Jory MacKay
Jory is a writer, content strategist and award-winning editor of the Unsplash Book. He contributes to Inc., Fast Company, Quartz, and more.
March 21, 2018 · 19 min read

The product launch playbook: 25 tips and strategies for a flawless launch

25 tips and strategies for a flawless launch

It’s every project owner’s greatest fear. You spent months grueling to build a product you think your customers will love. Your dreams are filled with TechCrunch features and top spots on Product Hunt. The big day arrives. You flip the switch, and…

… Crickets.

To avoid this scenario for your next product launch, we'll give you a step-by-step playbook for successful product launches. Here is what it looks like:

Let's dive in:

According to the Marketing Research Association, only 40% of developed products ever make it to market. And of those 40%, only 60% will generate any revenue at all.

Unfortunately, too many people have a “build it and they will come” mentality to their product launch. They’re blinded by the work they’ve put in and assume because they think their product kicks so much ass, other people (and customers) naturally will think so, too.

But there’s too much at stake to be complacent. If you’ve put your blood, sweat, and tears into making a product you believe in, why stop now where you’re at 98%?

Product launches are a lot of work. But they don’t have to be hard.

In fact, a successful product launch comes down to just two factors: Getting the right product in from of the right people.

Sounds simple. But it’s far from it. In this guide, we’re going to cover everything you need to do to ensure a successful product launch, from validating that you’ve built the right product, to marketing strategies for getting it in front of the right people.

A successful product launch is full of moving parts and requires your whole team to be on the same page. Use a tool like Planio to track your progress and guide your team from pre-launch to the after party.

Pre-launch: Deciding what to launch and how you’ll get there

If you think this guide is going to be all about how you’re going to promote your product, I’ve got news for you: Your product launch starts way before launch day.

The only way you can ensure your launch is a success is by knowing for certain the product you’re making is valuable to the people you want to buy it. Not only that, but you need to let them know about it, get them interested and invested, and do everything you can to make it a no-brainer decision for them to buy when you do finally launch. Here’s where to start:

1. Dig into your data to discover what people want (or where you’re missing the mark)

No matter how splashy or well-covered your launch is, success ultimately comes down to providing value to your customers. So, the first step in your product launch strategy is making absolutely sure that people want what you’re selling.

Start with your own business data. What metrics can you look at to see where people are coming to you and why?

Do you offer multiple products with one being the clear hero?

Do people bounce from a certain page on your site (meaning what you’re selling doesn’t match their expectations?)

Have you seen a drop in usage or sales while your competitors are killing it?

Look for patterns in the data to uncover where you can create value for your users. However, remember that this is only a starting point. Being too data-driven can stifle creativity, but just the right amount is a powerful tool.

2. Talk to your customers

Your best insights will come from actual users. Unfortunately, so many businesses skip this part or think that data tells the whole story. But talking to customers has a number of additional benefits:

  1. You get to know them, their specific needs, and why they chose you in the first place (which you’ll use for writing customer personas)
  2. You get candid answers about the features they use (which can help validate your product and give insights on new features)
  3. You get to hear how they talk and the language they use (which is gold for your marketing pages)

Customers are rich sources of insights. But you have to let them speak their mind. I know you’re excited about what you’re building and want to tell them about it, but let them speak freely and uninfluenced before you chime in. Open-ended questions will bring you unexpected answers.

But just like with your data, you need to use this information as a source of inspiration, not a guidebook. As Steve Jobs famously said:

It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

3. Research the market and turn your ideas into strategy

The last place to look and get insights for your product is from the market itself. What’s currently out there? Who are your users going to be judging your product against?

One place to start is with a list of your competitors and a SWOT analysis (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat). Or, you can simply look at your product and ask “what makes it different?”

Remember, you can’t just say your product is better. You need to be able to give specifics.

What are people going to talk about during your launch? If you put your product and a competitor’s side by side, what would make someone choose yours?

These key differentiators are the backbone of your product launch strategy. Which is why it’s so important to identify them early on.

4. Go public early on to validate your ideas

With all the information you’ve gathered, it’s time to actually test whether you’re on the right path.

This all comes down to the process of validation—testing your product on a group of real users.

Sure, you might think you want to keep some mystery and suspense around your product. But not testing your ideas with real users is like trying to shoot a target with a blindfold on. No matter how good of a shot you are, you’ll have a better chance of hitting the target if you can see where you’re aiming.

When Sir James Dyson set out to design the world’s best-selling vacuum, it took him 5,126 prototypes before he found one that people wanted.

Create an early feedback group of trusted friends, power users, and even some new users and get your product out in front of them early on. Are they using it as you intended? Are they seeing real value from it?

All this research ensures you’ve nailed the what of your product launch before you start trying to sell something people don’t want.

5. Start building your community and audience

Yes, there are billions of people online every day. Yes, there are probably tons of people who would want to buy your product. But if they don’t know about it? Or the first they’re hearing about it is on your launch day? You’re most likely going to flop.

Instead, you should be building an audience around your product and your brand well before your launch date.

Just look at the example of Ryan Hoover, founder of ProductHunt, who says his company wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t got his own audience-building efforts:

ProductHunt wouldn’t exist if I wasn’t writing prior [to the launch] and building this audience of people who love tech.

Ryan chose to write about the space his product was going to be in as it’s one of the lowest effort ways to connect with likeminded people. However, he says you can’t just write about your product (this isn’t a press release). You need to write about the problem you’re solving. The issues you are personally facing that drove you to look for a solution.

Where you write is important as well. For posts like these, choose a public forum with an already built audience like Medium or answering questions on Reddit, Quora, or niche Facebook groups.

If you’re launching a consumer product, or something more visual, another option is to build a following on Instagram or Pinterest. This will show your potential customers that you’re in their niche and you understand their specific needs. As Hoover explains:

“If you start doing things that you’re passionate about, you’ll find and attract people who are just as passionate. They will not only be your first people to talk to for feedback, but they’ll be your first users and your first customers.”

6. Define your ideal customer (just one per product!)

The ideal customer

You probably already know who your product is made for. But when it comes to a successful launch, you need to become hyper focused on who that person really is. Rather than simply looking at a wide demographic—like saying your product is for 18–35-year olds—your product launch will be so much more impactful with a clear audience in mind. Because, as Matt Certo, CEO of digital marketing agency Findsome & Winmore says:

Brands die in the middle, trying to appeal to everyone.

Instead, Certo explains that you need to know who your best customers are (and learn everything you can about them.)

“Profile them. Sketch them. What do they like about your services or product? How are they using your product in their daily lives? How do you, as a business, improve that person’s day to day life?”

One great example is Lululemon. The activewear brand narrowed their entire audience down to two specific personas: Ocean and Duke. Each persona has specific characteristics like age, annual income, interests, and even relationship status.

For your own product launch, going into the same level of detail on your ideal customer persona will help you solidify your launch strategy, product development, and marketing.

If you’re launching a consumer product like Lululemon, ask similar questions:

If you’re selling a B2B product, you’ll want to focus more on their business and the issues they face. Asking questions like the size of their company, buying cycle, pain points, and more is a good place to start (Or, check out this ideal customer template for more in-depth questions).

7. Take a page from Steve Jobs and craft a compelling narrative

You know who your customers are. You know what they want and that your product fills that need. Now, you just need to be able to tell them exactly why you’re the horse they should bet on.

In other words, it’s time to shift from the what to the why of your product launch.

And if you’re looking for inspiration, no one did why better than the late Apple founder, Steve Jobs.

Jobs was a master storyteller when it came to product launches. But where he excelled wasn’t in just telling the story of the product itself, but of the people using it. Jobs’ stories made you feel like you had to have their latest product, which is why Apple users are such a devout group.

When you’re crafting your own product launch narrative, you need to remember to focus on the people, not the product. Humans remember and connect with emotions more than facts. And if you simply focus on improved speed or design or some other feature, it’s easier to be ignored.

Instead, craft your narrative on what those features enable your ideal customer to do.

A common template used by everyone from Jobs to Hollywood screenwriters is to follow the 3-act structure: Setup, Confrontation, Resolution.

Your setup shows the customer where they are now. It paints them as the hero. In the confrontation, they hit a problem. This is the pain point you understand and that your product is solving. In the resolution, the hero has conquered their problems (with your product) and the world is a better place for it.

In other words, before we put hard-earned money down on a product we want to know that you understand us, our problems, and have a solution that works. Nail all three in your narrative and you can use it as the basis for so much of your product launch copy.

8. Write a mock press release using the Amazon formula and create a list of target publications and journalists

Press coverage can blow up your product launch and be a huge multiplier for its success. The problem is that a lot of marketers think journalists are going to care about their redesign or updated product. (Spoiler alert: they don’t.)

Just like your customers, journalists care about a story. You need to show them that your product has the potential to get people excited and reading. At Amazon, they believe so much in the power of writing a strong press release that every product needs one before it’s even built!

As Amazon GM Ian McAllister explains:

If the press release is hard to write, then the product is probably going to suck.

Here’s Amazon’s template, which is a great place to start:

With your press release template in hand, create a spreadsheet with target publications and blogs you want to reach out to. Research each one and find relevant reporters or editors who are more likely to write about you. Make note of any similar products they’ve covered or common angles they take. You’ll use this information to tailor each press outreach message to the individual writer.

9. Shortlist and reach out to press, partners, and affiliates

We already spoke about creating your press release and a spreadsheet for who to target at each publication. But who else can help you with your product launch?

Who are your partners or complementary companies you can connect with? What about influencers in the space who will talk about you or review your product? Lastly, are you going to be running an affiliate program and can you connect with relevant bloggers or partners to help sell your product?

Use another page of your press spreadsheet to highlight each of these opportunities and shortlist who you want to target, why they’re a good option, and their audience size/value to you.

10. Write and design your marketing page

Your marketing page is where you’ll send all your customers on the day of your launch. You can think of it as third base for your product launch. You’ll do a lot of work just to get customers there, but once they are, you have the best chance of bringing them home.

This means there’s a lot of pressure to make it visually compelling, have strong copy, and be easy to use.

We wrote a full guide about how to run a website project, however, at this stage you’ll want to make sure you’re putting together the key elements:

When you’re writing the copy for this page, you want to use everything you’ve learned from crafting your narrative, talking to customers, and digging into your own data. Share your messaging with everyone and see how it resonates. Talk to your early feedback group and use their language to home in on how exactly you’re going to make your product the most compelling.

This in itself is a process, and one that you should be constantly updating on your way towards launch day.

11. Outline your customer journey and start gathering creative assets

Most marketing studies agree that you need 6–8 “touchpoints” with a customer before you’re likely to get a sale. In other words, customers need to see you, hear from you, and read about you multiple times before they say yes.

During a product launch, you’re going to be dealing with customers who both know you and who don’t. And the more “touches” you can get in before the launch, the higher your chance of success.

One of the best techniques for getting these touches in is to map out your customer’s journey from never hearing about you to being a paying customer. And then create assets for each step. To do this, ask questions like:

From there, you can start to map out the creative content you’ll need to make sure they find you at every step of the way. This could mean:

Make a massive list of all the places your potential customers might find you or hear about you and start outlining what you can do to get in front of them.

12. Take a cue from crowdfunding and use pre-orders to build hype

Selling your product before it’s even available lets early adopters get in. It also let’s you build a community around your product, test marketing messaging, and validate your pricing strategy. Even better, it can create a sense of scarcity if you give limited discounts to people who buy early.

However, if you are considering doing some sort of pre-sales, remember that it will need attention and work. If you’re building a community, you’ll have to be engaged with them. If you’re offering discounts or special offers, you can’t drop the ball on them.

And if you’re being public about your “limited supply” of products to build hype, you better work hard to make them sell. There’s nothing more depressing than a crowdfunding campaign with $0 pledged, and the same goes for your pre-sales page.

13. Set ambitious, “if-everything-goes-perfect” goals

The perfect Goal

To have a successful product launch, you need to have a clear vision of what success looks like.

Be realistic, but don’t be afraid to shoot high. These goals should be something your entire team can rally around and work towards. Think of them as your “if-everything-goes-perfect” goals. If your entire plan goes off without a hitch, what would you expect to happen?

This is a product launch and the goal should be on hitting a clear target of sales, sign-ups, or subscriptions. So don’t just get caught in vanity metrics like social shares and traffic.

14. Put everything together in a launch day strategy (and use your project management tool to track it all)

If it isn’t already clear, there’s a ton of moving parts to your product launch strategy. And keeping it all together and moving smoothly is a huge task.

This is where your project management skills are going to come in handy. Launching is a team sport. And having a reliable and well thought out launch plan and schedule will help you organize everything that needs to be done across the varied teams that are working on it.

Not only that, but are all the potential paths of product launch promotion in play? Are you working with an outside PR or marketing firm? Do they have all the assets and support they need to successfully support your launch?

A good product launch doc is more than just to-do lists. It considers all the tasks, their timeframe, and their dependencies. Dependencies are especially important as you’re coordinating cross-functional teams who might not be used to working together.

Talk to all of the teams involved and let them help create a schedule and milestones that make sense. If they build the schedule, it’ll be more realistic, and they’ll be more likely to live by it.

A project management tool like Planio helps you keep all of the moving pieces of your product launch in order by letting you see all your tasks in one place, assigning deadlines, priorities, and role-based workflows.

The end goal is a strategy doc that covers everything needed to get this product out the door, and lets everyone involved in the project know:

Detailed, early-stage planning like this lets you see how everything will work together and gives you time to see if you’ve missed anything big.

And while it might seem like a lot of work (it is), a successful product launch follows the same formula as Thomas Edison’s definition of genius: 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

Launch Day: Your formula for getting the most out of your big day

What you do on launch day and how successful you are will largely depend on how well you stick to the first part of this guide. But that doesn’t mean you get to go on autopilot once you’ve pushed your site live.

Launch day (and the week around it), is all about executing on your strategy plan. Everyone should know what they need to do, have the assets they need, and be able to work like a well-oiled machine getting your product out there and in front of the right people.

15. Post your launch announcement on the right platforms

With your ideal customer profile, you should have figured out where the right people for your product launch hang out. Now’s the time to jump in there and let them know the big day has come.

A lot of these announcements can be pre-written or follow the narrative you developed during the pre-launch phase. But remember to tailor them to the platform you’re on. Copy/paste doesn’t work when you’re trying to differentiate yourself. And if you’ve put in the work to be heard by the right people, being spammy can sinky your launch and even kill your brand.

One big mistake a lot of product makers fall into is thinking they have to be everywhere with their launch. This can pull your attention in too many places, and waste time by talking to the wrong audience.

Instead, pick one platform for your anchor announcement. This is where you know your audience is and where you’re going to put the most effort in driving people to.

For example, a lot of tech companies choose Product Hunt as it already has a massive built-in audience of people looking for the latest tech releases. Use this as your main announcement and use social, posts, email, and paid ads to get people there and drive awareness of your launch.

16. Host a webinar, AMA, or other event to get people involved

Getting customers involved in your launch is one of the quickest ways to amplify your reach. And while you’re probably not throwing a Steve Jobs-era product launch party, creating that same sense of excitement and personal connection around your launch is important.

Host a webinar where you run current and prospective clients through the product. Or host an AMA (ask me anything) on a relevant platform where you can engage directly with your users. These sorts of events are low cost and drive organic shares and word of mouth by helping your customers feel like they’re a part of something bigger.

17. Reach out to influencers, mentors, and contacts to amplify your reach

You can “seed” your product launch engagement by reaching out to anyone in your personal network and letting them know that you’ve gone live.

While it might seem a little awkward emailing mom about your new product, the more people you can reach out to personally, the better chance you have of amplifying your reach.

Before your launch day, make a list of everyone you can think of who would be even slightly interested in your product (or in your success). Family, friends, colleagues, mentors, teachers, etc…

On the day, send each of them a personal note explaining what you’re launching, why you’re excited about it, and thanking them for anything they can do to help spread the word.

18. Follow up with journalists, bloggers, and other press you sent pre-launch materials

Go back to your pre-launch marketing spreadsheet and see what press and influencers you contacted before the launch and send them a note saying you’re live with a link to your marketing page and any other assets (videos, testimonials, demos, etc…).

It’s also a great idea to add in social proof or metrics to these messages. Timeliness (the answer to “why now?”) is a requirement for most press coverage. So if you can show you’re building excitement and gaining users, it can help your cause.

A good rule of thumb here is to give priority to people who responded to you or maybe ran a pre-launch story on your product. Building relationships with press takes time, and if someone gives you coverage you should try to reciprocate by reaching out to them first.

19. Share your launch with current users and ask them to spread the word in emails and on key pages

If you have current users, not only should you tell them about your new product, but you should also ask them to help spread the word. If you’ve been providing them value already, they most likely won’t have a problem doing this.

One powerful strategy is to ask for shares on follow-up emails or key pages. When you send an email to your users on launch day, give them a pre-written tweet they can one-click share. Or, when people sign up for your service, send them to a confirmation page with another opportunity to share the news to their social networks.

20. Use milestones to reach out to current users (but don’t overload them)

You can also take advantage of major milestones during your launch to reach out to existing users and influencers. Did you get coverage in a major publication? Did you hit your funding goal in a matter of hours? Did Elon Musk tweet about how you’re his new favorite product?

You don’t want to overload your user base, but a personalized message sharing a big achievement like this is a great way to boost shares.

21. Work with your sales team to convert leads

Launch day isn’t just about marketing. If your product launch is sending traffic and leads to your sales team, you’ll want to make sure they have all the support they need to close deals.

When you’re in the thick of your launch, it can be easy to forget about all the other people involved in your success. But as we said before, launching is a team sport. These people are integral to your success. So don’t forget about them.

Post-launch: Putting the finishing touches on your launch

We’re almost there!

With most of the heavy lifting done, there are just a few things you need to do to keep the momentum going and squeeze the last bits of success out of this monumental effort.

22. Compare your success metrics to real data and make adjustments

With launch day behind you, the first big question is: How did you do?

Look back at your “if everything goes perfect” goals in your project management software and see how your actual results stacked up.

Did you hit the number of sales/sign ups/subscribers you were aiming for? If not, can you figure out why? This will all come down to your personal goals, but some key metrics to check out include:

This is powerful information for not only adjusting your marketing campaigns as you keep pushing your new product, but helping you plan your next launch.

23. Keep momentum and follow up with customers who “weren’t quite ready”

Remember how we said that most customers need 6–8 “touches” before they’re ready to buy?

Well, for a lot of people, your massive launch might have only been touch number two or three. Those people still need nurturing in order to convert them into full blown customers. If you captured emails for people interested in the product, this is where you can put together an automated series of follow ups with more social proof and feature-heavy emails. If not, think about running remarketing ads on Facebook and Google to stay top of mind.

This is also a good opportunity to talk to new customers and see why they chose to purchase. What was it about your messaging or product that really stuck with them? You can use this information to help push those people who “weren’t quite ready” over the edge.

24. Have a system in place to handle bugs or issues

No matter how much testing you did before your launch you’re inevitably going to end up with a few unresolved issues. You need to have a good system in place to handle these and make sure little bugs don’t turn into epidemics.

Planio offers a powerful solution for assigning and tracking bugs so they can be dealt with quickly and not take your product launch down with them.

25. Debrief your go-to-market strategy

As your product launch winds down, you’ll want to do a last minute check through your strategy doc. Was there anything you missed? Any marketing strategies that ended up on the “nice to have” list that you want to experiment with now that things have settled down?

Just like you want to track your successes, look for things that went wrong or took longer than you expected. In Planio, you can set estimated time for tasks and measure it against how long they actually took, giving you an accurate view of what took the most time during your launch.

Finally: Pop the bubbly

If you made it to this point without too many major headaches then it’s time to pop a bottle (or two). You deserve it!

Pop the bubbly

Product launches are stressful, resource and attention-heavy, and add that element of uncertainty that can drive you crazy. But they’re also a cause for celebration. You built something awesome and put it out into the world.

There will always be something else you could be doing, so make sure to take a moment and celebrate the win.

Product launches are massive beasts (if the length of this post tells you anything).

They start before your product is even live and end only when the next one comes around. But they’re also one of the most exciting things you and your company will get to experience.

Take the time to follow this guide and you’ll give yourself the best chance of having a product that thrives out in the wild.