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 Launches RIP

Robert Scoble had a post a couple of weeks ago called Where of where did the great startup launch go? (Startup events have killed it) and in it he critiques the DEMO conference.  I agree with a lot of what Scoble has to say in this post but I fundamentally disagree with the idea of a “launch” being a single point in time event, particularly one where the “launch day” signifies the day the product is first released into market. DEMO, if you’ve never heard of it is billed as “The Launchpad for Emerging Technology”.  Here’s the description from the Demo website: Its time to launch your product. But where? Choosing the right platform to make your product’s first public appearance is critical. Sure, you have lots of choices, but none offer the access, interaction and validation of DEMO. For nearly 20 years we have built an unmatched track record of selecting, coaching, promoting and making successful some of the most game-changing products the world has ever seen. Will your vision make the cut? Submit your application today to find out. There is no fee to apply. The cost for those selected is $18,500. You get one shot – make it count, launch at DEMO. I have never launched a product at DEMO so I’m not going to get into whether or not DEMO is an effective event, but I do have some pretty strong opinions about product launches in general based on my experience of launching 6 different products (for the record – 5 successes, one stinker).  Here are some of my thoughts: 1/ Early customer experience is...

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...

I’ll Take a Bold: The Starbucks Via Launch

I normally cover startup technology on this blog but occasionally I think it’s good to look at what’s happening in the wider world of marketing to see if there are lessons we can learn and apply to our little corner of the world. This week Starbucks launched Starbucks Via, a product they describe as a “breakthrough in instant coffee”.  The company says they have worked for 20 years to develop a process of making instant coffee that preserves the coffee’s taste, quality and freshness to the point where a cup of Via tastes just like a fresh brewed cup of Starbucks coffee. My first reaction when I heard about Via was “Are they nuts!?”  What happened to the “third place” coffee house experience?  Do Sanka drinkers dream of coffee made from “the highest-quality, ethically sourced 100% arabica beans?” What happens to their “premium” brand when customers see it in the grocery store next to Folger’s?   If this stuff really tastes as good as brewed Starbucks, aren’t they encouraging customers to stay at home drinking $1 cups of Via rather than visiting their nearest Starbucks for a non-fat, extra-hot Mocha Frappuchino for $4? Positioning: Us vs. Us not Us vs. Them Starbucks hasn’t gone so far as to claim that Via isn’t instant coffee (a common tactic when re-defining a category) but they are careful not to compare themselves directly to Sanka or Nescafe.  The reference point is their own brewed coffee.  Via is described in their marketing as instant coffee that “tastes as delicious as our brewed.  Almost was not an option.” This is a bold (sorry I...

Google Chrome OS: Dissecting A Great Marketing Announcement

Last week I was having a heated discussion with another marketer about Google’s marketing and my position was that Google’s marketing hasn’t impressed me much.  And by marketing I mean the way they launch, message and position products.  The exception has been Google Chrome which I’ve written about before and I thought was a good launch.  My argument was that they didn’t do a great job of articulating the value of their products. Today the Chrome team has announced Google Chrome OS and I’m going to have to go back to my friend and eat crow because this is a fantastic piece of marketing. The blog post on the announcement can be seen here.  Go and read it.  This is textbook example of how to build momentum and mindshare in a market (while causing your key competitor considerable grief) with a product that isn’t going to see the light of day for a year and a half. Here’s how they do it: Establish credibility – In just 9 months they now have 30million regular users of Google Chrome.  This is the “we know what we are doing and now we are going to do something even better” part of the announcement. Tell us what it is – “Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks.” Read that again.  It doesn’t seem hard to come up with a one-liner that describes what your product is or does but almost nobody does it well. I’m at the first line of the second paragraph and I’m paying attention (see point 1) and I...
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