If You Build It, Will They Come? How to Plan a Business Launch

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“If you build it, they will come” makes for a great movie catch phrase, but it’s horrible business advice. Something more close to the truth would be, “If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one to hear it, does it make a sound?” No matter how innovative, game changing, well priced or flashy your new business (or product or service for an existing business) is, if no one hears about it, you’re sunk before you’ve started.

A launch plan is often overlooked, especially in today’s digital age where business owners love to believe that word of mouth, referrals and “going viral” will be their main avenues of driving awareness. If this were true, companies far larger (such as Apple, Microsoft and Google) wouldn’t be spending money on advertising at all; they would be able to rely on their name and brand reputation alone to drive all of their sales. Instead, what you find with these companies are hyped up launch events that make people want their new product, followed by persistent and engaging marketing campaigns that run before the product has even hit the shelf. These companies are proof that having a solid launch plan in place can make or break the viability of a new business, product or service.

So what goes into a launch plan? Do they all include gala events, press conferences, and presentations at the largest business conferences on the planet? For the big guys the answer is yes, because their demographics are world wide. But for those playing on the local, regional, or national level, a successful launch plan all comes down to knowing your demographics, defining your message, communicating through the appropriate channels, and, most importantly, following through.

When planning for a launch of any kind, there are at least three target demographics that you need to consider. The first, and most obvious, are your potential customers. You should be able to define their gender, age range, income level, communication preferences, and any other personal information that may play a role in their decision to purchase from you. For example, if you are an auto repair shop who is adding detailing to your list of services, your potential customers should own at least one car.

Know Your Demographics

The second demographic are your current customers. Even if you’re launching a new business chances are you’ve offered your product or service to someone in the past. What do your customers look like? Again, think in terms of gender, age, income level, communication preferences, and any other factors that may relate to your specific industry. Make sure to consider how your current customer demographic compares to your potential customer demographic that you just defined. If there are major differences between the two, spend time to honestly evaluate why who you think you are going to be selling to is different from who you are currently selling to. If you can’t easily explain why your two demographics are different, you may want to re-evaluate how you’ve defined either or both of those demographics.

The third demographic to be considered is the press. Ideally, you should select two to four publications (print, television or radio) that reach a demographic that closely matches your potential customer demographic. Identify reporters, writers, bloggers, or radio personalities that might be interested in what your launching, and keep them in mind as you work on the next stage, defining your messaging.

Why should people care about what you’re launching? If you can’t easily answer that for yourself there’s no way you’re going to be able to accurately convey it to each of your target demographics. As part of your launch plan you need to define exactly what your business, product, or service is, and why people should care.

Define Your Messaging

To start this process, evaluate your competitors and their messaging. What values are they selling their business on? Are they selling on price, customer service, something else? What objections are they facing (Facebook, Twitter and Yelp are great spaces for this research), and how are they overcoming those objections? Will you face similar objections, and how do you plan to respond?

Be realistic about how you fit into the marketplace. For example, accounting firms often compete against dozens if not hundreds of other firms. Instead of positioning yourself on the same topics as everyone else (such as your corporate tax return services or financial planning work) try to find a niche where your marketing voice can be heard. This might be a focus on your non-profit experience, a flat monthly rate option you provide, that your clients can reach you directly and don’t have to go through an automated phone system, or even that you have lived in your community for many years and have a unique dedication to local clients.

Your messaging can (and should) be slightly different for each of your demographics, but they should all ultimately tie back to a larger story. Messaging to one demographic should be supported by, not undermined by, your messaging to another demographic.

One of the most overlooked areas of messaging is the communications you share internally. If you have coworkers or employees, make sure everyone is on the same page about how to present your business, new product or service. Everyone should be clear on the ‘how’ and ‘why’ behind your messaging so that everyone is building on the same message (instead of creating their own!).
The next step for launch planning is to determine how you are going to convey your messaging to your specific demographics. Through your work on your buyer personas you should already know what media platforms your target demographics interact with the most. This could be newspaper or magazine print ads, television ads (make sure you know whether this is on local, cable or satellite, terrestrial radio, streaming radio, online videos, social media, etc. When it comes to communication, it’s all about your demographics and where they want to communicate with you, not whereyou want to interact.

Communicating Via the Appropriate Channels

As you lead up to your launch, build anticipation about what is to come by sharing information without giving away the whole idea. Use people’s natural curiosity to help drive further interaction or create brand followers. One way to do this is by sharing pieces of information that your potential customers would be interested in. If you are opening a new cupcake shop, you could share zoomed in photos of your baked goods and having people guess what they are looking at, or hype up the different types of daily specials you are going to offer. On the flip side, you want to avoid frustrating followers by dragging the anticipation out too long, sharing information that doesn’t seem to make sense in the context of what they already know, or not sharing information on a regular schedule.

During this ramp up phase you should place a high priority on collecting contact information from the people who show interest in what you are launching. Make it easy for them to hear more from you by collecting their contact information and sending out regular updates, or asking them to like your Facebook page in return for seeing launch related posts. Another avenue for building anticipation is leveraging groups of your target demographics that already exist. Think online bloggers, product reviewers, community groups or businesses. Work with these established groups to help get your message in front of a group of your target demographics that you may not have had access to prior.

When it comes time for your reveal, go big or go home. You will not have a better opportunity to announce your new business, product or service than you will when you launch it for the first time. If you aren’t willing or able to invest a significant amount of time or budget into the launch, you may want to consider postponing until you are able to capitalize on the opportunities that a launch provides you. Although budget and time investments look completely different for every launch, you should be able to determine a rough expectation as you move through the planning stages as discussed above.

Congratulations! You’ve seen your launch all the way through, and have had some great success! So what now? A business, product or service launch is not a long term sales leader; it’s a top of mind effort to get people thinking about you. Make sure you have marketing campaigns in place that focus on turning this top of mind interest into sales down the road. Make sure your marketing collateral (such as your website, business cards, brochures, etc) are on point for your demographics and messaging. Make sure you give people a reason to come back, such as releasing updates, news, adding features, etc. Lastly, make sure you review the data that you collect about your campaigns, and don’t be afraid to adjust your approach or introduce a new approach based on your results.

Following Through

A new business, product or service launch should be considered as one piece of your overall marketing strategy. A successful launch can give your business a leg up, but your long term success is ultimately tied to how well you can capitalize on the opportunities that a successful launch can provide. If you’d like help putting together a launch plan for your own business, we’ve successfully brought a number of new businesses and products into the marketplace. We’d love you to be our next success story!

Photo courtesy of flickr user Rosmarie Voegtli.