I’m often asked to help teams prepare a Go-to-Market strategy to prepare for the launch of a new product. I’d like to share a few simple steps I use when preparing to deploy a product.
What is Deployment?
To deploy a product means to launch it in the marketplace and make it available to its users. This phase is also called “commercialization”, “launch”, or “go to market”. The purpose of Deployment is to make your new product available in the marketplace. The new product could be an MVP (Minimum Viable Product), an incremental update, or a full-fledged new release. In any case, bringing it to market so that your end users can interact with it and possibly provide feedback, is a necessary step to validate the success of your idea.
Deployment is often a carefully orchestrated number of steps that need to happen in order and must be aligned across multiple teams. This is not only the responsibility of your IT Operations department, but rather of a cross-functional team with members from Marketing, Training, Support, and other departments which may be needed to fully support the launch of the new product.
It’s not about the rocket
Deploying a product in the marketplace is never the end point but is always the beginning of a journey.
I like the analogy of deploying a rocket into space (think SpaceX): 3-2-1-FIRE! And your rocket lifts off. A successful launch is a huge moment of celebration and the conclusion of months of hard work and preparation for this single moment. But having the rocket lift off is not the end, it’s just the beginning of a mission. You still must run the mission, manage the flight in space, dock at the Space Station, manage re-entry, collect telemetry data, and ensure the survival of the crew (if there is one on-board).
The same goes for your product. After you launch it, you need to market it, sell it, support it. You will have to collect feedback from your users, validate whether it satisfies their needs, and plan for future updates.
Before you deploy
Make sure your ecosystem is ready for launch
Often your product doesn’t live in a void by itself but it’s rather a part of a more complex ecosystem. What would Uber be without their drivers? What about the next generation phone from Samsung without a properly updated Android OS?
The product launch should be properly coordinated across all the parties in the ecosystem. Part of the Deployment preparedness activities is to make sure all supporting elements of the product’s ecosystem are ready at launch — including partners, supply, distribution, marketing, training materials, customer support, etc.
Know who your customers are
I was once asked by a company to help with the launch strategy of a new product. When I asked, “Who are your customers”, the company could not give me a detailed answer. We had to go back to the drawing board and do Discovery activities to learn about our customers, before preparing to launch the product.
Without knowing who your target customers are, it’s very difficult — or very expensive — to market your product and create traction. In his book “Crossing the Chasm”, author Geoffrey Moore talks about the Early Adopters. This is a key customer segment that experiences a strong need and is willing to adopt your product early on. Even if they have to put up with some deficiencies with your product, they have the personal interest to try it out and believe the benefits they get from it outweigh the cons. Knowing who your Early Adopters are is, therefore, a key component of any successful market launch.
The key learning here is, if you have skipped Discovery activities, make sure to spend time to understand who your customers are and what needs you are trying to satisfy.
It’s about the full customer experience
Customers buy an experience, not a bundle of features. They don’t buy a cell phone just to have a glass-covered plastic device in their pocket. They buy it because it allows them to communicate with their friends and family, to discover what goes on around them, to get navigation assistance, to enjoy a perceived status symbol, and possibly several other reasons.
Customers care about the overall experience they get from your product and the perceived value they receive from it. How are the customers going to learn about your product? How are they going to buy it? How are they going to incorporate it in their daily lives? The answers to these questions go beyond just a set of features that the product offers and explore the full customer experience that your end users really care about. This includes acquisition, packaging, marketing, support, training.
The four areas of customer experience
You can think of your product’s go-to-market strategy as a sort of Russian doll. In the center is your product, with its core set of features; next to the core features are the intangible properties of your product and its emotional appeal (e.g. brand recognition, status symbol, environmental friendliness, etc.) that customers may appreciate and value. Each feature provides a benefit and delivers value to the customer, so on the second ring we place benefits and values. Then on the outer layer we have four areas needed to deliver the full customer experience.
The idea is that by working through each of these areas and solidifying your understanding of the activities taking place at each stage, you can provide a better customer experience and therefore a better product. Ideally you would plan how to tackle these areas in the early stages of product development.
How are customers going to learn about it? For example marketing and advertising activities, promotions, social networking.
How are they going to acquire it? This includes the purchase experience, online versus in-store, distribution, packaging.
How are they going to use it? Do they use the way it was designed and intended for, or do they invent new uses for it? How often do they use it? Do they incorporate the product into their daily lives, or do they use it only sporadically?
How do they learn how to use it and get support if they get stuck? This may include training manuals, online support, customer service.
Kick-off with a Lean Canvas
If you haven’t digested the key elements of your market strategy during the initial definition of your product, a good way to help you think about all aspects of a product’s business model is to use the Lean Canvas. This can be done with a group of stakeholders bringing different perspectives on the product and the business opportunity. The Lean Canvas helps to create alignment around key elements of the business model of your product that can be used to define the go-to-market strategy.
Consider the five Ws of deployment
To prepare your go-to-market strategy, consider answering the following questions to start thinking about how you are going to Deploy your next product: Who, What, Where, When, and Why.
WHO: Whom do you launch to?
Consider the target segment(s) and create a clear description of your users. You can refer to the Problem Statement, Personas, and 5D Canvas you worked on during Discovery for insights on needs, challenges, and opportunities with your target users. Facebook famously started with college students and opened its service to everyone only after it had already acquired most colleges in the US.
WHAT: What are you going to deploy?
Think about not only your core product, but also additional components to enhance the user experience. Is this a new product, or an incremental release? Do your customers need support, training, installation assistance?
Thumbtack, an online marketplace for local services, launched in 2009 its online web service. The information about the business providers is user generated. However, the founders realized early on that if they wanted to appeal to new prospective customers, they needed to have an initial list of local businesses from day one. So, they worked on the supply side first, scraping content from multiple sources and filling up their database with information about local providers.
WHERE: Where are you going to launch?
You may decide not to launch nationwide but instead focus on a small local market first. For example, many companies start small then expand. Uber launched its MVP in San Francisco and perfected its offering before expanding to other cities, and is doing so one city at a time.
WHEN: When are you going to launch?
Consider when it’s best to launch. Is there a seasonality in your market? Is there time pressure from another competitor or from customer expectations? Is there a time where users are more likely in need of your offering?
For example, some successful movie franchises are always launched around the same time of the year. The six original Star Wars movies were all released in May. New Apple devices are traditionally announced at the end of Summer.
WHY: Why should your customers care?
This may be the most important question to answer, as it forces you to have a customer-centric approach to both product development and launch. Having a compelling value proposition and communicating it to customers is essential to make sure they understand your product’s benefits. Your customers are going to invest in your product — their money, their time, their emotions — and you should help them understand why they should do it.
Explaining the “why” is probably the most important component of your launch strategy. This message should permeate your brand, your marketing, and any communication with your customers.
Work with your team to define your launch strategy
This can be a great exercise to do together with your team at the beginning of a new project, or at any times you may need to plan the launch of a new release. Put on a wall a big poster with the 5 Ws, and gather your team around it. Follow these steps for a quick application of the canvas:
1 – Everyone works solo and writes on stickies their thoughts on each of the Ws.
2 – Everyone shares what they have created and puts the stickies on the poster
3 – The team, working together, incorporates and refines each member’s contribution and defines the team’s plan for the launch
Parts of this article are from the book “Deliver Great Products that Customers Love“.