Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Your Launch Strategy - An Apple a Day...

By Mark Helfen

Responding to his client's request that he wanted to "launch products like Apple," Josh Weinberg developed "a whole new field of study." Perhaps "launchology" might be the term. (Not a word used by Weinberg.)

At the SDForum Marketing SIG meeting on September 14, Weinberg, President of the Digital Life Consulting Group, described his study, summarized in 11 rules, for successfully launching consumer technology products. His presentation showed examples of great launches, mostly starring Apple Computer's Steve Jobs.

But I would summarize his lessons with a single idea - that the launch, and planning for the launch, is an equal partner to every other part of creating the product, at least for products targeted to consumers. Equal to engineering, product development, product marketing, and all of the other functions in getting a product out of the door. Launch planning needs to start early, not when the product is almost complete.

Weinberg advocates appointing a launch manager to run the launch team, with the product manager one of the attendees at the team. The launch manager is responsible for the product launch, instead of the more typical approach of handing the job to the product manager.

By focusing on the launch, your product gets off to a successful start. This can help move your product out of the price wars. He supplied some examples (Cuil.com, the search engine - remember them?) where the damage of a muffed launch is never undone.

Apple figured prominently in Weinberg's presentation. In fact, it would be fair to say that launchology is largely a study of Apple launch strategies, which he has decoded from outside the company.

He may have picked the right target. Last week, the market research firm Interbrand moved Apple up four places on its list of the 100 best global brands, calling Apple "among the most iconic of relatively young brands in the world." Following the 11 rules in his list must play a part.

You can get the complete list of rules from Weinberg directly, but here are a few favorites:

1. It's a product experience.
Meaning it's everything about the product, not just the technology. The box it's packed in, and everything included in the box. The manuals. How it assembles, how you upgrade from the prior version, how you get support, and lots more. The complete experience of purchasing, opening the box, and owning the product.

6. Products have names.
Ipod, Flip, Blackberry are names. SGX2275 isn't a name, it's a number.

8. Communicate clearly.
As a writer, one of my favorites. If you live in Silicon Valley and work in technology, you speak a different language than the rest of the planet. Information about your consumer product needs to be written for normal people.

10. Launches are theater.
You will have to watch Weinberg's presentation and its video clips of Steve Jobs to see some examples. As a one time product manager (of business technology products) I have to admit that I never considered the product launches that I worked on even mildly entertaining, much less theatrical. But then not every company has Jobs to front for them.

You can contact Weinberg through his Digital Life Consulting Group Web site, www.Dlifegroup.com.


Mark Helfen is a freelance writer, journalist, and marketing consultant. He can be reached at:

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