You invest enormous energy, resources — even the business equivalent of love — into launching a new product. All too often, the results don’t love you back. We’ve all seen the new product failure statistics and we don’t need to re-hash them here.
This article highlights three case studies that expose the root causes of new product launch failures. By learning why these products failed to launch, you will be armed with the information you need to ensure successful product launches going forward.
The Renewable Energy New Product Launch That Missed A Key Stakeholder
A company launching a new renewable-energy product was extremely optimistic about its future. Several months of disappointing sales later, they were forced to reconsider their entire strategy.
The product platform gave manufacturers a cleaner energy option for powering their plants. Targeting plant operational engineers as the most important stakeholder, the commercial strategy and messaging was highly-technical. It fell flat.
It turns out that plant operations engineers have other priorities besides finding clean energy alternatives. On the other hand, plant executives responsible for positioning the manufacturer with the public know the value of being thought of as a responsible corporate citizen.
By expanding their stakeholder strategy to include marketing executives — and by adding less-technical messaging about the public relations benefits of using the renewable-energy product — the lagging sales results were reversed.
Could the company have avoided these difficulties from the beginning?
Updating Your New Product Launch Process:
Your launch process likely includes a stakeholder analysis. But is it built to handle the complexities of multiple key stakeholders and emerging sources of decision-making power?
In B2B new product launches, questions of stakeholder focus is often an “and” decision, not an “or” decision. Does your process ensure that you allocate your resources to include non-technical buyers when it’s called for? Often, companies will exclude these “laymen” buyers because they aren’t comfortable engaging them.
But you have to get over that bias. A tool like this Influence Map will immediately point out if you are missing a key stakeholder.
The Influence Map identifies which stakeholders are influential in your market today and, most importantly, how influence amongst stakeholders is shifting. New product launchers can identify power shifts towards certain stakeholders before competitors do, and ensure appropriate targeting and messaging tracks are covered in launch strategies.
This Pharmaceutical New Product Launch Didn’t Identify an Important Indirect Competitor
Have you ever seen a favorable side-by-side comparison of your product vs. a competitor’s and wondered why you weren’t selling more? This was the case with a pharmaceutical company that had launched a smoking cessation product.
The company’s marketers were promoting what they thought was a profound advantage over other similar pharmaceutical products in how their product worked. Research showed that doctors were intrigued with the product’s “method of action,” and consumers liked the product’s protocol, which slowly-but-effectively weaned them off of cigarettes. Still, results lagged well behind expectations.
A new research project uncovered a significant insight. Though consumers liked the pharma company’s product in comparison to other pharmaceutical solutions, most smokers preferred to try and quit on their own first — often called “cold turkey.” In fact, the average smoker tried to quit via the cold turkey method 7 times before trying other solutions.
A re-vamped strategy powerfully positioned the product against this “do-it-yourself” method instead of other pharma products. It trumpeted the product’s clinically-proven success with people who had tried to quit cold turkey.
Finally, results started to turn around and the product began realizing its full potential. How could the company have avoided these problems prior to launch?
Updating Your New Product Launch Process:
Your product launch process already identifies your likely competitors. But is there a checkpoint that makes sure that you do an exhaustive identification of all indirect competitors?
Indirect competitors help customers solve the same problem your solution addresses, but in a different way. For example, diet, exercise and meditation are indirect competitors of blood pressure meds. (They can also complement blood pressure medicine, but that’s a subject of a future article). The list of indirect competitors in B2B often includes options such as “do it ourselves” and “do nothing” when it comes to solving a particular problem.
We like to say that direct competitors can hurt you, but indirects can kill you — because you often don’t see them. A well-designed competitor identification tool makes sure users do not miss indirect competitors. Too often, strategists don’t spend enough time on this step because it seems obvious. But these sometimes-hidden customer alternatives are the real enemy of your new product launch.
Another tool to identify B2B new product launch hidden competitors is customer journey mapping. Journey maps recreate the path that customers take in trying to solve the problem you are addressing. What are they doing before, during, and after they determine how to solve this issue?
In this case, the customer journey map would have highlighted “quitting cold turkey” as an almost endless loop on the smoker’s path to quitting. If this map had been part of the new product launch process, it would have been impossible to miss.
An Innovative Medical Device New Product Launch Suffered From The Wrong Positioning
An innovative artificial limb from a medical device company seemingly had all of the advantages of a winner. Its positioning highlighted convincing clinical evidence demonstrating less pain, lower rejection rates, and more mobility for patients than competitor’s products. What could go wrong?
Initial sales data proved something had indeed gone wrong. How could such a superior product be so disappointing? Similar to the first example in this article, the company’s marketers had missed a key stakeholder — the operating room scheduler.
It turns out that the device took longer to insert than those of competitors. Knowing this, schedulers gave surgeons implanting the device the worst possible, late-in-the-day operating windows. Schedulers worried that a long operation like this, slated for early in the day, could go longer than expected and set back the entire day’s schedule. The time slots were so bad that surgeons were actually choosing to implant inferior — but quicker to insert — limbs.
Upon realizing this, the medical device company quickly revised its positioning. They shifted from a message of “Less Pain AND More Mobility” to “It’s Worth the Time.”
The technical message track convinced surgeons why the increased operating time was worth it for the patient’s well-being. The scheduler messaging focused on the fact that the operation was “one-and-done” (based on the clinical findings of low rejection rates) and that the operation was at least predictable in length and thus could be scheduled early in the day with confidence.
The new positioning strategy worked. The schedulers changed their behavior, and the surgeons began to implant it more often. The product realized its potential and went on to be the market leader.
Updating Your New Product Launch Process:
The simplest way to avoid a positioning problem is to take the advice found in the first two examples in this article. Even a strong positioning directed against the wrong stakeholder or the wrong competitor will fail — so get those parts right first.
But it’s also important to have a unique, important, and believable positioning approach. Too many times, launch processes don’t flag a positioning that makes common sense but sounds like every other pitch in the market. A properly-constructed positioning template and approach won’t allow you to settle for a me-too positioning. Contact us if you’d like us to take a quick, free, no-obligation look at your positioning statement.
Of course, most companies have a new product launch process. But most do not have checkpoints that keep them from missing new emerging stakeholders, underrating indirect competitors, and accepting undifferentiated positioning approaches.
Integrate the steps above into your launch process, and you will be eliminating three of the root causes of new product underperformance. It may take a little bit more effort but will save you time — and grief — in the long run. You deserve to finally reap the rewards of all the effort, investment, and love that you put into your new product launches!