Only 55% of product launches happen on schedule. Meaning, the other 45% stall out due to product development hiccups, poor launch processes, supply problems, and other challenges.
Knowing that not all product launches go smoothly, you need a good strategic plan to increase your chances of successfully launching your next product (or new features) — right when your customer expects it.
Here’s your complete guide to the components of an effective new product launch plan – complete with straightforward tactics to codify that plan into your company culture.
A product launch is the umbrella term for all the activities that go into researching, sourcing, marketing, and selling a new product to its target audience. The process contains multiple steps, including product testing and demand forecasting.
For a product launch to be successful, ecommerce businesses need to have a new product launch strategy that factors in:
Here’s how to put this plan together for your next product launch.
Launching a new product can go sideways quickly without considering key elements first, like market conditions, launch type, and your unique selling proposition (USP).
(BTW, many of these key components below are often incorporated in a formal go-to-market strategy.)
You can think of market research as “checking the weather” for a new product. And between current supply chain issues and actual natural disaster disruptions, perhaps that metaphor is a little too literal. But let me explain what I mean.
First, your product must meet a real need that people (specifically, your target buyer persona) have.
Seems obvious, but even companies like Apple and Google get this wrong occasionally. See Apple’s “luxury” Apple Watch made out of 18K gold that cost $10K. Or, Google’s bowling-ball-shaped streaming device, Nexus Q, which essentially allowed you to watch YouTube on your TV for $299.
Maybe if the Apple Watch or Nexus Q product teams had conducted more thorough market research, they might have discovered that they were trying too hard to create a gadget that nobody actually wanted and avoided some really expensive flops.
Product launches can be planned to introduce existing products to new markets (like launching a Japanese skincare product in the US) or a new product to an existing market (like Crystal Pepsi). Depending on how familiar they may be with the product, you’ll need to market to your audience differently.
US skincare customers may respond best to educational information about Japanese skincare ingredients to trust a new product. But consumers already familiar with Pepsi may just need a quirky awareness campaign tempting them to try something new.
You can determine product-market fit with a product concept and a defined target market. Creating a solution to a common problem isn’t enough — you also need to make sure people want your specific solution and are willing to pay for it.
Admittedly, it’s a lot of work to track market trends, but it’s worth it. Men’s skincare brand Huron, for example, uses customer feedback to shape new products through reviews, support tickets, survey responses, and engagement on social media posts.
“It’s important to us that our customer always has a seat at the table when we look back on past initiatives and plan future ones,” shared Jonathan Yu, director of strategy and retention at Huron.
Huron also tracks competitor product launches, pricing, and marketing campaigns, so they always know where they can distinguish themselves in the crowded skincare industry.
Not sure how to go Sherlock-mode on evaluating competitors? Use a simple template. Conduct an honest SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) of your top competitors to see where they’ve left your target audience behind. That’s exactly where your brand can stand out.
Product launches come in all shapes and sizes. Depending on your overall goals, you can choose a launch approach that fits your needs and makes sense for your audience.
Whoever said “go big or go home” never heard of soft product launches.
The term “soft launch” may have become recently popularized as a meme on social media. But it’s long been an advertising strategy to quietly roll out a new product to a small subset of a product’s target audience. That way, you can test the waters before launching at full strength.
Soft launches are good for experimentation and testing before a bigger launch, such as ironing out final product development and gathering feedback.
Phillip Morris soft launched their new Virginia Slims 120 cigarettes just in Portland and Nashville.
To do this, they used local billboards and regional women’s magazines to test market fit in those specific areas before launching nationwide. (That said, take any addictive substance’s marketing playbook with a grain of salt, please.)
Stripped-down launches can build interest with minimal marketing effort within a small, super-engaged section of your customers or audience base.
This is often done via a subtle social media post or email campaigns with a teaser image of the product to build anticipation. And it usually comes with an invite to get on an exclusive waitlist.
This builds hype and can earn you some user reviews pre-launch. Having glowing testimonials in your launch marketing materials is handy to make a bigger splash.
Minimal launches are perfect for small segments of your audience. For instance, when Harry’s expanded some of its products into Canada, they didn’t need to write a press release or rent a parade float to get people hyped about it.
The shaving brand already had enough existing demand in the Great White North. So, all they had to do was send an email letting those folks know that they could finally order Harry’s products.
When you need everyone to know about your new product, only a full-scale launch will do. Depending on your product and brand, you need to pick different marketing channels that make sense to your target audience.
Great news: You are not launching Earth 2.0, so 8B+ people don’t need to know about your new product. But you will need to pick a number between 1 and ~8B potential customers for your launch.
Luckily, your market research will have narrowed this down for you quite a bit, and your customers (if you already have some) can help.
Famously, Glossier introduced their Milky Jelly cleanser after asking Into The Gloss blog readers to describe their ideal face wash.
Then, they launched widely as Glossier, with a flagship product that resonated beyond their blog readership. In other words, when in doubt, hand the pen to your existing customer and ask them to write the brief themselves.
If you can’t tap into a wide customer base yet, focus on the market segments that you discovered through market research and get to know them better. This might include their common pain points (a marketing term for “problems they regularly experience and want to solve”) and how they make decisions.
This will help you determine your launch strategy. Say, for instance, if your audience shops BOPIS at Target and mostly hang out on Facebook parenting groups.
Then, you might struggle with Instagram ads directing them to the landing page on your owned online store. So, it might be better to direct ads to your Target listing, assuming you have a wholesale partnership with that big box store.
Otherwise known as a value proposition, your unique selling point (USP) is where your company’s stand-out abilities overlap with your customers’ problems.
For instance, the Roomba vacuum’s USP is the ultimate futuristic fantasy: A robot does your chores! The founders, who studied robotics at MIT, could solve their customer’s problem (“I never want to think about vacuuming again”).
How? By leveraging their expert background to carefully design a device that would meet that need.
USPs are especially important in saturated or oversaturated DTC verticals, like mattresses, toothbrushes, or subscription meal kits. Setting yourself apart from the pack is key.
“Very few digitally native companies can actually cite product as a differentiator,” wrote DTC industry enthusiast Emily Singer in her Chips and Dips newsletter. “More often, it’s brand or price point or marketing strategy or customer experience that makes a company stand out. It’s not about what’s being sold; it’s about how it’s sold.”
Don’t get so lost in the marketing weeds that you forget to set some actual goals with numbers for your new product launch. Here are the top marketing and sales KPIs that will tell you whether your launch is going well:
When you’re getting ready to launch a new product, call your suppliers and 3PLs first. Purchase order lead times are no longer dependable, thanks to the shortages of raw materials everywhere. So, you’ll want to double check that your launch date is realistic before you announce it.
To do this, keep all internal and external stakeholders in the know about product roadmap and launch deadlines. These milestones includes:
Remember, some factors in your supply chain may be out of your control or get delayed even with the best plans laid. So, use these deadlines as a guide and not a scorecard.
Say you rush to meet an arbitrary deadline. Then, you may miss out on important feedback or launch before you’re actually ready.
Consider your launch type and target audience:
It’s more intuitive than you may think. For instance, don’t run a TV commercial promoting commercial agricultural machinery, and don’t sponsor a comic convention if you sell luxury handbags. Your audience isn’t hiding — they’re in plain sight. And sometimes, the data is already at your fingertips.
Jonathan Yu says Huron does this by sorting their customer email segments according to behavior. This includes the recency of their last order, which products were purchased, and total lifetime orders.
Then, Huron emails them different product launch announcements based on that behavior. For instance, if they prefer buying bundles, Huron can send them an invitation to purchase a product bundle that includes the new product and products they may already love.
Huron also removes steps for existing subscription customers so they can add new products to their plans without going through checkout again. When they click through a product launch email that invites them to add a new product to their current subscription, they don’t have to re-enter any payment information. It’s seamlessly added to their tab for the next charge on their account.
After evaluating these areas of consideration above, you’re ready to create your product launch plan. Here’s how to do it.
A successful product launch plan is planned backward from a target launch date, starting with the very earliest stages of market research and user testing, all the way to when the product will be widely available and promoted to your target audience.
Even with the best go-to-market strategy, brands can still fumble a launch if they skip crucial steps before launch day. (Remember when Nike implemented a new platform rollout so clunkily they lost $100M in sales?)
Learn from other companies’ (a-hem, Nike’s) missteps and do your due diligence before pressing “launch.” Here are the 7 steps you must take before launching a new product.
Before a spaceship can go to the moon, every component undergoes rigorous testing. This makes sure each piece can withstand zero gravity.
While your next DTC product is not launching into space, you must still conduct product testing to see how your target audience responds to the new product.
Usually, this is done via surveys or focus groups. With surveys, you can send product samples to your best customers and collect self-reported feedback.
And with focus groups, you can see how customers interact and respond to the product via video call or in person.
Best practices for testing your new product pre-launch:
🔥 Tip: This is a great point to draft your support documentation! Jot down common issues in the test results and common solutions and scripts for resolving problems quickly. Then, revisit this documentation with your support team during the pre-mortem.
Hypebeasts and streetwear fiends are known to pounce on new “drops” from big players like Supreme.
These companies use new product launches as a marketing strategy, generating hype by limiting sales and creating a sense of exclusivity and scarcity. And it works because they’re Supreme. But for the rest of us, new product launches that result in instant stockouts are anything but hype-worthy.
Stockouts disappoint your eager customers (who you invested a lot of research in!). But you also expose yourself to more long-term vulnerabilities. For instance, you might get an angry batch of reviews that reduces demand for your next shipment. And now, with less demand, you also have excess inventory problems to deal with!
However, overordering “just to be safe” is not the solution. This could leave you with dead stock if the launch is a total flop (which increases your carrying costs). Not to mention that new products can lose their novelty quickly, making it harder to move excess units post-launch.
Either way, you risk damaging trust with your audience and your suppliers. To avoid these mistakes, you need data from the past to forecast future demand.
Normally, this is near-impossible to do with a new product because there’s no history! But you can run reports about how similar products have performed in the past to make ballpark quantitative predictions. (Or Cogsy’s new product planning feature can do this work for you.)
As you forecast demand, rely on the historical performance of similar products. But also consider how other factors may play into demand:
🤿 Dive deeper: How to forecast demand for new products.
Think back to an iconic movie trailer that had you on the edge of your seat. What made you want to go see the movie?
There’s a reason these are called “teaser trailers” — a promotional format that shows you just enough to get you to show up on opening night without giving away the story.
New product launch content should emotionally compel your audience the same way. Get them excited about what’s to come. And ideally, position the launch to exceed everyone’s expectations.
To launch a new product successfully, you need to map out each point of the marketing journey your customers will take to get there. If your launch content includes video, you’ll need to plan production timelines ~3-6 months in advance to ensure your marketing materials are ready for launch day.
Not only do you need to get your customers excited (and maybe even get their names on a pre-order list), but your product team, 3PLs, and suppliers must also be looped in. Otherwise, your big marketing plans could drive demand for a product that doesn’t launch on time!
Just sure these important marketing dates are factored into your operational plans. You can use Cogsy’s marketing events feature to schedule POs around your promotional calendar to save yourself from frustrating your customers or suppliers.
🔥 Tip: Try to avoid easy cliches in your marketing messaging. Phrases like “Meet the X” or “Say hello to X” are typically overused when launching new products. Speak to your customer’s pain points instead of blandly asking them to “say hello” back.
Post-mortems (literally, “after death”) are a well-known practice for wrapping up projects. But have you considered doing a pre-mortem as well?
Pre-mortems are essentially a worst-case scenario imagination exercise. And it works: “Prospective hindsight,” or imagining a future event’s results, helps people to better predict potential outcomes, per HBR. So, while not traditional, a pre-mortem could save you many headaches (and dollars) later in your launch.
Here’s how to run a pre-mortem:
This allows you to collect internal knowledge that wouldn’t pop up in a forecast based on past sales. For example, a common customer allergy that the support team hears about or recent information from a supplier that only your ops team knows.
🔥 Tip: Document everything and save it as your new product launch playbook, so you have much less work to do next time! Here at Cogsy, we use Notion to keep all this information easy to grab.
Your whole team needs to be ready for launch day, especially your sales and support teams. For one, they’re the first line of defense if something goes wrong. But they’re also closest to the customer and can pass along invaluable insights about your new product.
Prep your support and sales staff to answer concerns that may pop up (like any problems during testing). If possible, have the team try the product first-hand so they’ll be more descriptive and helpful when serving your customers.
You’ll also want to provide your retail employees with sales resources. For instance, talking points about the product’s main benefits, use cases, or common objections.
That way, they’ll be prepared to close the sale. Essentially, when a customer asks questions about your new product, your team should already know the answer.
🏁 Go the extra mile: Acknowledge your customer support team’s role in product launches with special recognition or a meaningful gift, like handwritten notes and catered team meals.
The sooner you can get feedback on your new product, the sooner you can make it better. In fact, Jonathan from Huron says that surveys have been an instrumental tool for his team in optimizing their customer’s experience.
While surveys are the ideal tool for collecting large amounts of insights at scale, don’t forget to leave plenty of wiggle room in your survey so you can dig deeper. Use open-ended questions to get richer responses, like, If you were in charge of this product, what would you improve?
“I’d recommend not trying to standardize every question with multiple-choice answers, as it could limit the amount of insights your customer may be willing to share,” Jonathan advised.
“This is where [we] can unlock the next layer of how customers are thinking about our products. Better yet, some [customers] are interested in getting on the phone for a few minutes to chat further!”
A post-mortem is an often-overlooked component of a good launch plan. After all that hard work, reflect on your wins and jot down places you can still improve for. (And do it as a team before you close your laptop for the weekend and forget important details!)
Here are our tips for running a post-mortem effectively:
PS – Don’t forget to celebrate! Launches are emotionally taxing and can wear on your adrenaline. Go for a team meal or celebrate virtually by recognizing each member’s crucial contributions.
You can even hand out bonuses or gift cards for individual stellar performance. The appreciation can also be shown by ordering from a ghost kitchen from individual employees. (And remember, gifting half-day PTO or company mental health days is basically “free” and doesn’t eat up any additional capital!) It’s psychologically helpful to provide this closure, plus post-stress bonding boosts morale.
Feeling stuck or short on product launch ideas? Draw inspiration from other DTC brands that successfully launched new products to their audiences.
Here are a few of our recent favorite successful product launch examples. We’ve included key takeaways from each launch and a “do it yourself” tip for trying these tactics.
Plant-based egg substitutes aren’t exactly what comes to mind as the hot freebie at a music festival. But Just Egg strategically placed their vegan egg substitute product directly into people’s hands at Bonnaroo and EDC.
(These products lacked brand awareness since the company expanded into retail just before the pandemic. So, these pop-up activations are essentially an expanded launch of their existing product to a new, wider audience.)
At the music festivals, the Just Egg team (assisted by a futuristic conveyor belt) handed out free breakfast sandwiches to festival goers as a friendly way of trying an unfamiliar product. Inside their activation space, visitors could learn more about how the product was made using mung beans.
Per Adrian Santos, Just Egg’s field marketing director, this simple tactic pays dividends for their brand as they seek to engage a wider audience.
“We gain fans and supporters once they try the product, so we’re going where there are tons of people and pushing out as many samples as we can,” he said.
📝 Takeaway: For consumer-packaged goods (CPG) brands, tasters are the name of the game. The more people you can expose to your new product at once, the faster word of mouth (pun intended) will spread. Here’s what Just Egg did really well:
🧪 DIY: If you can provide any kind of product sample at a live launch event or by shipping samples to customers, give it a go! Play even smarter by leveraging dead stock as gifts for loyal (or lapsed) customers to create more brand evangelists. You’ll clean out your inventory while making more fans!
Sexual pleasure is somewhat of a taboo topic. The sexual needs of people living with disabilities? Even more so! That’s why the Bump’n Joystick, a sex toy designed by and for disabled people, is so revolutionary.
Founder and disability consultant Andrew Gurza experiences his target customers’ challenges personally and can empathize with their needs. Bump’n’s USP (that they’re the only sex toy designed for people with hand-related disabilities) comes directly from extensive research during the product development stage.
📝 Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to lean into your target audience’s greatest pain points
(even if it’s not typically talked about). If your product solves a problem for them, don’t be shy — lead with that! We loved these best practices from Bump’n’s launch:
🧪 DIY: Before sending your new product idea over to your development team, consider this problem compelling enough to solve, and are we the right people to solve it? Your USP is the heart of your product launch and a huge factor in your success.
Do you know your customer well enough to design something they really want to buy? And is your company equipped to provide this product to them? In other words, where is the intersection between your experience, authority, and ability and your customers’ biggest (and maybe unspoken) needs?
Dig deep into “why” before you develop a product because it’s the story that will make your launch successful later.
Fragrance brand Good Chemistry launched a rebrand and a suite of new products in early 2022, and they needed to make a splash.
The traditional influencer marketing play can be expensive upfront and, therefore, a bigger gamble on fewer spokespeople. So, Good Chemistry worked with 14 smaller influencers on a wide variety of content rolled out over several months.
The influencer content was targeted to each account’s unique audience, from ASMR to fashion, reaching each influencer’s followers with content they were more likely to enjoy. It worked: the launch hashtag got over 1M organic views.
📝 Takeaway: Micro-influencers, when leveraged well, can boost your new product launch in ways one mega-influencer can’t. (In fact, micro-influencers made it on our list of top trends in DTC in 2022 to look out for.) Here’s how to go small on your next launch like Good Chemistry:
🧪 DIY: Set a timer (so you don’t get lost) and go on a deep dive into Instagram or Tiktok to find potential micro-influencers who could be a fit for your new product launch.
You can reach out to them with a personalized, complimentary short comment on a recent video asking them to contact you via DMs (you can only do this on TikTok if you’re following each other.)
Planning product development and marketing tactics is one thing, but planning to fulfill demand is a whole different beast.
When you conduct demand planning for a brand-new product you’ve never sold before, you’re literally trying to know the future! Afterall, if you don’t have your new product ready for your customers on time, you can’t launch it. Full stop.
Luckily, Cogsy works as your crystal ball. The ops optimization tool takes your historical sales data and crafts a new product plan that is way more accurate than getting your palm read.
Using Cogsy’s new product planning feature, you can:
Best part? Cogsy not only creates a demand plan that won’t leave you empty-handed, upsetting customers with unexpected long lead times for backordered stock. It also creates a plan that won’t stick you with piles of expensive excess inventory.
Stop guesstimating your demand planning; place new POs with confidence with Cogsy.
Your new product must sell well to be considered successful. Using data from past product launches, set reasonable sales goals by audience segment. You may also want to track marketing metrics like email engagement and return on ad spend (ROAS) to ensure your message gets heard.
It’s common for brands to launch new consumer products through an integrated marketing campaign that uses email marketing, online advertising, social media, PR, and other tactics to drive awareness, interest, and sales of your new product. Your marketing channels will depend on where your customers are.
Content marketing can be a powerful tool to support new product launches. By creating high-quality and informative content that speaks directly to your target audience, you can generate interest, build anticipation, and establish your brand as an authority in your industry. You can create blogs, newsletters, case studies and content on social media platforms for your product launch campaign