How To Successfully Launch A New Product: Key Steps & Considerations 

September 12, 2022
19 min read

In this article:

Launching a new product? Here’s a step-by-step guide that’s guaranteed to make your launch a raving success.

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.

What is a product launch?

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. 

Usually, 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.

For a product launch to be successful, ecommerce businesses need to have a new product launch strategy that factors in: 

  • Production and shipping deadlines
  • Key sales and marketing metrics to hit
  • Most importantly, market fit 

Here’s how to put this plan together for your next product launch.

Key considerations for your new product launch strategy

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.)

Market conditions and competitors

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. 

Meet an actual need

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. 

Know your market and competition

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.

Launch size

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.

Soft launch

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.) 

Minimal launch

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.

Full-scale launch

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.  

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 partnershipwith that big box store. 

Unique selling proposition 

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.”

Goals and KPIs

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:

  • Sales – either as a valuation or number of orders (especially within ~1-7 days of launch)
  • Email performance by segment
  • Ads conversion 
  • Return on ad spend (ROAS)
  • Impressions and views (not super important, but offers a good gut check)

Deadlines 

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:

  • Product testing – when you’ll want to collect early research on product viability
  • Production planning – when you need all materials and supplies to be ready to manufacture your new product
  • Marketing deadlines – when materials will need to be approved, distributed, and printed for launch
  • Soft launch date
  • Full launch date

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.

Marketing channels

Consider your launch type and target audience:

  • Where do they hang out? 
  • Who do they follow online? 
  • How do they typically behave? 

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.

How to launch a new product in 7 steps 

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.

1. Test product quality first

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:

  • Select a specific area to test, like usability or marketing messaging. Keep your survey focused for better results.
  • Make sure to get as wide a sample size as possible across different demographics within your target audience. This will ensure you make the most of the testing phase and walk away with maximum intel.
  • Document and review feedback with your product and marketing teams in case any adjustments are necessary. For example, if a part breaks easily, the packaging is frustrating, or the message is confusing.

🔥 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.

2. Forecast new product demand

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:

  • Cannibalization is an often-overlooked demand factor when planning new product launches. This scary-sounding term means that your existing customers will just replace your older product by buying the latest version. For instance, anytime Apple launches a new iPhone, the previous generations sell less because they’re not as attractive as the better, most recent model.
  • Seasonality will likely already be in your product launch plan. But just in case it isn’t, ensure that you’ll be launching at the time of year when your product will be most in demand. 
  • Lastly, triple-check the availability of the raw materials you’ll need. If you sell out on your product launch, you want your next order to ship as quickly as possible. That’s hard to do if you can’t access the needed materials.

🤿 Dive deeper: Check out our step-by-step tips for forecasting demand for a new product

3. Plan key marketing events in advance

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.

4. Conduct a product launch pre-mortem

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: 

  1. Share the go-to-market plan with your team
  2. Invite them to “break” it by envisioning everything that could (hypothetically) go wrong
  3. Have them jot down reasons why that failure would happen
  4. The launch owner (usually the product manager or product marketing manager) can incorporate these reasons back into the launch plan

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.

5. Train your sales and support teams

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.

6. Collect feedback early on

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!"

7. Conduct a product launch post-mortem

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:

  • Send out a survey a few days after the launch to capture immediate thoughts from your team. You may get better responses if the survey is anonymous. Make sure to ask plenty of open-ended questions. From support to fulfillment to distribution, each team member will have a unique POV to share – and that is data you need.
  • After your survey results, consolidate this feedback into a presentation or document your team can review and discuss a week or two after the launch. This will be very handy to refer back to when planning your next product launch.
  • Assign owners to any loose ends that get brought up in the meeting. Did supplier communications go awry? Identify who will be on top of follow-up next time. Will your lapsed customers need a second marketing push? Make sure it’s on your marketing calendar.

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. (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.

Get inspired by some of the best new product launch examples

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 favorites. We’ve included takeaways from each launch and a “do it yourself” tip for trying these tactics.

Just Egg put its product in festival-goers’ mouths

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:

  • They knew their wellness-leaning audience would have festival munchies and be more receptive to funky food (good product-market fit)
  • They used the festivals as an opportunity to gather feedback in real-time through surveys

🧪 DIY: If you can provide any kind of product sample at a live 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!

Bumpn answered an unmet need with playful visibility

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:

  • They invested in video marketing perfectly with a launch message that winks at overly serious Silicon Valley tech announcements, declaring “the next big release in sex tech” had arrived
  • Their blog is full of educational and helpful content covering more taboo topics around sex and disability, like touch starvation, establishing even more trust with their customer

🧪 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.

Good Chemistry wins with a micro-influencer play

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:

  • Research your micro-influencers deeply to understand their individual audiences, then give them creative freedom to post in their style, so their followers aren't annoyed by ads that don't feel relevant to them
  • Roll out micro-influencer content slowly (maybe leveraging a soft launch) to create more organic, steady awareness over several months — don't get hung up on posting everything on launch day itself

🧪 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.) Or, use a tool like Tokfluence or Shopify Collabs to contact them via email and inquire about their rates.  

Know what to expect for your new product launch with Cogsy

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:

  • Use products with similar characteristics to your new product to model how much you’ll need to order for a successful launch
  • Map out your new product launch scenarios based on different related SKUs and prepare accordingly
  • Factor in order lead times to purchase products at the right time (and keep your suppliers happy with you)

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. But don’t just take our word for it – try Cogsy free for 14 days. 

New product launch FAQs

Get answers to the most common product launch questions. 

How do you measure the success of a new product launch?

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.

How should you announce a new product launch?

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.

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