Some products and services don’t have a pre-launch phase.  For companies where building a minimum viable product isn’t a months-long effort, it makes sense to just launch a beta and then start talking about it.  For other companies however, the product might take a bit longer to develop and talking about it before it’s been released in some form could be pointless (because you don’t have a call to action yet), risky (competitors position against you or customers get confused because there aren’t enough details) or both.

One of the techniques that I’ve used in the past is to engage with the market by talking about the business problem that your product or service is going to solve, without getting into exactly how you plan on solving it.  At IBM we sometimes referred to this as “market preparation”.

For larger companies this often entails spending a lot of time (and money) with industry analysts and industry leaders sharing your company’s unique point of view on the market and why it is currently being under-served.  If you do this properly you’ll come to a point where your point of view starts to align well with that of the influential folks you’ve been working with.  By the time you launch, these folks will be standing behind you saying that your view of the market is one customers should consider.

Pre-launch startups generally don’t have the time, clout or cash to change the way Gartner Group thinks about a market but that shouldn’t stop you from taking your message out directly to the market you care about.  There’s never been a better time for startups to get the message out.  Here are some considerations:

  1. Create a clear message about your market point of view – you will need to create a set of messages that clearly illustrate what the unmet need is the in market and why that need has not been met by existing players.  You can go so far as to talk about the characteristics of the needed solution (without getting into the gorey details of exactly how you plan to solve it).
  2. Develop case studies that illustrate the pain you will be solving – Gather a set of real examples of customers you have worked with that have the problem and clearly illustrate the need for a new type of solution on the market.
  3. Spread the word – Launch a blog, write guest posts for other blogs, comment on relevant blog posts,  write articles, write an e-book, speak at conferences and events, open a Twitter account and start sharing information that illustrates your point of view.  There’s no end of ways to get your message out there.  Do your homework and find out where your market hangs out.  What forums do they participate in?  What blogs and newsletters do they read?  Get your message in front of them in the places where they already are.
  4. Engage and gather feedback – Starting a dialog with your potential customers about how you see the market gives you a chance to test your messages and see what resonates and what doesn’t.  You’ve made a set of assumptions (backed up by customer research hopefully), the more folks in the market you can talk to the more you can fine-tune your market story.
  5. Capture where you can – If it makes sense you can start capturing a list of potential beta customers or a mailing list that you can use when you launch.

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