Rocket Fuel

Finally the big moment has come—the moment when engineering hands off a new product to marketing to be launched into the world. This momentous occasion arrives with an almost audible sigh of relief. You know—the Aaahhhhh Moment. It’s been a long and dusty road, but at last our work is done! Aaahhhhhh! Where’s the beer and chips?

Woo hooo!! Except wait a sec. This launch moment—the great handoff, should really not be happening.

Let’s back up and get some context.

In the prototypical new product development (NPD) stage-gate process, launch is viewed as the LAST stage. But of course, it’s the FIRST stage in the market lifecycle. It’s the last-first stage, and it’s pivotal.

And it goes awry when it’s handled as an abrupt handoff from engineering to marketing—a handoff that comes with a drop in intensity and intention, as though all the real work has been done, and all marketing has to do is communicate it.

There has been no coordination, no alignment, no shared knowledge or lockstep progress from early on. So that handoff is not a smooth passing of the baton. There’s a loss of momentum, and lack of direction and focus.

The alternative? Marketing and product development work hand-in-hand to develop products conceived from the beginning to fill real needs in the market, delivering optimal opportunity for success.

Ready to get your team’s working in lockstep? We’d love to help.

We’re wrapping our three-part Launch Fizzles series (if you haven’t seen Part 1 and Part 2 yet, here they are) with another frequent non-flyer: The Krahmflop.

Here’s how it sounds:

 

Funny word, but not funny when it happens.What’s sad about a Krahmflop is that the thing being launched is the subject of so much internal love, excitement, and buzz. It’s your precious child. But then it goes out into the world and it’s like a kid who can’t get a seat at the popular table.

Nobody cares.

After all kinds of buildup and fanfare, it turns out that the marketplace is massively indifferent. It’s Gatsby during his early years.

When a Krahmflop happens, it can usually be chalked up to poor aim. Aim, as in targeting the powerful, emotional needs and wants of a particular audience. Maybe it wasn’t crystal clear who the real audience was. Maybe nobody bothered to do the homework and learn what really drives those people.

Maybe it was a “build it and they will come” mentality.

On the other hand there’s that old chestnut: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Henry Ford may or may not have said it, but no matter. The point is, there’s something to be said for innovation guided by vision and conviction, rather than a narrow response to customer feedback.

Even so, losing sight of the customer in the product definition and design process, and letting a fixation on innovation obstruct your focus on them is risky.

If your company gets all excited about new and not needs, there may be a Krahmflop in your future. But don’t worry, the would-be flop can be flipped. We’ll help you fly.

Do you remember the Thingywhatchacallit? Of course not. Because that launch was a shining example of our second commonly-experienced launching fizzle, The MeetooOOZE.

Last time we examined the notorious BabupPLURFT and — sputter, clunk — what can happen when efforts are misaligned. If you missed it, you can check it out here.

A MeetooOOZE launch is just what it looks like: “Me too” with a big ol’ “ooze” at the end. It’s an offering that’s perceived as lacking in noteworthiness or distinguishing appeal. A Me-Too. An also-ran. A product or service quickly blended in with the crowd. Lost in the noise. A non-factor.

Here’s what it sounds like in a business:

 

Perceived is the keyword here. That’s because your offering may or may not be significantly different. What turns the launch into a MeetooOOZE is poor communication.

It very well may be (we hope) that your offering is quite different in a meaningful way, addressing a real market need. When that uniqueness is not conveyed in a compelling way or translated accurately, it can get lost in the sea of sameness.

On the other hand, you may have intentionally developed a me-too product. That’s good strategy; go forth and steal share. But by all means, don’t ooze that puppy into the market with me-too creative or diminished strategic efforts. Tell your story in a unique way and with conviction or you end up in the same place — nowhere meaningful in the mind. A MeetooOOZE.

Communication is integral to differentiation and success. In fact, HOW you communicate is often more important than what you’re communicating. Especially today.

If you’re concerned your launch may be on a MetooOOZE path, we’re happy to talk further. If not, or in the meantime, make sure to check back for the final installment of our Launch Fizzles series: the dreaded KraAHMflop.

Ah yes, the BabupPLURFT. Say it with us: Ba-bup-plurft. It’s the sound of a launch gone wrong. A classic, in fact.

When you’ve seen as many launches as we have at Introworks, you begin to notice distinct patterns in the ones that go awry. In fact, some of those patterns turn out to be so pervasive, we’ve given them names. And sounds. And trajectories.

While you likely have never seen the word, chances are you’ve witnessed a BabupPLURFT.

Here’s what it looks like:

And what it sounds like in a business:

 

A BabupPLURFT launch behaves pretty much like it sounds. It goes in fits and starts. It jerks, sputters and splats. It’s a launch where lack of alignment between teams leads to loss of momentum. And then: FIZZLE. PLOP.

When should you suspect a BabupPLURFT is underway? Look for a pattern of missteps, disconnects, rework and lack of forward motion.

A BabupPLURFT is largely caused by a lack of teamwork, often originating with a misalignment between engineering and marketing. In the B2B world, this commonly happens because there’s an outdated perception that the job of marketing is simply to communicate to the outside world about the products engineering creates. In this scenario, there’s typically a handoff from product development to marketing. It happens too close to launch. People aren’t on the same page. Confusion ensues. And things can unravel real fast. Obviously, not what you’re after.

What does the non-BabupPLURFT scenario look like? Cross-disciplinary teams—R&D, Sales, Marketing, etc.– collaborating earlier in product development. Then moving together through a synced process to get internal buy-in at every milestone. Now that’s a sequence that leads to successful launch.

Alignment creates momentum, which powers successful trajectory at launch.

Wondering if you’re in danger of the dreaded BabupPLURFT? Let’s connect and find out.

Uh-oh. What was that noise? Sounded like a Krahmpflopt or maybe it was a Me-too-ooze — a few of the other classic fizzles you’d rather avoid. Don’t fret, we’ll be giving you the skinny on those sounds in upcoming posts.

A product comes to life inside the organization long before it’s launched in the marketplace. During that incubation period, the product will take on an identity and build momentum all its own. 

But here’s the thing: If that momentum isn’t pushing in the right direction, it can be hard to reverse. And that could drag down your whole launch before it ever has a chance to soar.

“We’re set to unleash the Zephyr II—I mean the Hurricane in August” announces Sara the sales manager. For some reason, new products and services commonly get post-apocalyptic sci-fi names, with animal species a close second.

But names aren’t all that’s taking shape, particularly in highly regulated industries with longer product development processes. Perceptions are formed. Messages are adopted. The way the team has come to think about the new offering becomes ingrained, for better or worse. Mostly worse. 

Meanwhile market-tested identity, positioning, messaging and branding gets developed much later—often right before launch. Too late. 

Sales people and others in the organization have already internalized a different story. And that’s the one they’re sharing. Now the waters are muddied and everybody is confused, including customers.

In short, it’s an internal mis-launch. You don’t want that. So get your marketing ducks in a row as soon as possible, with a dedicated go-to-market team in place early on. Have deliberately thought-through branding and positioning built into the product development process. That keeps everyone on the same page and paddling in the same direction when it’s go-time.    

Looking to get an early start on defining your messaging? We’d love to help.

You round up the kiddos and strap some luggage to the top of the family travel vehicle, ready for the annual summer road trip. Dad, dressed in his signature khaki shorts and sandals with knee socks says, “We’re heading to Wisconsin! Wisconsin Dells here we come!”

Woot-woot! Off to Point B: Wisconsin. Easy enough. 

Now, compare that to the mid-trip question from kiddo #2, “Where are we going?” to which Dad replies, “Who knows?”  

There’s something to be said for a spontaneous summer adventure with the family, but that should not be the case with launching. Unfortunately, something as vital as aligning your destination is commonly uncommon among launch projects. How uncommon? A recent Boston Consulting study found:You round up the kiddos and strap some luggage to the top of the family travel vehicle, ready for the annual summer road trip. Dad, dressed in his signature khaki shorts and sandals with knee socks says, “We’re heading to Wisconsin! Wisconsin Dells here we come!”

Woot-woot! Off to Point B: Wisconsin. Easy enough. 

Now, compare that to the mid-trip question from kiddo #2, “Where are we going?” to which Dad replies, “Who knows?”  

There’s something to be said for a spontaneous summer adventure with the family, but that should not be the case with launching. Unfortunately, something as vital as aligning your destination is commonly uncommon among launch projects. How uncommon? A recent Boston Consulting study found:

29% defined success during launch
13% after launch was over
6% never defined success at all

That means nearly half of all launches had no plan for defining success. Very convenient. But, when you hear that, it’s easy to understand why nearly 90% of launches fail.

That’s why it’s so crucial to define and align on your success—your Point B—as you build your initial plans. 

And there’s no standard, set definition for a Point B. It should be a combination of hard and soft metrics. Things like brand satisfaction, optimized sales cycles, site visits, product downloads, lead conversion rates—anything that represents momentum—works well. 

The key with a Point B isn’t just what. It’s when. And when is as early on as possible.

Looking for help defining your Point B? We should talk.

In product launch, a genuinely new and different or complex product can be tough to market, because your audience just doesn’t get it. They don’t know what it is, let alone why they want it. They need a point of reference anchored in commonly understood ideas, a practice we call creating a Standard of Identity (SOI).

Let’s use a couple examples from ancient history. Remember the Newton? 

Not the cookie. Think handheld device from the early 90s, named for the guy who “discovered” gravity. 

This turned out to be a fitting name choice, seeing that the Newton’s fortunes dropped like an apple from a tree. 

The Newton’s obituary has been written before. The stylus! The Steve Jobs situation! The Doonesbury cartoons!

But it didn’t help that the Newton claimed to be so many new and revolutionary things that it bewildered people. And bewildered people don’t buy.

Meanwhile, Palm Pilot took a different route. They positioned themselves as a calendar, with handwriting recognition and other techy stuff. People understand calendars. Palm Pilot anchored customers on the calendar idea, and allowed them to discover other features later. That Standard of Identity helped them win the PDA market.

A SOI places your offering in the right spot in the mind, by relating it to something familiar. It’s like describing a zebra to people who’ve never seen one. “A zebra? Dude, it’s a horse with stripes.” 

How would you describe your novel, or inherently complex product in just a few words that connect it to something your audience knows? Do that, and you’ve got your SOI. You’ve got a conversational shortcut to adoption. You’ve got a horse with stripes.

In our last blog, we talked about Avoiding the Vanilla Umbrella—messaging so generic and blah it could apply to everyone, without really saying anything, or exciting anyone.

In this installment, we’re back with another strategy you can put to work: Keeping Your Core Tight.

So let’s take a step back. In order to avoid the vanilla umbrella, you developed core messaging that is both monolithic and distinctive. Now you need to articulate that messaging in a way that connects with your audience quickly and powerfully.

Simple, right? Nah, obviously not. It’s an art form. Which is why the most iconic lines in advertising have stood the test of time:

Just Do It. Got Milk? Think Small.

You know them, and you get the point. Simple. Quick. Tight.

Now, you may think that’s fine for a sneaker or beverage or car, but that it can’t apply to super-complex, business-to-business, tech-centered brands, product and services marketed to logic-minded audiences. Well check these out:

IBM’s “Think” and “Every second counts”

Shopify’s “Let’s make you a business”

Slack’s “Where Work Happens”

Tight, right?

These lines, from some or the largest B2B brands in the world, distill core messaging down to something so simple, intuitive and flab-free, it’s immediately understood by all.

Looking for some help tightening up your core messaging? We’re here for you.

In an earlier blog, we talked about the importance of being emotional. Once you get on an emotional footing, you’re up for the next task: Keeping it simple.

But here’s the rub: That’s hardly simple to do.

Keeping it simple allows you to own a place in the mind that is as singular as possible. And, of course, you need this singular belief to register and connect with your audience.

We simplify communications in two primary ways: Avoiding the Vanilla Umbrella and Keeping Your Core Tight.

Let’s dive into the first now.

Avoiding the Vanilla Umbrella is about creating monolithic messaging that is compelling across all audiences, starting from the top down, rather than bottom up.

Often brands begin the strategic messaging process with customer profiles or personas. No problem there. The issue is the tendency to generate messaging for each persona based on wants, needs and motivations, then look for commonalities to meld into an overarching “umbrella” message—a bottom-up approach.

Sounds reasonable, right? But the result is typically a lowest-common denominator vanilla. It’s tough to find compelling commonality when you begin, tangled in the weeds, at the bottom.

Instead, try this: Begin with and focus on your core audience (you have one) and base your positioning on their needs. Laddering up (elevating) to emotional needs is especially important here. Then take a top-down approach, looking for ways to leverage and unify the positioning among individual audiences.

Let’s say that positioning is about Freedom. Think about the ways you are delivering freedom to audience A, B, and C. This enables a more singular, monolithic outcome. Yes, most of your audiences have different motivations. That’s okay. Those specific features and benefits become important key messages to those audiences that support the positioning.

Simple! OK, maybe not. It’s hard work to get the singularity you want and an umbrella that’s not so…vanilla.

And check back for more on our second tip to keep it simple: Keeping your Core Tight.

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