Startup Launch Marketing

I think there is a lot of confusion over what the word “launch” means and what marketing things a startup should be doing when they launch. I don’t believe that demoing at an event like TechCrunch Disrupt is equivalent to a launch. Nor do I believe that a launch ends the moment your product/service is generally available to the public. I’ve done a bunch of launches (5 at startups and 2 new businesses inside a larger company) and I’ve seen a lot of things that worked and didn’t work. In my opinion a launch is a multi-phase event that has distinct phases and there are different things you do at each phase. I was chatting with a startup founder about this last week and sketched this out. Here’s the picture I came up with: Note that every stage is inclusive of the previous stage – you continue to do what you were doing pre-release, after you have released, you just add a set of new tactics. The same happens when you move from release to post-release. Some notes on this: The idea here was to capture the purely marketing tactics that are executed at different phases of a launch. That doesn’t mean that these are the only things marketing is working on. For example, I would expect marketing to be involved in product development and definition (particularly pre-launch), pricing, channel strategy, etc. That said, I’m sure I’m missing tons of thing that should be on this graphic so please add them in the comments. I have some big catch-all categories in the graphic such as “outbound lead generation”, and “retention programs”...
Startup Launch Lessons from Color

Startup Launch Lessons from Color

A couple weeks back Color, launched an app for “taking pictures together.” The company raised a large amount of funding so naturally expectations were high. The reaction online to the launch ranged from completely predictable to rather surprising. Here are some marketing lessons I think startups can learn from their launch and the reaction to it: 1/ Tell a story or folks will make one up for you – Most of the coverage around Color’s launch focused on the large amount of money they raised. That’s a story angle the company and the VC’s should have anticipated. But as far as I can tell, the company did not have a clear story to deliver around why they raised or were worth that much money or what they planned to do with the capital. Bloggers and journalists quickly filled this information vacuum with guesses ranging from the plausible to the utterly ridiculous (they’re building a location-based ad platform, the team is amazing, the VC’s are nuts, VC’s piled on out of fear of being “left out” and a bunch of other stuff). I believe that the coverage would have been different if they had announced the funding with a clearly articulated story around it and then participated in the dialog that followed in a straightforward manner.  Yes, us tech folk are a gossipy bunch but we are a million times worse when something appears to be a mystery or a secret. 2/ Use cases are important, even for early adopters – Occasionally companies launch without a clear idea of how their product will be used and once users figure out...

Pre-Launch Marketing for Stealthy Startups

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...

Beta Applies to Messaging Too: Rogers On Demand Online

I was invited to preview the new Rogers On Demand Online service this week and it got me thinking about beta programs and marketing (note for non-Canadian readers: Rogers is one of Canada’s leading providers of cable TV, high speed Internet access and wireless services.).  The event was a blogger sneak preview of the service which has just entered beta this week and is slated for general release on Nov. 30th.   The new service has lots of innovative features.  It gives Rogers subscribers online access to premium TV content, movies, sports and kids programs.  It lets you access that content anytime, anywhere (in Canada) and you can have multiple computers in your household accessing different content at the same time.  The event was held in a private screening room in a hotel which gave the Rogers folks the chance to show off the great work they’ve done on the very clean and intuitive UI.  Mobile support is coming in Q2 next year. For product marketers, the neat thing about holding an event like this in the age of Twitter is that not only do you get to see what people like and didn’t like about the features of the product, you also get to see how well the group understood your messaging by how they translate it down into 140 characters (and over the next few days in blog posts).  The other interesting thing is to watch the reaction from folks that aren’t in the room but are following the stream on Twitter.  I understand that one grumpy or happy person doesn’t prove that your messaging is or isn’t working...

Finding First Customers

The topic of what sort of marketing a startup should do to land the first few customers has come up a few times lately so I decided it was worth a short, simple post. Question: What sort of marketing should my startup do to secure our first couple of customers? Answer: None. Simple, huh?  The truth is that your first couple of customers aren’t customers at all, at least not in the regular sense of the word.  They’re believers.  They are going to be a crucial part of defining what your startup does and sells.  They are going to take an astonishing risk by being the first customer for a completely unproven solution in what is probably a nascent market delivered by a team that has likely never run a company before.  Even if they get the product for free, they’re investing time and energy getting users on the system, integrating it into their environment, and providing feedback to you.  They are going to have to be patient while you work out your bugs and deliver iterations and finish the darn thing.  And they’re going to have to do this while other people in the company (the ones that would prefer that they didn’t participate in your little startup experiment at all) complain and hope the project will fail so they can laugh like hyenas a scream, “I told you those guys didn’t know what they were doing!!” I’m a big believer in the power of marketing but no marketing will deliver this kind of a risk-taking life saver.  Nope, these customers are going to do it because they...
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