4 Reasons Product Launch Strategy is So Critical

About a decade ago I led a multi-million dollar web app project. Despite some of the most gruelling hours I’ve ever worked, the product failed after just a two-year run. 

What was even more tragic than the wasted effort and money was that the failure could absolutely have been foreseen. 

The product was innovative and unique, and we overcame many serious roadblocks along the way. Yet most of those, and every major issue that led to its ultimate demise could have been foreseen with a solid Go-to-Market strategy. 

The client was determined to build it, and inadvertently assembled a team of yes-people. A small amount of research and validation work was done ad-hoc and designed around proving this was indeed the right product at the right time. Nobody on the project team was prepared to risk taking a foot off the accelerator to consider third-party validation, formal market research or Go-to-Market strategy. The client’s focus was acutely, blindly on launching as fast as humanly possible.

A few times I stepped up to point out strategic flaws—but eventually surrendered and drank the kool-aid to focus down on the nearly impossible development schedule. 

At every weekly meeting the client brought at least one amazing new feature idea. We added almost all of them to the scope, bloating the product and drifting ever farther from the original vision. One would have thought we were trying to create a Maximum Viable Product rather than a minimum one. And in addition to the core application there were multiple mobile apps, and even a completely separate spin-off product that cannibalized budget and the attention span of all teams. 

In almost every way, it was a product development horror story. (The one exception: the business leader was a phenomenal guy, and remains a client.) 

The experience taught me many things, and transformed how I value and execute Go-to-Market plans. Here are 4 reasons why having a solid product launch strategy should NEVER be viewed as an option. 

  1. Everything is downstream from here. When you’re preparing an innovative product for market, your launch strategy and vision should be assembled in the early days. Not only does that allow for course corrections when they are least costly, but virtually everything you will do to market, distribute and support the product is downstream from your Go-to-Market strategy. If there’s a competitor you haven’t discovered, if features need to be adjusted or modified, removed (or even added) to the MVP to increase your likelihood of success, earlier is better.
  2. You truly don’t know what you don’t know. If your Go-to-Market strategy exists mostly in your head or is documented differently in multiple places, it is not a cohesive plan—and can be impossible to share consistently with stakeholders. Because the gaps in your knowledge won’t become visible until the pieces are all physically in place, it becomes easy to miss sizeable flaws that lead to big, even fatal errors.
  3. Doing it yourself is dangerous. A Go-to-Market Strategy is one of the riskiest DIY projects in business. Selection bias is by nature all but guaranteed and nearly invisible. The people who invented and who own the idea are too close to the project to be objective about the size, impacts and often the very existence of its shortcomings. When you’re heavily invested, you tend to see more and more of what you need to, sniffing out only the trails that lead to your desired findings. When insiders do identify weaknesses and threats, they nearly always underestimate them—while upwardly skewing strengths and the value of market opportunities.
  4. Strategy is pretty cheap. Clients often rank strategy among costs that can be reduced to get a product to market more affordably. But in the grand scheme of things, and the overall risk, strategy is never a large cost. Everything else is. Like marketing to the wrong audiences. Or learning too late the product itself has an obsolete dependency or is fatally flawed. There are two ways to find these things out: by strategic validation or by failing. Even failing forward (where you have the opportunity to recover and improve) can be costly and should be minimized by good strategy. Because going back to the drawing board is expensive and absolute product failure is super-expensive.

Would that failed software product have been saved by a solid Go-to-Market strategy? Possibly. What’s certain is that we’d have gone about the process entirely differently in leading with third-party objectivity and placing most major shortcomings in our sightlines early on. We would have saved piles of money by building a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) instead of bloatware, and the resources sucked up by overbuilding and course corrections could have been used to generate demand and nurture customers. Most importantly, we’d have had a shared vision of success, strong positioning and a plan for solving issues and overcoming barriers. 

If you’re preparing to launch a product, be sure to give strategy the high priority it deserves. Hire a product manager early on and talk to a product marketing agency about developing a formal strategy like Graphos Product’s Innovative Product Go-to-Market Blueprint

What you learn will change the way you plan, launch and market—and may be your product’s single greatest succes