Positioning and Launching a New Product

Dan Murphy has led product marketing at Privy and Drift, where he’s overseen over 70 product launches and more than a dozen large, new product launches. In this guide, he walks through how to position and launch major new offerings, including new products, products introduced to new verticals, acquired products, and important partnerships.

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Questions covered in this guide

Why invest in positioning and launching new products?

Positioning and a well-executed launch can make or break your product – launch planning matters because there’s no chance for a second “first-impression.” And positioning gives you a leg up in crowded markets – there are always great opportunities to find niches or hit on pain points to differentiate your product against a competitor.

What are the different types of “new” product?

Launching your first product – this is where you’re coming out of “stealth mode.” One of the biggest things to do here is build an audience since you’re new to the world and your market. 

Launching your second product – becoming a multi-product company. There’s a lot that goes in with this like, “how do you tell your multi product story” or  “how do you present yourself to your existing customers in a new market?”

Launching an acquired product – there are different tactics for acquiring a product and bringing it into your customer base since this product already has an existing customer base, a brand, and preconceptions from people in the market. 

Launching in a new vertical – positioning the product by taking existing features and turning them into solutions for that new industry vertical. 

Major partnership launch – often these have a demand gen focus. If you’re the smaller company, there’s a lot of negotiating to see what you can get out of your larger partner. Usually, it’s a big opportunity to reach out to a new audience and get them acquainted with your product. The other potential partnership launch type is a big customer solution launch. For example, it could be that customers really want a particular integration, and it’s a really exciting thing for existing customers.

How far in advance should you start planning?

It starts when you’re building your product, and heats up 3-6 months in advance – it really starts whenever you’re building your product and you should be documenting the whole way. You should be recording conversations with your customers and keeping notes, keeping track of the decisions for how you’re building the product, what trade offs you’re making, feedback from the user experience tests, etc. When you get to approximately 3-6 months pre-launch, you can think more deeply about the story you’re going to present to launch it. You should force yourself to pick a date to launch, because some of the bigger things for launching need to happen at least three months out. 

What are some of the publicity tactics to consider for a big launch?

An event – if you already have an audience. The most common thing is announcing at a conference (or some other form of live event). This applies more to companies who already have a first product, and have an existing audience. 

Press and social media – always important, but more important if you’re brand new. You need to have some kind of social media strategy to gain a following. Press can be an even bigger lever if you can get a buzzy publication like TechCrunch to write about you. 

Influencers – there are influencers in every space, including B2B markets. Build relationships early. Think about how you can embed yourself into influencers’ audiences and build a real relationship with the influencer so you continue to create content with them in the future. 

Who runs the launch and who should be involved?

If you have a product marketer/product marketing team, they run point – they should be the quarterback or the CEO of the launch and its messaging. The VP of marketing should lead it if they play product marketer. 

Product manager and product marketer are the “dynamic duo” – the product marketer is in charge of the launch and the product manager is in charge of making sure that the thing is ready to launch. The product marketer should be running it, but they need to work with the product manager day in and day out to get feedback. On launch day, the whole company should be involved – if you just have your marketing team out there and making a bunch of noise, it’s not going to work as well as if you get the rest of the team involved.

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What type of research should you do to determine positioning?

Great positioning comes from extreme customer POV research – the best product marketers I’ve worked with are extremists from a customer point of view and work to get as close as possible to being in the customer’s shoes. 

Tactics to try:
  • Listen to customer calls – real sales or success calls are better than a contrived interview. Try to go as deep as possible to gain a better understanding of who your customers are. You’re not just trying to build a product for your customers, but you’re trying to compile their messaging and their words so when you’re ready to launch you can speak to those customers effectively. If it’s a completely new product or new market and you don’t have access to customer calls, substitute interviews.
  • Hire industry experts – experts who’ve stood in your customers’ shoes have the knowledge to ensure that your product and its messaging reflect customer needs and preferences.
  • Subscribe to blogs, listen to podcasts, attend webinars (in the space) – find the right influencers, see what other people in the industry are talking about.

What positioning frameworks should you consider?

NHS framework
  • Name– name of the product.
  • Headline – what’s the headline of the launch? A good headline would steal the attention of your target customer. Imagine someone scrolling through their Twitter feed and they see your headline and they have to stop. They have to click it, even though they weren’t specifically looking for your information.
  • Story – every launch should have a story. What’s the problem you’re trying to solve?

What are typical steps in the launch?

Align strategy – reasons for launch should be aligned with company strategy. Each product launch should be a small piece that is moving you one step closer to your overall goals. 

Set goals
  • Set a long term goal that the team owns – this should reflect your bigger strategy. This is a team effort (and a team-owned goal), that will play out over time.
  • Set a short-term goal that product marketing owns – this should be measurable immediately, within 48 hours of launch, to see whether the launch is succeeding at getting initial traction. Product marketing is in charge of executing on the launch and making sure everyone on the team is on the same page.
Build your audience – set the segments you’re targeting, and make a plan for communicating with them.
  • If you don’t have an audience yet, leverage influencers and partners – positioning matters much more because you’re going to take a bet on who you think you want to speak to. Hopefully, you’re going to find those people through influencers and press. If you’re launching a new product that has integrations, go work with those partners through co-marketing to get their established audiences into your world.
  • If you already have an audience, use content to reach and expand it – there’s no reason to not try to find more influencers and continue to build your current audience. You can do this through podcasts or other content messaging that shows your company cares about creating solutions for the group of people you’re attempting to reach.
Define positioning
  • Document the work you’re doing with customers and prospects as you build the product – you want to record every step of the way because it’ll make it easier to incorporate their feedback into positioning you’re planning the launch.
  • Crafting your positioning – come up with succinct positioning using a framework (e.g. the NHS framework discussed above)
  • Put together a story deck and video – I recommend this vs. a positioning document, which I’ve found can kind of limit your abilities. I always suggest putting together a deck and recording a video of you what you’re launching and why you’re launching it. I’ve always found when you can take your positioning and turn it into a video and you have to pitch it and you’re just recording yourself talking about it, you’re going to get a lot smarter about it.
  • Get feedback from key stakeholders and iterate – then you share it with sort of your key stakeholders. Maybe share it with some sales reps or CSMs that you trust to get feedback because they’re usually on the frontline working with people.
Plan launch activities – launch activities depend upon launch type (see next section), but include things like:
  • Get press
  • Rebuild the website
  • Create new content
  • Host a survey
  • Launch a trial – if it’s a brand new product, launch a trial if that’s the best way to get people in the door and start conversations about the product.

Internal marketing and training – I recommend circulating a video to customer-facing team members, giving them enough time to like watch it and understand it. It shouldn’t be more than 10 minutes, max. Then give a simple “quiz” after that covers just a couple key things you want them to know. Just by getting into the quiz, they’re confirming they’ve watched your video and they’re retaining information. And by asking a couple key questions about the tagline or what audience are we targeting, you can further emphasize what’s important to remember and convey. 

After-action report – this should be about a week after you launch and you’re recapping the launch. Did you hit your launch goal? What happened? Why did it happen? What other things did you discover? There’s usually a lot of information for both the product team from the launch, with feedback and reactions, but there’s probably also feedback from the demand gen team. 

What launch activities might be involved (by launch type)?

What can you do to meet launch dates?

To hit launch dates, be willing to launch imperfect products – if you miss a launch date, usually the underlying reason has to do with product leadership and your company’s risk tolerance. To consistently hit launch dates, it helps to have a norm that the product might not be perfect, but we’re going to get it good enough that we can launch it, make enough noise, get some people to use it, bang on it, and test it. Then if it works, we’re going to invest more in it.

A strong product marketing and product management relationship is key – they need to have a good understanding from both sides, and be going through the scenarios for what would be “good, better, best.” If you’re the marketer, you need to make sure you have a sound understanding the possible development outcomes, issues, and delays, because sometimes things get complicated (especially when partners are involved), and you’ll need to make decisions and trade-offs to meet your launch date.

What tools do you use as a part of the process?

Research tools
  • Revenue intelligence tool (e.g. Gong) – to listen to recorded customer calls
  • CRM (e.g. Salesforce) – customer data research, segmenting and figuring out who you want to reach out to, serves as a single source of truth for all customer data.
Project management and internal communication
  • Spreadsheets – I’ve always been more of a “do it yourself” kind of guy, and I don’t think you need a fancier project management tool
  • Launch plan on your knowledge hub – have a publicly accessible launch plan, like a Wiki post
  • Story deck – a document laying out launch and positioning background, usually PowerPoint or Google Slides
  • Video – Loom or Drift videos are good to communicate internally (especially with remote teams). It’s a good way to give a screen share or overview.

What are the most important pieces to get right?

Positioning and segmentation – the wider your launch, the less successful it’ll be. The more people you go to, the lower your click rates or your open rates will be. You’re better off targeting a specific, intended audience. 

What are the common pitfalls?

Lack of clarity on launch goal and target outcome – after all of this hard work, and what feels like success, you’re kind of left wondering, “what did we really drive, what was actually the outcome, did we get what we wanted?”

Uninformed positioning (too wide, too narrow, or just wrong) – taking a wild guess and not spending the time to be specific enough with your positioning. If you end up with the wrong audience, that will screw up your launch, and have longer-lasting ramifications on your product’s success.

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