As a product marketer, you shoulder much of the risk when a new product launch—after all, you’re ultimately held responsible for the launch’s outcome. It’s not surprising, then, that you frequently are preoccupied with minimizing the risks inherent in a product launch.
While many product marketers do what they can to optimize product quality, ensure efficient distribution, monitor financial performance, and oversee the development of market collateral, they sometimes overlook the answers to some key questions that would increase the chances of an optimal product launch. In fact, many decisions made around the development and launch of a new product can be greatly facilitated by a few critical insights.
In my 25 years of experience as a market research consultant, I’ve learned three key questions to ask that will de-risk many of the marketing decisions necessary for a successful product launch. I’ve also learned why they’re important, and how to find their answers.
QUESTION 1: WHO IS THE IDEAL CUSTOMER?
Clearly defining the target market for your product is a first step that leads to confident and accurate marketing decisions for several reasons.
Leads to Cost-Effective Marketing and Business Operations
By focusing on characteristics that define their ideal customer, product marketers can pursue these individuals efficiently because they avoid spreading their resources among too large of a target. By concisely defining the lowest-hanging fruit, these marketers get a specific sense of the:
* Media their target market consumes
* Issues that are important to the target market
* Buying triggers
* Others who play influential roles in consumers’ decisions
* Purchasing frequency of consumers
With these answers in hand, you increase the likelihood of spending time and money on developing marketing materials and making media purchases that your audience is most likely to consume.
Directs the Development of Key Marketing Messages
Product marketers who develop a comprehensive understanding of their ideal customer have a much better chance of using the language and tone that resonates best with customers. Achieving this resonance increases the likelihood that you will make a product idea sticky—something the consumer recalls when it’s time to buy.
Supports Your Product’s Unique Selling Proposition
Your product, market, and branding all are distinctive, and this unique combination is what makes the product compelling to buyers. To ensure that the brand’s unique selling proposition is an appropriate fit for the ideal customer, have a clear understanding about:
* The target market makeup
* The product aspects that are compelling to the market
* How the product is positioned to meet the target market’s needs
Now that you understand why the question about who the ideal customer is, it’s time to find the answer. There are many strategies you can use, but one technique is particularly useful in providing sufficient depth to target market information: the expert forum.
By assembling and listening to a group of industry experts, you will hear key information about the ideal customer—much of which you likely hadn’t considered—actively and comprehensively discussed by these insiders. These experts have the experience, background, and knowledge that can deliver a complete and multi-perspective picture about the target market and how you can reach these individuals.
Even if you have industry experience and inside knowledge yourself, an expert forum frequently can fill in the gaps that may be missing from your knowledge. Then, you can use this information to inform the many marketing decisions you need to make with greater precision and to address your prospective customers effectively.
There also are two other positive consequences of expert forums. One is the ability to segment the target audience into clearly developed personas. Personas effectively humanize the members of your target market and help you bring them to life for various internal stakeholders (e.g., finance, product development, leadership).
Specific areas of your target audience you will want to identify in personas include education level, industry and external pressures their industry is facing, concerns they have, and social media channels they use. The resulting personas can act as a bridge between capturing and conveying, to both internal and external stakeholders, all the factors about your target audience that need to be addressed when developing products.
The other upside to working with an expert forum is that these individuals can become long-term strategic advisers for your organization. They can provide valuable input into future directions for the product and the company because they frequently are heavily invested in the industry and tend to stay on top of trends that will affect your customers in the future.
QUESTION 2: HOW DO I OVERCOME PURCHASE BARRIERS AND MOTIVATE MY TARGET AUDIENCE TO BUY?
There are many factors that motivate your ideal customer to buy your products as well as concerns that deter them from purchasing. It is critical for you as a product marketer to have a clear picture of these factors so that your marketing strategies overcome barriers while also framing messages to efficiently move prospects along the journey to becoming buyers.
Identifying the factors at play in determining both motivators and barriers can seem overwhelming. However, these issues usually fall into one of seven buckets. Table 1 summarizes these issues and how they may exert influence on the purchase decision. Use this table as a starting point to understand the influences at play for your product and target market, and how you can begin addressing them. Still, every situation is unique, so how do you specifically identify how these factors are relevant to your product and how to address them?
An especially useful technique in exploring purchase motivators and barriers is the in-depth interview. Though most often conducted in a one-on-one setting, it is not uncommon to interview two people if the decision to buy or object is heavily influenced by another stakeholder. In any case, develop an interview guide that steers the discussion so that you cover the main points to be addressed. While there are several types of questions you can ask, three particularly popular types are:
These questions may be only tangentially related to the topic at hand (e.g., what they like best about their job) or may be highly relevant (e.g., how often they shop for your product category).
Regardless, relationship-building questions give you the chance to warm up the respondent and demonstrate your interest in them as a person. When the respondent views you as a trustworthy partner in the discussion, they are more likely to provide you with accurate and valuable insights.
To understand where they are in their customer journey, what led to this point, their concerns, and what may inspire them to move forward, include some questions that help you understand the various milestones that your prospects have met and what they want to achieve.
This line of questioning is invaluable in telling the customer story—a narrative that supports the communication of customer issues to internal stakeholders as well as to direct the development of various marketing assets (e.g., white papers, blogs, videos) for your target audience.
It is tempting to follow up interview responses with “why?” While it is important to get at the underlying reasons for decisions and attitudes, interviewees tend to find it much easier to answer probing questions when they are framed as, “What are some of the reasons that led to this decision?” or “Tell me more about what that experience was like.”
QUESTION 3: WHAT ARE MY CUSTOMERS’ PAIN POINTS AND HOW DO I EFFECTIVELY ADDRESS THEM?
Pain points are the issues or concerns that your customers are experiencing. Your product’s job is to address these issues and concerns.
For product marketers, pain-point research should trigger ideas for product development as well as shape the design of your products so you can offer your prospects real, achievable solutions.
Marketers who know the pain points their customers face can more quickly build relationships with customers, even if they are targeting a large market. Specifically, if a brand’s marketing feels disconnected from the customer’s life and experience, a target audience is far less likely to feel heard and understood—and develop a sense of trust in the brand. Further, marketers who are empowered with pain-point knowledge can elevate their own reputation both internally and with their customers and, therefore, frequently are able to position themselves as an expert in the industry.
Focus groups often expose insights into pain-point discovery. By assembling a group of customers or prospects for a moderated discussion, you can learn about the pain points they face and how they imagine solving these problems. Oftentimes, some group members will reveal ideas of solutions that others in the group had not considered. This can generate a discussion about whether they think these solutions would be applicable to them and how they would want them delivered.
When conducting a focus group, it can be extremely helpful to catch clues and suggestions that the pain points are oriented around four possible issues:
Prospects will be concerned about what’s in their wallets when they are faced with something that is either limiting their financial gains or when they expect to experience a momentary loss. When individuals think they are being overcharged, or when the value of a solution is not worth the cost, they are concerned about a financial pain point.
When people feel a situation exceeds the time that they want to spend dealing with it, they are experiencing a productivity pain point. Companies address this type of problem by creating solutions that either allow people to multi-task or address the task completely.
When something is getting in the way of the desired outcome, individuals experience a process-oriented pain point. For example, banks have used ATMs or mobile apps to make money available when their customers are unable to access their money outside of normal banking business hours.
Support-oriented pain points occur when people need assistance to accomplish something, but help is unavailable or hard to find.
This pain point inspires many companies to offer solutions such as expanded hours or channels. Or perhaps the customer is overwhelmed by all the options available and worries about making the wrong choice. The retirement coaching and consulting industry is an example of a solution tailored to this type of problem.
This pain point often is associated with products that address concerns around health or physical wellbeing. Many of the innovations developed during the COVID-19 pandemic were created in response to the need to guard against health risks.
A FEW INSIGHTS CAN MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE WITH PRODUCT LAUNCH
There may be other questions that you as a product marketer needs to address for a successful product launch, but make sure to include the three highlighted here.
Insights into these issues can make the difference in propelling a successful product launch and empower you to make marketing decisions with less risk and more confidence.