A step-by-step crash course guide on how to plan and communicate a scientific product launch.
McKinsey state that 50% of product launches don’t hit their targets. Usually the reason for this is that all the marketing and communications components have not been addressed.
The quantitative and qualitative research is done and your organisation’s new product has come out of the development and trials phases. A new scientific product is ready for launch.
You, in the marketing department, are tasked with strategising, planning and executing the launch of the new product. You have your own database. You are aware of a number of suitable magazines. But you also have to manage the launch at a trade show. Where do you start to ensure you hit your launch targets and make the product a success?
Assuming you already have determined your target audience and have studied your competition, you will need to produce a product launch and communications plan. Here’s where we’d begin in this crash course on launching a scientific product.
IDENTIFY A DIFFERENTIATING ELEMENT FOR THE PRODUCT
Although your product is unique, the specific features highlighted by the development team might not be strong enough for the market to take notice. Product developers will do things differently to marketers; they are experts in products and not so much experts in people.
It’s important to differentiate to create value to focus on the cost of not choosing the product over another. Market characteristics need to be identified early, including the product’s potential use and how its users perceive these characteristics. The Four Actions Framework can be used to reconstruct buyer value elements for product differentiation by looking at the value chain for strengths. You can highlight your product as a solution to a problem or include an eco-friendly element to the product, for example.
DEVELOP A USP FOR THE MARKETING MESSAGE
Developing the marketing message is difficult to get right – this is the case in any industry. Data from market research, focus groups or patient pathways (depending on your product), will determine what you know about the market which will determine how you position your product. Cost savings, safety, simplicity, efficacy or efficiency, or any other differentiation element, might give your product a hook and allow you to communicate the benefits of your product more efficiently.
The service offer itself might be the product's strongest asset, therefore, it should be clearly communicated. They might be physician services such as diagnostics patient identiﬁcation or compliance, for example.
CREATE A MULTI-CHANNEL COMMUNICATIONS PLAN
The marketing communications plan is potentially the most complex aspect of the launch as it includes a number of moving parts. You will have your own brand awareness and lead generation plans, as well as the PR and media plans that takes into account the environment your product will feature within.
Be sure to engage the media early on for coverage of the product and purchase advertising space within specific publications in advance. We are running such campaigns for some of our clients right now – speak to us if you’d like an idea of what is involved when developing a communications plan for a product launch – which usually includes banner placements, e-blasts, collaborative content and co-branded articles. For an idea of your options, see a previous blog post on selecting media types.
FOCUS ON BUILDING A BRAND, RATHER THAN SELLING A PRODUCT
Brand building, rather than directly selling a product, can be a differentiating factor in itself in an industry that has favoured the latter. Of course, selling the product is key to the lifecycle of the product, but if you understand your customers and create a product and value proposition around those customers, you are positioning yourself and the product for the long-term. Keep in mind that a market orientated strategy is, for the most, a safer strategy than a product orientated strategy.
ENSURE STRATEGIC COMPONENTS ACROSS REGIONS ARE ALIGNED
We operate within a global marketplace, and therefore, all aspects of the launch, from the sales demonstrations to the key message needs to be considered on a global scale, by region. Different countries work in different ways, and local relations, regulations and pricing models will differ, as well as the preferred methods of doing business for sales and marketing professionals.
PREPARE AND INVOLVE THE SALES TEAM
Often during a product development process and marketing planning process, the sales team is excluded. This is wrong because the sales team will have valuable insights into what customers want, having spent a lot of time with them face-to-face. Salespeople will also be the ones tasked with selling those products, therefore, they need to be fully informed and prepared to sell the new product within the market. Keep them close throughout the development of the product launch plan.
…AND PREPARE THE CUSTOMER SERVICES TEAM
The variety of science products within the industry, from the drug to the delivery to the packaging to the lab equipment, are vast. But what they all have in common is that they will require good customer experience and service to be successful. How well science organisations provide support and answers to questions is a key driver for the image of the product that needs to be communicated during launch. Having a product liaison/specialist available to customers is a good start.
UNDERTAKE A SOFT (TEST) LAUNCH
This is an optional but highly useful exercise. It allows marketers to gauge initial feedback regarding the product that might identify some potential pitfalls with the product and its marketing message. More so, how the launch might be perceived in the wider market.
By conducting a soft launch, you can determine if the market is ready for the product, if you need to educate the market beforehand and if the appropriate selling proposition is being highlighted. You could even acquire new customers before you officially launch the product.
OFFICIALLY LAUNCH AT A TRADE SHOW OR CONFERENCE
Shows and events provide a great platform for launching scientific products. Throughout the year, trade shows occur across the globe that brings scientific professionals from all over the world together in one location for a number of days. Here, a large pool of people can see your new product in action which presents opportunities for the sales team to generate leads. A previous post provides some ideas on how to get the most out of trade shows.
Be sure to utilise the sponsorship opportunities that event organisations provide. Social media and other stand features should also be used to generate buzz before, during and after the event. The goal is to drive awareness of your product on your exhibition stand and get people talking.
OPTIMISE YOUR CHANNELS TO SUPPORT THE LAUNCH
Use your website, and supporting channels, to promote the product with a variety of content. Awareness-type content, such as videos and articles, will greatly improve the promotion of your product launch. Homepage content, CTAs and pop-ups should all be optimised to divert website visitors to learn more about the current product launch or the official trade show launch.
STAY ON HIGH ALERT
When working on a product launch it is easy to get alienated from the real world, forgetting what goes on in the industry with customers or competitors, for example. The product you are marketing is perceived internally as the biggest breakthrough since the discovery of antibiotics. But this just isn’t the case.
Always stay on high alert for competitive movements and never overestimate the benefits of your product – biases exist and it is crucial for the future of the product that team members are objective, avoiding overconfidence and resist the urge to hold any assumptions about the market before them.
Before the launch of the product, a post-launch review plan should be in place to evaluate the launch process in full, with all subsequent data analysed and assessed, to identify (and avoid) any gaps for future launches.
Everything needs to be documented here and it is also possible that the review process is handled by a team external to the launch team. However, the head of the launch team, or you within the marketing team, should oversee the process to make sure that it does happen as it might reveal some truths which might not be expected.
Finally, and most importantly...
EMPOWER THE LAUNCH TEAM
Large science organisations are often hindered by their own hierarchical structures during product launches. More often than not, successful product launches emerge from smaller, micro teams that have the flexibility and authority to make decisions fast. New insight, data, regulations and competitor movements can be acted upon instantly without having to adhere to long formal consolidation processes.
Ensure the launch team has the right mix of professionals, with marketing, sales, product, legal, supply etc. involved who can act quickly when needed. Create a culture around the team where each individual feels a part of something special and can thrive. As a McKinsey study suggests, team collaboration was the most important capability that correlates with success, especially within pharma and healthcare.
THE PRODUCT IS NOT ENOUGH
This post provides the key considerations and elements to communicate the launch of a science product, but each product will vary by organisation. Increasing complexity, uncertainty and competition is the norm in the science industries. At the same time, new products – as opposed to brand extensions – are common. Successful science product launches, however, are rarely the norm and the science industries pose challenges at all crossroads.
The development process for any pharmaceutical product is extensive; it’s long and it’s expensive. But the promotional and communications activities that follow don’t get as much attention, which is a real shame because sometimes great products do not flourish as they should leading to failed product launches, and failed products.
Ask yourself, how did your last product launch perform?