Conventional wisdom says “launch” is a big bang event that happens in a very short period. It includes a press tour, an expensive launch marketing campaign, and if you could shoot balloons out of your homepage, most would think that’s a key element. The hard work is in orchestrating it all, so on the day of launch there is a big party where everyone drinks champagne and congratulates themselves on a job well done. New product launches that follow this conventional wisdom fail more than 80% of the time.
I’ve always launched the way it should be done – initially because I was an untrained marketer. A perfect launch lasts several months and is a very iterative, metrics-driven process. It should start with the understanding that all of your assumptions are probably wrong. You don’t know who your most passionate users will be, you have no idea how to position the product and can’t understand what will prevent potentially passionate users from reaching a gratifying experience. I once heard Vinod Khosla describe this period as watching a flock of sheep grazing in an open field. The flock always gravitates towards the best grass. The launch period is about watching the flock to identify this best grass and figuring out how to describe it to drive as many of the right people (or to stick with the metaphor, sheep) toward this grass.
Those that follow the conventional “big bang launch” waste a lot of money incorrectly positioning their products and attracting the wrong types of users. Executing the launch phase correctly improves results from external customer acquisition intiatives by 200% to 1000% within a few months. For this reason alone it is better to conserve marketing dollars until after successfully completing the launch phase.
I’ve recently begun calling 12in6 a “launch accelerator” because the true value we offer is the ability to quickly uncover key information by engaging early users and iterating/improving the complete customer acquisition process based on their feedback and measured results. The five startups launched with this approach have become leaders in their respective categories (2 filed for IPOs). Luck is only part of the reason.
I totally agree, the best launches are done by iterating your product, addressing your real core market, and watching how those people respond via metrics, we recently employed interesting user-behavior from http://mixpanel.com and we’re iterating as fast as possible to be the “best grass” just like you said.
Couldn’t agree more. As someone who’s always believed in soft-launching product enhancements, let alone websites, I think I’d have a heart attack if I were put in charge of a Big Bang launch. One additional factor to consider: when you start booking press avails, reserving venues for your party, etc, you’re making a hard commitment to a launch date. But considering how frequently software releases get delayed, you run the risk of debuting a not-ready-for-primetime product at the exact moment you’re directing people’s attention to it. Far better to take the time to get it right, overcome your initial flawed assumptions, and then worry about driving awareness. The press will still be there when you’re ready, and so will the Champagne.
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