A rant about the Internet of Things hype.
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Ten Tips -- 2014 Year-End Guide for Launching a Product or Service
So you want to launch a boomer/senior, home health tech product or service. As your new company get ready to travel into battle at mHealth, CES, and all those 2015 launch events to-be-named-later, it is time to for you to revisit this guidance. Perhaps some time soon, your new or existing company will officially launch a new product or service, or perhaps a long-awaited, over-described and much-anticipated offering will finally ship. Here is a checklist that continues to hold true – with a few links that are merely examples:
1) Is the website crisp and clear? Start with the home page that has modest and friendly graphics and images (not a ransom note with 27 different font size and colors) to identify what the product or service does or is. These do not have to be 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 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.). 'Finally meets the needs of families and seniors', for example, is not specific and is ignored, so why say it? To encapsulate the impact of a product, very short videos (< 30 seconds) are good, videos of actual use are best. Unless you sell to IT, forget the architecture diagram anywhere near the home page. Finally, for those creating apps to be downloaded to smartphones, that doesn't mean the website will never be read by a human being.
2) With every new launch, is there a press release? A single release 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 Word, but a viewable (online) press release with links, kept under 1 page, that is found under your website category of PRESS, MEDIA or NEWS. 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. If the firm has gone out of its previous or current business, please, please, PLEASE remove the website – or leave a placeholder saying the company is now part of another company (see Halo Monitoring) and then redirect to the new site.
3) Are executives identified in 'About' the company? What's the point of keeping the identities of founders and executives a secret unless there's something to hide? This is as true of offerings that sell through resellers as those that sell direct. (For an example, see an About Us that is not, uh, About Us.) 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 In the News/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). Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – so pick an approach of a company you admire – and follow their structure for news and media updates.
5) Is the actual product going to be available near term? My definition: by the official launch date, some stages of evolution are complete or within a few 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, you can demo a prototype, but resellers and customers won't be able to get their hands on it for 6, 9, or an unknown and l-o-o-n-g number of months later. Momentum is lost, especially if the reason for the delay is that it just doesn’t work yet and the only way the market knows is to keep checking the website. Pre-orders seem to be all the rage these days -- hopefully the ultimate offering on whatever date doesn't result in the rage of missed expectations.
6) Software vendors -- design with market input (not your grandmother). Prospective B2B buyers are jaded -- they've seen many variants of software, for example, for the home care services, senior housing, or non-profit segments. These are not industries 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 (pick one -- finding caregivers, housing, helping families, seniors) that will be the first comprehensive guide/service 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 initially only available within a single geographic region or has a come-on-in website but not available. And don't be like the abruptly defunct and long-evaporated WellCore, a presumably consumer-oriented technology that could be pre-ordered before the bugs were debugged -- but launched at CES with great fanfare. We should have known better: if something sounds too cool to be true, and is heavily hyped in the press, it probably is just a flutter of fluff.
8) What's that product or service 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)? And medication (reminders? dispensers? drug interactions?) management, compliance, adherence, are all headed for the descriptor junk pile for lack of specificity and clarity. Finally, as with fall detection, is this product really a feature of other products or is it viable on its own as a solution? And as with sensor-based home monitoring, is this a category that seniors will tolerate -- even if the need is there?
9) PR team -- do the research in case your clients don't tell you much. 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 (or is even one of my clients). Just because it's Day One 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 the Internet first. Perhaps you are helping to inform about a new release -- and the news is, actually, new. Or it is not new, just repackaged. Just know what has preceded it -- and build upon prior activity.
10) As for the non-launch launch, what if 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 -- like Jibo, for example -- is doing something interesting that may be ready to buy (a caregiving robot, for example) -- 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 -- even for another pilot. 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 launched too early -- because that's the thing about an emerging market to serve an aging population. The customer segment will be around for a long time, but let's not disappoint them -- or give chest pains to the investors.