not exactly 'wellness') or is this one for tracking fitness regimen (sounds like wellness)? The word health and its xHealth derivations inaccurately describe a market that is so broad as to be virtually useless to anyone trying to understand an offering. And medication (reminders? dispensers? drug interactions?) management, compliance, adherence, are all headed for the descriptor junk pile for lack of specificity and clarity.
9) PR team -- do the homework in case the clients don't -- and even if they do. In the category of baffling, I've received requests to tell me all about a vendor, an offering, a launch that I've already written about or mentioned for months. Just because it's day 1 for you, the PR firm, and you're excitedly new to this space, doesn't mean that your client and offerings are heretofore completely unknown. Search first. Perhaps you are helping to inform about a new release -- and the news is, actually, new. Just know what has preceded it -- and build upon prior activity.
10) As for the non-launch launch, what to do when a wave of market interest happens anyway? Occasionally it really is day 1 and you didn't do any of the above steps. You have no market visibility, but suddenly you are called by a nationwide media outlet because a friend of a friend is friends with a reporter, or your still-testing university research program is doing something interesting that may be ready -- within another year or two or three. Can you offer up a customer or user to interview, can you say how your product fits into the marketplace overall (current use of your product, other players, market size if available, and target audience)? And most important, can someone in this very needy market actually buy it? If you're not ready, do the unthinkable and say you're not ready! It is in your interest to tell a reporter to call back in three months. Why? Because your offering should not disappoint those people everywhere who desperately need it to work -- with all of its i's dotted and t's crossed. Because there really is a validated and verified gap in capability in your target market and your company is just the right company to fill that gap. No need to be in a rush, or launch too early -- because that's the thing about an emerging market to serve an aging population. The customers will be around for a long time, but let's not disappoint them.