Our sweet spot here at Ignite is helping unknown tech startups get on the map and build a leadership position. Our agency has successfully launched a wide range of technology-based companies, products and services in B2B and B2C industries. Startup entrepreneurs should keep in mind that achieving a leadership position likely won’t happen overnight; leadership has to be earned and is often a long-term journey for many successful market leaders.
Right now, we’ll focus on taking a closer look at some key considerations for startups to understand in order to plan a successful company or new product launch. It’s important to recognize that each launch comes with different objectives and requires tailored, strategic planning and diligent execution, along with company performance, progress and proof points. There are many marketing, public relations and social media activities that must be carefully addressed; here are some things Ignite often works through with clients to help in planning a successful PR launch:
- How much time is needed? Timing is really critical yet often overlooked or discounted by startups. Having ample time allows the company to strategize, plan and coordinate critical marketing elements of the launch. The PR team and the client need to collaborate to prepare and secure numerous items including: positioning/messaging, third-party market validation such as benchmarking reports, analyst/press presentations, online product demo, artwork, screencasts, customer qualification/references, early community development, etc. After all these details are buttoned up, then there needs to be a critical runway of time required for key influencers to consider whether they have time in their schedule to meet or speak to the company. We advise our clients to allow for a minimum of 3 weeks for this process (if the stakes are higher then factor in more time). For a brand new company/product launch, we recommend a minimum of 8-12 weeks for overall pre-planning and collaboration.
- Does your product work and is it ready for primetime? It may seem obvious, but it is important for a company’s product or service to work well and offer a baseline level of features and functionality to meet the specific needs of its target customers. Make sure your product or service works well enough to either delight users now or demonstrate its future promise. If the product falls short, disgruntled users may quickly turn away or spread the word via social media. Similarly, journalists will not put their reputation on the line by recommending a faulty or buggy service to their readers and can easily write a negative review.
- How to engage your target customer? Identify your target customers and develop applicable messages tailored to address their specific needs and pain points. PR reps and their clients should look to engage with members of their targeted communities, whether on Facebook, Twitter, forums or blogs, to gain first-hand perspective about the challenges that matter most to them. The market is too competitive and unforgiving for a ‘me too’ product, so understanding what makes your product truly compelling for your target customer is pivotal. What problem does it uniquely solve? And is it a “nice-to-have” or “must have” solution for customers? This will help you build key functionality that meets their needs and will help you better tailor messages so users self-identify with your offering.
- Should we build buzz before we launch? There may be opportunities to carry out viral pre-launch campaigns to help secure beta users, generate early word of mouth awareness or seed market interest in an emerging technology and product category. When deciding whether to build buzz prior to launch, you should consider several factors such as the market opportunity, product development stage, competitive space, and target customer. Readying your product to for the market should take priority over early buzz. Building your product to meet the baseline level the market requires is what matters most at this pre-launch stage. You can, however, conduct selective, early tests of different channels to identify the most effective ones for user acquisition — before you start heavily investing in scaling the business via Sales and Marketing and PR.
- Do you have customer references? Reporters and bloggers are typically skeptical about claims companies make about their own products and services, preferring to speak directly to users, not company executives, about what makes a product compelling. Even if you only have one or two customer references who can share positive feedback with press, they are immensely valuable and can significantly validate your claims, show momentum and increase the likelihood for news coverage. While it is possible to launch a new company or product without them, positive customer references are PR’s Holy Grail of critical success factors.
- Are there any third-party references familiar with your company/product? Industry analysts can validate a company’s position in the market, as can performance benchmark reports – especially for enterprise-type product offerings. Consider pre-briefing industry analysts who track your space, particularly if you’re launching without customers. Nonetheless, industry analysts, by and large, will always be a key constituent that companies have to court.
- What else should you tell your PR team? What you think is inconsequential may actually be a very important element for your PR team to consider when devising strategy. Open communication is a must so disclose everything – the good, bad and ugly – from the very start. Your company’s background, positives and negatives are useful for your PR team to know so they can appropriately position and differentiate your company vis-à-vis competitors – especially when launching in a crowded space. Remember to put everything on the table.