Catherine Kitcho Consultant

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Catherine Kitcho, The Launch Doctor


 High Tech Product Launch - Second Edition: Chapter 3

Chapter Three: Strategic Objectives

The business objectives of the company set the overall direction for a product launch. You need to have a clear understanding of the strategy of the company before planning a product launch to ensure that the launch process will achieve the desired business results. In effect, the strategic objectives of the company form the basis of your product launch strategy. When established at the beginning of the process, the launch strategy will drive the how and the when for the product launch. The launch strategy will define the emphasis that needs to be placed on various external and internal marketing programs and will determine the overall positioning of the product in the marketplace. This is part of the how. The when is the product launch date, a key factor in planning the entire launch process. The launch date will determine the overall launch plan and schedule.

Strategic objectives are established by the senior management of the company and are updated on a regular basis to reflect current economic and market conditions. Many companies redefine strategic objectives at the beginning of a new fiscal year; some companies update them more frequently in response to business operating performance. Sometimes these strategic objectives are communicated to all employees via email, the company intranet, presentations, or all-hands meetings. These objectives are usually the "official" strategic objectives, chosen for their motivational impact and consistency with corporate mission statements. Quite often, there are additional business objectives that are more closely held within senior management, and those are the ones that may greatly impact product launches. It is important to communicate with senior management at the beginning of the launch process to obtain an update on the current strategic thinking of the company. Usually, the CFO and/or Vice-President of Marketing are the best candidates to supply this information. The best way to accomplish this task is to schedule a meeting with these individuals and interview them about their current strategic thinking for your launch. If they are willing and have the time, it's also a good idea to have them give a presentation to the launch team about strategy.

What are strategic objectives?
The senior management of the company set the business goals and future direction as part of long-term strategic planning. Strategic objectives are usually articulated in terms of measurable goals that can realistically be attained within a year or a quarter. These goals may be related to growth, strategic partnering, market position, or diversification. Here are some examples:
-Our mission is to successfully enter the small business market with a new product within the next year.

-Through acquisition, we will increase our capabilities in database services.

-Our goal is to increase revenues by 10% by the second quarter of this year.

It is important to understand these objectives because management may be viewing your product as the key to attaining the strategic goals. Knowing this will help the launch team understand the priority of the launch in the big picture and will help guide the team in allocating launch resources and determining which marketing programs will be most effective for the launch. A few examples will illustrate how this works.

Company growth is usually regarded as a respectable goal. Shareholders and employees want to be associated with a company that offers some return on investment and some job security. Determining the rate of growth, however, is difficult. A number of factors are involved, including external forces such as market conditions, competition, and state of the economy. Internal factors include the company's ability to recruit new staff, efficiency of the R&D group, and financial status of the company. Senior management will consider all of the necessary external and internal factors when determining the growth rate goal, which is usually expressed as a percentage increase in revenue, profit, headcount, or market share.

If growth is a strategic objective, the rate of new product development and launches may increase substantially. In the rush to get more products to market, companies can fall into the pattern of getting the products out the door without regard for positioning or putting the right marketing vehicles into place for reaching the market.

In one actual case, a company that was launching an average of one product per year suddenly was faced with launching ten products per year in order to meet their growth goal. Unfortunately, there were inadequate marketing resources in place to launch that many products, and the company had to bring in contractors and consultants in order to keep up. There was no one to develop an overall strategy for all of the products, creating a lack of consistency in the external marketing programs that were eventually implemented. The press and analysts' tour for the first two products went well, but by the time the third product was launched, the trade press began to question what was newsworthy about these products. It is difficult to engage the attention of the same analysts and trade press editors ten times in one year, unless you have some overall, incremental strategy that creates a compelling story about your company. In this case, if the company had taken the time to articulate the product strategy that corresponded with their growth goal and communicated that strategy during the press tour, their launches might have had more impact.

Sometimes growth happens too quickly in a company, and the launch processes don't have a chance to evolve to meet the pace of change. Sometimes growth itself is a competitive advantage, and getting the products to market quickly becomes more important than careful positioning. In another case, a company grew so quickly over a period of two years, that they didn't have time to develop or use an effective launch process. Their strategic goal was to maintain their position as leader in their market through growth in new products. As they kept reorganizing, first by product line and then again by market segment, they became more decentralized. Product launches were done differently in each decentralized group, according to their own changing whims and budgets. This led to much inconsistency and confusion in the marketplace because the sales collateral, training materials, and even the company website contained such a variety of messages about the products and the company. If the environment in your company is similar, it may be a good idea to contact the top marketing executive in the company to obtain clear guidance on which launch process to follow, your product's relative rank of importance to the company, and success criteria for the launch.

Changing corporate image
Sometimes companies find it necessary to change their corporate image because they are undergoing some type of transition, such as entering new markets, creating new core businesses, or closing out maturing product lines. Re-branding may be required, sometimes involving a change in logo or tag lines, or the development of a new advertising campaign. If an image change is happening in your company, you need to be aware of the new corporate-level messages about the company that will be part of the new image. Some examples include changing from a software company to a services company, becoming more innovative, expanding globally, setting a new industry standard, focusing on customer satisfaction, or offering end-to-end systems and services. These new messages will need to flow down to the product-level messages that will be contained in all of the marketing deliverables for the launch. The key words of the new image (such as those highlighted in the examples above) should be used in the marketing materials you develop for the launch. Your product will help to establish the new image in the marketplace, effectively repositioning the company.

Change in core business
As companies grow and change, it often becomes necessary to add new, complementary businesses. This is especially true in high tech companies because of the pace of technology evolution. For example, during most of the last five to ten years, the majority of the advancements in the field of computing have been in software and not hardware. Companies that used to be the icons of hardware innovation suddenly found themselves in the software business in order to remain a market player. The Internet has triggered another wave of change in high tech companies. Any new trend in technology creates new opportunity, and along with it, the pressure to compete and respond to changing demand and evolving standards.

If adding core businesses is one of your company's strategic objectives, it may mean that the new product that you're launching will be sold to existing customers, or that the new product will be sold to new customers. This will impact the launch in terms of positioning and choice of marketing programs. If the product is being sold to existing customers in the current market segment, then the benefits of the new product need to be emphasized in order to educate the customers. If the new product will be sold to new customers, then new market research will likely have to be conducted in order to identify the characteristics of the new customer and market. It is also likely that with a new market, a market entry strategy will need to be implemented in order to develop awareness for the company before the product is launched. This may require additional, different types of marketing programs first to create the awareness and then to follow up with more detailed information about the product.

Sometimes it is more expedient and cost effective for companies to acquire other companies than to develop new products or to enter new markets on their own. It's the classic "make versus buy" decision. Companies that are cash-rich or that are in a steady growth mode often do this to compete more effectively.

If acquisitions are part of your company's strategy, then you need to address how the acquired company's products compare to the one that you will be launching. Sometimes, there is an overlap of functionality that occurs between products from both companies. In one example, a company acquired another company right in the middle of the launch of a key product. The acquired company and technology strengthened the new product in terms of end-to-end functionality, so the launch date was moved out in time in order to accommodate the new functionality. By delaying, the company was able to create a much stronger message going into a new market.

If there is no overlap with the acquired company's products, there may still be some corporate messages that need to flow down into the product-level messages for your launch. For example, suppose a wireless adapter company acquires a company that develops messaging software, and you are launching the new adapter hardware. You could talk about the complete range of mobile communications that are possible when using your hardware adapter, such as Internet access, email, instant messaging, images, audio or video. You might even refer to the acquired company's messaging software. Sometimes, bundling the combined products together in a marketing campaign creates opportunities to reach a larger market and serves the business objective of the acquisition.

Downsizing is often thought of as the opposite of growth, but that isn't necessarily the case. Reducing business operations through reduction in staff or by selling off selective business units is a common strategic objective. It doesn't always mean that the company is going out of business. Downsizing may mean that there is renewed emphasis and focus on the products that will remain in the company. This is important to know when planning a product launch, because it may be necessary to address any concerns from analysts and trade press about the stability of the company. This reassurance would be developed as part of the messages in all of the external marketing materials.

Competitive strategy
Strategic objectives sometimes call for action against a specific competitor, in order to increase market share or to move up in the relative ranking in the market. Examples might be statements such as:
-Surpass Intel in processor performance.

-Beat Dell to market with ultra-light low-priced laptops.

These types of strategic objectives are designed to motivate all employees to improve company performance. For the product launch team, this situation will require more careful attention to competitive analysis, especially for the identified competitor. It may also be necessary to use message statements that directly compare your company's products with the specified competitor during the marketing and public relations campaign.

This is similar to a change in core business, but diversification is usually a larger effort across the company to innovate and to develop new businesses. Sometimes companies will develop formal diversification programs. For example, companies will sometimes incentivize their sales force to find new business opportunities while serving existing customers, or will direct the business development group to seek out new opportunities. Once the areas of diversification are identified, the launch team will need to build in positioning to take this into account. Sometimes messages will reflect a company's diversification strategy: "We now provide managed services to help you get the most out of our data warehouse systems." During a launch, you are preparing the market for the product, and that sometimes involves updating and educating the market about what is new in the company, especially if the product you're launching is an integral piece of the new strategic direction.

Going Public
Sometimes product launches are tied to the company's plan for an initial public offering (IPO). If an IPO will follow a product launch, then management may be waiting for market response to the launched product before they determine the exact timing of the offering. If that is the case, then more focus needs to be placed on the press and analyst programs during the launch in order to create more awareness and ultimately, investor interest in the stock offering.

If an IPO precedes a product launch, then it is advisable to identify what analysts said about the company and its stock offering in terms of strategic direction for the company and the products. There may have been promises made about your product at the time that will need to be addressed in the marketing materials during the launch. You will need to explain how the product is fulfilling the earlier promises that were made.

Strategic partnering
Existing partnerships and alliances create many marketing opportunities for a company, and sometimes these business relationships are involved in specific strategic objectives. For example, consider the situation of a joint development partnership between your company and another company, when finally, the time has come to launch the new product that was developed by the combined team. In this situation, the launch efforts of both companies essentially need to be married together, which can be a coordination nightmare for both launch teams. Joint product announcements and launches can create conflicts in decision-making, positioning, and messaging. It is best to meet with the strategic partner's launch team as early as possible so that a mutually acceptable set of roles and responsibilities can be developed. Combined product launches of strategic partners can have a powerful impact on the market, but they require the cooperation and commitment of both business entities to be successful.

Formulating the launch strategy
The foregoing examples illustrate the many ways that strategic directions can impact your launch strategy. Once you have identified the strategic objectives, then it is advisable to develop some high-level corporate messages that will help achieve the business results. Chapter 9 is focused on how to develop these messages. You will need them later on when the marketing plan is developed. The other key task at this point is to identify the areas of emphasis for the launch. Is more focus needed on the public relations campaign than on sales collateral? Do we need to pay closer attention to the competition? Prioritizing will help to allocate the resources and budget for the launch effectively.

Setting the launch date
Many strategic business factors have an impact on the choice of launch date. General availability of the product is usually a very significant factor, if not the most important. Announcing the product to the outside world without the product being available can create more damage to company credibility than if the product was not announced at all. Doing so may give your competitors some ammunition to use regarding your company's ability to deliver.

The season of the year can also be a factor in launch date selection, especially if a press tour or campaign is part of the launch. Analysts and press may not be accessible during certain times of the year, such as summer (mid-June to mid-August). Another time of the year in which it is inadvisable to launch products is the last two months of the year - November and December - due to the holidays.

Timing of one product launch relative to launches of other products being released is another important consideration. If two launches occur too close together in time, one could overshadow the other in the marketplace. And if the products can't logically be combined into one announcement or launch, then there must be sufficient time in between.

Maintaining momentum in the market, a "drumbeat" approach, is another possible strategy that can affect launch dates. Sometimes, a steady stream of launches or announcements at specific intervals is the best plan, particularly for a company that launches several products each year.

Other marketing events such as trade shows, or corporate events such as annual meetings or user group conferences, can also help determine the time of greatest impact for product launch. A trade show may be a good venue for a major product announcement, because the trade press is usually present at these shows, and you have a captive audience. On the other hand, if everyone is waiting for a major trade show to announce their product, yours may be lost in the noise. Competitive intelligence helps in making this decision; you may know ahead of time whether any of your competitors will also be announcing at the same time. This allows you to decide whether or not to announce at a trade show.

A corporate event where customers are present may also be an excellent venue for announcing a product. Having a critical mass of customers in one place is a golden opportunity to use the event itself as a marketing program and to receive immediate feedback on your new product. Slide presentations or handouts for the event can contain marketing information on the product being launched, saving mailing or distribution costs.

Sometimes senior management may dictate the announcement date for the product. However your company arrives at the announcement date, establish the date as early as possible after receiving management approval so that the launch plan can be developed.

A core set of strategic objectives developed early in the launch process will help set the direction for the launch. Someone once said that you need to know where you are going before you can figure out how to get there. Defining strategic objectives is the first step in figuring out where you are going. The next steps are defining your customer and characterizing your target market.


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