STOP Launch Now:Same-Time-On-Point and a few quotes from Lewis Carroll to illustrate some of the best practices for product launches
by Adam Bogobowicz, Senior Director of Product Marketing, Parallels
Over the last few years my team has managed releases and launches of multiple products and product updates each quarter. This volume of launch activity requires an extremely well -thought through and well-orchestrated product launch process.
One of my guiding principles for the launch orchestration is the well-tested military concept of same-time-on-point or STOP. This idea originally described a coordinated artillery attack of many weapons on a single target. In our less-violent world of marketing, STOP points to the need to coordinate a time sequence of marketing activities against a target audience for the maximum impact at the product launch.
STOP is equally relevant for a product or service launch. When followed and implemented, it makes a difference not only at the enterprise-size company, but also for an ambitious small business marketing a new product or service. I have found that if you fail to follow this principle your team at best wastes energy and at worst, confuses and upsets customers which can do real damage to the business. There are three key elements you need to remember in order to make use of STOP:
- Understand your target audience, purchase behaviors, needs and wants and other characteristics (your point of attack).
- Carefully select the levers (or weapons in your arsenal if you want to stay with the military analogy) you will use in delivering the product launch.
- Design the timing and orchestration of the launch events, which includes consideration of not only simultaneity, but also of the sequence.
Understand your Target Audience
“If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.” … and if you do not know who you want to engage with, any stranger will do. Knowing about your audience not only allows you to talk to the right people but will also give you an opportunity to tailor your message to that audience, choose your influence angles and ensure that your message will resonate.
The failure of many launches results not from ignoring that fact (it is quite obvious), but by either making an assumption about the audience and its characteristics and never testing it, or by having a launch team work without a common understanding and agreement on who the audience is. The result is disjointed message and energy devoted to talk to secondary audiences that could be safely addressed later in the product acceptance cycle.
Regardless of your tactics for identifying and understanding a launch target audience my advice to you is the following:
- Come to an early agreement with your launch team and stakeholder on the target audience
- Be thorough in your audience description. I have seen too many target audience documents with no description beyond “IT professional” or “consumer”. If you cannot describe characteristic behaviors of your audience, what they do, or what would do with your product, or do not understand what they read and listen to, and who they trust, you have to go back to the drawing board on the understanding of the target audience. A good litmus test here is being able to say that you personally talked to 10-100 customers that you call a primary audience for your product.
- Lead any conversations on messaging, targeting or orchestration with a check against a target audience
If your resources and time permit, a powerful extension of this method is possible with the development of “personas” representing your core audience types. These help you not only create audience consistency, but also ensure that you are messaging and marketing to a purpose selected group of customers. For more on personas see the most recent article by Christine Birkner.
Selection of Marketing Levers
“I said it very loud and clear; I went and shouted in his ear.” So now that you know who you want to talk to and you understand their preferences, behaviors and hangouts, it is time to choose your weapons - your marketing levers. But how do you know which of the many tools at your disposal will work the best? Here is a few of rules to follow:
- Choose the lever closest to the target. If your sales force (either enterprise or inside sales) can scale and deliver your message personally, pick that over any umbrella marketing tactic.
- Mix influence channels with direct channels. Your sales guys will do the best job positioning your product but they need support from a trusted source outside of your organization.
- Marketing ROI is king but do not cut your marketing levers to the “required minimum” to achieve your goals. The cost of extending the “required minimum” with another channel is usually very low but cost of going just below the success threshold always results in a failed launch.
Timing and orchestration
“What I tell you three times is true.” Now you know “who” and “how” and it is time to address the question of when. In the mobile and social driven world, timing is more important than ever and poorly timed marketing messages have low probability of making an impact.
The best way to start is to make sure your controlled (Owned Media) side of the message orchestration is managed from the very beginning of the launch process and that all of your internal resources are ready and set for the launch timeline. This includes not only all control communication channels like web, sales training and readiness, and leveraging your engineering resources including your internal evangelists, but also the full involvement of other structures of the organization like support and office facilities.
The external orchestration (earned and paid media) will require preparation and development of the needed communication channels, coordination with organizations and individuals who you do not fully control and orchestration of buzz and viral network effects that cannot be timed or predicted. Here are a few things to consider:
- Owned media will depend on breadth and depth of your social media networks developed prior to launch. Make sure you have a full inventory of what is available and that you understand strength of your channels. Be able to answer these questions:
- o Are your abilities limited to delivering a press release? –
- o Can your organization generate strong content? –
- o Can you deliver consistent content across all your owned media outlets from a website and blog to the mobile site?
- Paid media is dependent on your brand recognition and, of course, your budget so make sure that you fully understand the ROI on your marketing spend and secure funds to drive needed paid search, sponsorships, and advertising.
- Earned media will be the most impactful but earned media comes from a well-executed launch and a great product. It also depends on your ability to gain credibility with core supporters starting from professional commentators, press, analysts, and bloggers. It also requires the real time ability to listen and respond to the commentary so that you can support active advocates of the product. For more on product advocacy see a great blog by Dion Hinchcliffe.
Putting it all together
“Take care of the sounds and the sense will take care of itself.” As a final step you should map your orchestrated marketing levers against your target audience and (if you developed them) personas and sequence their interaction with the message. Here is how it may look for you.
Your target customer will be approached by a sales person with a personalized message and handed and case study related to product performance. He will be given an opportunity to test your product. He will then look for the product recommendation in social media, where he will find relevant data and insights provided by your product evangelists. If he reaches out for a formal 3rd party validation he will receive an analyst report about the company and new product. At the same time formal media including industry relevant publications as well as bloggers will be providing first independent commentary on the value of the product. Any web search about the product will not only point your customer to your product site but will also now have rich independent and trusted media content surrounding it…
The purpose for all this orchestration
“Everything has got a moral if you can only find it.” My parting message for you is on the question of “why”. I would hope that at this point in the process, you would have this one figure out. If not, it is never too late. I like to revisit my launch objectives after initial planning process is completed. Often objectives for delivering a launch change by the time you are ready to deliver a product to your customers and additionally, you would be surprised how often the original purpose is lost in the planning process leading to execution that no longer matches the business purpose.
And the outcome
“And thick and fast they came at last, / And more, and more, and more” … that is if you have done your job well.