The following was written by Dan Gentile, Senior Product Manager at Mavrck. Dan Gentile is a Boston based product manager who has built and launched products at a number of Boston's fastest growing startups. His experience working on both B2B and B2C technologies, combined with his past life at Bain Capital, has given him a unique perspective on taking new products to market across all industries. You can find Dan on LinkedIn.
Most product launches tend to have similar goals: product adoption, consumer satisfaction, and long-term repeat customers. Oftentimes, resources to support a launch to achieve these goals are limited and require some creativity to get the most bang for your marketing buck. That’s why it is so important to arm yourself with as much industry knowledge as possible to ensure you’re maximizing your efforts when entering a market.
But where to start? Gathering targeted, useful competitive intelligence can be a daunting task because there are countless roads to explore. By starting with the following key areas, you’ll be able to acquire a strong base from which you can begin to build a targeted strategy to support your launch.
Evaluate Current Market Dynamics
This may seem like a broad and obvious starting point, but it’s a fundamental piece of the process. To narrow it down, start with these three key questions:
1. What, and how many, similar products exist?
Knowing the answer to this question inside and out is key to executing an effective product development and launch strategy. In all likelihood, there will already be a number of similar products in your space; but fear not - this means you’re building something that people want, and it provides an opportunity for industry separation. Analyze the current landscape thoroughly so you can effectively speak to the key differentiators in your product.
This pre-work will also make it easier to keep tabs on your product after your launch. How has the market shifted or responded since your launch? Are competitors adjusting their strategy, releasing new updates, or updating their marketing materials to account for your release? Staying on top of these trends will allow you to keep your narrative fresh, and begin to plan iterations for any future enhancements to your product.
2. What are the current gaps in the market?
This question goes hand in hand with our first question, but is arguably the most significant when crafting your go-to-market strategy. Chances are you already have a great answer here - at its core, this is why new products are built in the first place. The challenge is tactfully delivering this message, without overly disparaging your competitors. Finding this balance is key: you want to tell your consumers why your product is better in a way that doesn’t alienate them.
Your best resource for attacking this question are your users, themselves. Oftentimes when conducting user research, product owners focus on gaps within their own offerings, asking targeted questions about a user’s experience in one platform. This ultimately provides a limited perspective that doesn’t account for the wider ecosystem; ask broader questions about the industry to really dig into a user’s end goals, and what roadblocks are currently in the way. From there, you can target those user personas when going to market with specific campaigns geared towards this feedback.
My favorite example of this type of targeted campaign comes from the famous "I'm a Mac" ads that Apple ran in the late 2000s. Sure, they were funny and easily digestible, which certainly contributed to their success. But beyond that, they targeted the specific gaps in the computer market that they were looking to fill. Apple identified their computers as the machine of choice for leisure activities ("music, movies, podcasts, stuff like that"), and endeared themselves to an underserved segment of the market in the process.
3. What are the existing market features that you’ve incorporated?
As important as it is to highlight the gaps you’re serving, it’s just as vital to ensure you’re not losing core functionality that your users depend on. Realistically, this shouldn’t be a central theme of your launch narrative, but checking the box is important to let users know they won’t lose key functionality by adopting your product.
When Instagram rolled out its stories feature, it openly admitted that it was essentially replicating Snapchat’s technology, but with Instagram’s spin and network. They were able to use Snapchat’s market knowledge, and incorporate their core functionality with some minor changes to deliver a product that they were confident users would adopt.
Integrate These Learnings
Once you’ve done this research and deeply understand the market landscape, the next step is actually integrating these learnings in an impactful way. There are a few tactics you can employ to ensure your industry expertise shines through to customers when launching a product.
In-product education is often an excellent touchpoint to tactfully integrate your market expertise. Guided product tutorials when a user first interacts with the new experience provide good opportunities to catch the user’s attention, and steer them in the right direction. It’s important to be captivating and brief, because oftentimes you won’t have a user’s attention for very long, so make sure you’ve prioritized what you want users to take away from these tutorials.
At the enterprise level, Slack has always handled new product education extremely effectively. Their feature announcements live permanently in the app, for users to access whenever necessary, and offer key functional highlights drawn from specific user scenarios. Their in-app messaging is clear and concise, with links to learn more if the user so chooses, allowing for flexible product education depending on a user’s needs.
Informed Product Marketing
Moving beyond the product itself, product marketing materials are vitally important to communicate your message to both current and future users. Ensuring that your strategies rally around a single, consistent value statement will make that message significantly more impactful. It’s important to consider your competition when crafting this strategy, as well, both for your product positioning, but also for your launch plan. Keeping tabs on the channels your competitors use for their product marketing can help offer inspiration for your own, especially as you gauge the relative success of each strategy. Monitoring blogs, social media accounts, and industry newsletters are a great way to stay in the know on market movement. This will also enable you to effectively tweak and fine-tune your message in direct response to your competition to consistently deliver the most relevant content to your customer base.
It’s also important to turn these strategies inward, to ensure that your internal teams are prepared and well-educated on the product and the market. Aligning your peers around a consistent message is just as important as the external-facing day-to-day faces of your product and company. Provide internal staff with sales enablement materials and talk tracks on feature updates that integrate your competitive research, and educate them on the landscape to ensure they can effectively handle questions or concerns from new or existing customers. Provide consistent updates on market trends and movement, so they are prepared to handle inevitable questions from customers about your competitors.
Once you’ve launched, it can be tempting to kick your feet up and celebrate - as you should! But also remember that the work has really only just begun. When you launch a new product into the market, every competitor in your space will take a critical eye to what you’ve built, and will aim to build a better version as soon as possible. Begin to track data and feedback related to your project’s KPIs: what are your product adoption rates? Have you been able to capture additional market share post-launch? Are you retaining new users?
In addition to looking at the adoption and retention data, you can help to validate these questions with post-launch user interviews and surveys. Direct user feedback will help you understand why you’ve been able to acquire these new users - or perhaps will be instructive if your win rates are not what you expected. These conversations will give you a head start as you begin to plan your next round of product updates.
Leveraging competitive intelligence tools to monitor new feature development, analyze customer behavior data, and gathering anecdotal feedback will help you effectively plan for the next phase of your product’s lifecycle, and will allow you to keep evolving and improving. Taking these steps both before and after the launch will set your team up for success and ensure the blood, sweat, and tears your team has put into this product don’t go to waste.