Before Your New Product Launch, Solicit Criticism

Too often, new products are created without adequate feedback and buy-in from prospective customers. That's the gist of the popular book "The Four Steps to the Epiphany" -- which advocates / roadmaps a much richer interaction between vendors and customers during the entire product development cycle.

Similarly, I've seen (from a PR standpoint) too many vendors get critical input on their new product messaging after it's too late (i.e., after it's already been announced). Leading up to a new product announcement, most vendors keep the new product news very close to the vest (typically for competitive reasons). And often -- by having the blinders on, and by having been seduced by their own marketing messages -- vendors fail to anticipate criticisms (some obvious) that could have been better prepared for.

Well before your new product launches, your PR / marketing folks should be actively seeking criticism. Most vendors do have critical feedback at their disposal, but in the general anxiety / hustle-and-bustle of getting a new product out the door, fail to pursue accordingly:

  • Analyst Briefings - Good industry analysts ask tough questions about your product (in relation to the competition). The *really* good industry analysts (i.e., the ones you want to have relationships with) think like your target customers and raise the same objections that your customers will raise when your sales folks engage them with the new product. Before new product launches, most vendors realize that they need to brief their industry analysts. But too many vendors view the briefing itself as a proving ground, rather than an opportunity for feedback. Too many rush into the briefing with so much bravado and chest-thumping about the superiority of their product that they are deaf to the criticisms or constructive feedback coming from the other side. The companies that have perfected new product PR, on the other hand, make very close note of the criticisms, and integrate the proper responses / proof points to counter them by the time the actual announcement phase rolls around.
  • The Product Development Team - When a vendor initially begins the development of a new product, there is a certain value proposition in mind for the target customer. Then through the engineering cycles / creative process, the product often takes on a new form or functionality that wasn't originally anticipated. How many vendor marketing teams out there are nimble enough to recognize (and take advantage of) the significance of the new directions / features / etc.? My experience has been that often marketing teams stay the course on the original vision for the new product, without really soliciting feedback from the folks that actually created it. The companies that do the best job of publicizing their new products are those that regularly touch base with the development team -- and ensure that the marketing / PR around the new product is consistent with what the product really *is*. Often the most prescient insights about how the market is likely to receive a new product come from the engineering team. Unfortunately, many marketing teams fail to solicit their feedback.
  • Customers - What better way to arm your sales folks than to anticipate the sales objections and neutralize them before they are even raised? For many vendors, however, the first encounter that the target customers have with the new product happens at the time it's publicly announced. The companies that have the most successful new product launches are those that spend a considerable amount of time with their existing customers -- often leveraging beta users, etc. They identify the features and functionality that the customers value most (so they can really emphasize them at the time of the official "announcement"). They spot repeatable patterns and "sweet spots" that help them more precisely hone their messages. The companies that are bad at new product announcements -- on the other hand -- just lob vaporous marketing messaging at their customers and hope it will stick.