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Why Product Launches Fail
Thousands of new products are introduced into the global marketplace every day, and unfortunately, very few of them will succeed. Harvard Business School's Clayton Christensen said only 5 percent of new products a year succeed, leaving a whopping 95 percent in the dust. When you consider the changing nature of what a product is in the modern market and how easy online businesses have made it to launch one, those percentages start to make sense.
What may be surprising to hear is that a failed product launch could be the result of things other than the product itself. You could have an amazing product, but if you don't market it properly or if you roll it out awkwardly, you're harming your chances of success.
In this article, we'll look at product launches that failed and analyze what happened. We'll also examine how to measure product success and some steps you can take to launch successful products.
What Past Flops Tell Us About Why Product Launches Fail
The past few years have provided some pretty monumental product failures and powerful lessons to be learned. From software to skin care, some of the largest companies in the world produced some very questionable products that resulted in recalls, lawsuits and tarnished company images. Of course, no one sets out with the intention to fail, but mistakes happen, and it's through careful analysis of these mistakes that we can learn how to avoid them in the future.
Dove's "Body Positive" Bottles
Unilever brand Dove, famous for its "real beauty" ad campaign showing women who didn't fit the stereotypical fashion-model mold, was taken to task twice in 2017 for insensitive advertising. One had to do with a racially insensitive advertisement featuring a black woman removing her shirt and becoming white, and the other was a failed product launch. The product Dove tried to roll out was a line of bottles for their products, 7 in total, each featuring a different "shape' women could choose from. The bottles were designed to look vaguely like the female body, which was supposed to be part of a body-positive message, but they ended up alienating women who felt the limited choices didn't represent them.
Dove could've avoided the backlash associated with that product launch by taking a step back to examine its goals as a company and determining whether the message behind that product met those goals. They could have done the same thing with their racially charged advertisement. Instead of reinforcing a positive body image for women, both fiascos ended up highlighting differences and coming across as out-of-touch for different reasons.
Google announced in the beginning of 2018 that it was halting development of its messenger app Allo after trying to get it off the ground for two years. It launched the app to compete with popular messaging apps from other social media giants, like Facebook's FB Messenger and WhatsApp, but it never quite reached escape velocity. Nowadays, Google simply uses a chat feature integrated within its suite of other apps like Docs and Hangouts. Allo had one of the biggest companies in the world behind it, so what happened?
First, it wasn't as readily available as other chat apps. It wasn't installed as the default messenger on Android smartphones. That meant Google had to convince people to use it instead of Messenger, a program right on the home screen. For the most part, there was nothing Allo did that another messaging app couldn't do and didn't generate interest in their intended customer. For most people, that meant there was no incentive to download the app at all. It was just one more app in an already crowded marketplace.
Samsung's Galaxy Note 7
The fires and burns caused by the overheating lithium-ion batteries in Samsung's Note 7 product made headlines constantly in 2016. The problem became so bad that you can still find warnings in airline setback safety manuals banning them from use on airplanes. The product was on sale for barely a month before Samsung recalled it and brought back over 2.5 million units. Samsung lost billions of investment dollars, and the company has had to work hard to recover its image.
Samsung started doing this by assuming responsibility for the defect, recalling the devices and discontinuing service to nonreturned Note 7s so they could no longer be used.
On paper, the phone looked great. Everything seemed to be working as it was supposed to. But in reality, there were problems with manufacturing in two of the battery companies Samsung used as suppliers. These defects made short circuiting and overheating more likely. More rigorous testing could have avoided Samsung's overheating phone debacle, catching the defective batteries or parts before they were put into devices that were shipped out to consumers, creating a danger. Going forward, the company has implemented an eight-point check on new batteries for their devices, going beyond industry standards for safety. Despite this, several reports of newer Samsung phones have surfaced showing the devices catching fire and leaving some people with burns. Two of the reports were of Samsung's Galaxy 9 phone, a model released in 2018 after the new checks were implemented. Another resulted in a car fire.
How Can You Avoid These Mistakes?
Time and time again, the largest blunders made by companies in marketing or launching a product come back to a few distinct categories:
- Not knowing the customer. When designing an ad, it's important to put yourself in an outsider's shoes to imagine how it would be perceived. Think about who will see and use your product, and make sure you aren't going to offend them.
- Not taking proper precautions. Every aspect of a product needs to be tested before a launch, and then tested again. It may be that you still have more work to do on the manufacturing side. Is there a different defect in each product, or is your system for checking quality not catching a persistent problem? If something is wrong and the product is not ready to launch on time, a slight loss of face when you push back the rollout schedule is a small price to pay beside the potential losses in revenue, lawsuits and your reputation.
- Not researching the market to see if there's a need for your product. Before launching a product, you have to do the research to make sure it fulfills a need. If there's a genuine need for your product, there'll be a genuine interest. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter can also be an excellent way to gauge interest in a product as well as raise money. If you hit your goal, you know there is a need for your product. If it doesn't gain traction, you haven't lost any money and know there's no reason to continue as is.
There's one more aspect to a successful product launch that bears discussing: marketing. Throughout the launch process, you need to be tracking your customer's interest with analytic tools to figure out if what you're doing to market and sell your product is yielding results. There are several types of performance metrics you can track to measure this, and several different tools you can use to get the raw data.
In his article on coming back from a failed product launch, marketer Neil Patel outlined methods for tracking your web traffic, usually with the help of Google Analytics. He recommended looking at the bounce rate of your website (how long people visit before they leave), what pages they're entering and leaving the site on and what pages they're lingering on the longest.
He also recommended surveying your customers using anything from tools like SurveyMonkey to Twitter polls, asking their thoughts on a product and what they'd like to see improved. If you're in the pre-launch phase, this is a great way to gather data from potential customers after identifying your target market.
Planning expert Mark Emmer outlined six tips for a successful product launch in an article on Inc., including many of the ones we've listed here. They are, briefly:
- Solve real problems. Know what your potential customer needs and how your product will fill that gap.
- Adopt a custom development methodology (be adaptable). Adaptability will help your company remain relevant in the long run.
- Nail down key assumptions from the beginning. Make sure you don't assume anything about your product that you can't prove.
- Insist on coordinating with stakeholders. Let them in on the process of building and launching the product from the start, so you can develop with their input in mind.
- Take a long-range view of your product roadmap. It's necessary to have a goal for your product or company to accurately assess its success.
- Don't release too many new products at once. Each additional product you launch takes away more and more time from your other products. Be sure to give your full attention to one at a time.
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