You’ve got a product, an audience you think will enjoy it, and the time, energy, and finances teed up to make a splash.
But before you begin to think about your go-to-market (GTM) strategy, I have an observation based on years of experience and hundreds of product launches:
The problem is the solution.
I know, it sounds like some Mr. Miyagi wisdom, but truly, if you want to design demand for your product or service out the gate, forget any textbook version of what a product launch is supposed to be. After all, according to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, 95% of new products fail.
There is no linear path to a successful kick-off in our world of nano-second attention, digital overload, and seemingly infinite choices. It’s my observation that too many people focus their launches on tactics, and not enough attention is paid to the true value exchange between their business and customer.
If you want to provide a valuable experience to buyers, you have to understand that they have articulated and unarticulated needs. It’s your job to uncover them both to provide relief for their pain points and challenges.
Also, it’s not about “personas” — that compilation of a supposed customer. Sorry, but that’s an antiquated and overly reductive way of viewing your buyers. Nowadays, you want to focus on what data scientist and product strategy expert Indi Young calls “behavior types.” This includes things like decision-making style, goals, motivations, attitude, and so on. Having actual data to move beyond the hypothetical is key.
After all, the whole point of launching a product is about serving actual people as individuals and within the context of a community that genuinely needs what you’re selling.
So, in this post, we’ll focus on the critical triangle between customer, community, and commerce. And I’ll give you insight into how we created a go-to-market strategy for a never-before-seen-technology to break through the noise of a saturated industry.
What’s Par for the Course in a Product Launch
A few years back, we were brought on by a venture-funded tech startup, Golfkick, who wanted to help golfers improve their game using connected technology. Today AI and machine learning are commonplace, but in 2018, it was still novel.
Now, you might think that a cool tech solution for a passionate group of people like golfers would be one of those fabled “build it and they will come” products.
That doesn’t exist anymore (and I’m not sure it ever really did). To get everyone to check out your product, you have to narrow your focus to just one.
As iconic entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel says,
“Every time we start something new, we go from zero to one.”
He also shares an essential truth: “New inventions aren’t inherently disruptive. Inventions are only disruptive if customers say, ‘Hey, I like this better than the old way.’”
So, while you might think you have something that will revolutionize the world, you’ve got to figure out exactly whose world you’re going to rock.
For example, when we launched the golf product — which we named “Arccos,” after the radian measure of the arc on a circle — one of the first problems to overcome was actually the founding vision. We had to question the core premise that measuring your golf game makes you a better golfer, and self-improvement was the ultimate goal.
After going through a detailed mapping phase where we scanned the industry’s horizon to better understand the sport, its fans, and competitors, it became clear there were two types of golfer behaviors we were targeting and utilizing the divergence and tension that existed between them to key in on:
- Old-school, classic golfer (aficionado)
- New golfers (newbie)
Traditional players tended to control the sport of golf, and they were sticklers about the rules and regulations of competitive play. At the time we launched, the usage of data to improve player performance wasn’t allowed in a tournament or any context that would give a player an illegitimate edge (perceived or real).
So, the classic golfer wasn’t our audience. Arccos was more for newbies — skewed younger, was more tech-savvy, and was looking for a different kind of experience than a traditional golf game. To find our people and solve for their main challenge, we’d have to innovate the category and the sport itself.
And the data on the category was that the sport of golf was dying.
The ultimate question was how could we get someone to see the world as we saw it, where using technology isn’t a cheat but a way to get better?
The central challenge of any product launch is getting clear on the problem at hand and who needs the solution. Then you can start figuring out how to present the value proposition that everyone can buy into.
Don’t Just Chip Away — Dig In
Once you understand the actual problem you’re solving, there’s a critical question you have to ask: is it a problem people actually care about?
Finding your why is essential (thanks, Simon Sinek!). But understanding your who is just as important.
In the Arccos example, we quickly realized the “logical” audience of classic golfers didn’t necessarily care about using a jazzy IoT tool. We learned that by taking a deep dive into all the aspects of the product, from competitive analysis to creative exercises that help quantify and qualify the core target audience.
So, for example, one of my favorite exercises is not just to map the customer journey but the product journey. It may sound silly to imagine the experience of an inanimate object like a smart golf club from when it hits people’s radar through being purchased and used by a customer, but you can glean critical insights.
It’s about the customer journey, naturally, because that is central to any effective marketing. A day in the life of the product is also a day in a customer’s life, after all.
This research informs the creation of the Brand DNA — the essential ethos of your brand that does something bigger than just help pick color palettes or design logos. It’s the crucial work of looking at the world before your product existed and after. And once you really dig in, you start noticing patterns and intersects that inform your GTM strategies.
In Arccos’ case, we had access to a college community. (Yale, where the company founder was connected and we were venture mentors.) This allowed us to do a lot of qualitative research on young players — on one of the most challenging and respected courses in the country.
We found that when people had access to Arccos-enabled clubs, they played the game twice as much.
That nugget — people who use this product play twice as much golf — was a critical discovery that went beyond self-improvement. It told us the smart clubs increased engagement in a sport that was relatively stagnant and, as our data told us, essentially dying out. (This is pre-covid, remember.) This provided us with proof that the product created positive change category-wide: the player, anyone involved in the sport (like driving ranges and courses), and retailers.
This brings me to a central tenet of launch strategy: find something that a lot of people care about that you can prove with a few people and use that to create a community around it.
Community is Your Ace in the Hole
One tried and true way to learn about your target market is through social listening and sentiment analysis.
So, in our research phase, we spent a lot of time online and in person, hanging out where communities of young golfers went. We observed discussion and paid careful attention to discord in particular. That’s where unarticulated customer needs are often revealed. A little shit talk about a bad day on the golf course goes a long way.
This is also where you can unlock the demand moment: when are your customers smacked in the face about not having something they desperately need?
When there is flow between customer and community, commerce is created. And commerce creates transactions — a value exchange across the board — that becomes a cycle. Getting to that repetitive loop is what you want to design toward.
For example, we wrapped up our pre-launch phase knowing that our early adopter audience was youngerx, appreciated gear that’s future-forward and well-designed, and wanted an experience that felt novel. That helped inform our decision to go with a sleek, high-tech vibe that was more Apple than your dad’s favorite golf store. (And, in fact, that strategy worked at retail: at the time, there was a new head of retail for Apple who cut 50 or so products from their shelves because they didn’t fit their new design criteria. Arccos passed her tough standards and landed on their shelves in one shot.)
Understanding what your customer wants is all about unearthing the root causes of their motivations, from distress to delight, and going there. Whether you tap into the communities where they hang out or build communities that offer them value, talking to real people is always at the core of any launch — regardless of if it’s a brand new product or your 100th release.
Today Golf Digest reports that Arccos users have recorded eight million rounds and over 475 million shots with the system. Its analytics now includes 31 billion data points. Look past the ginormous numbers and notice that individual people are behind all those rounds and shots, revitalizing a once-dying sport and playing with enthusiasm and excitement.
That’s the real game we’re playing as marketers: driving success for your customers, first and foremost.
And a final thought about launching a product or service: it’s never going to be a hole in one. There’s always room for iteration, and improving the product based on customer feedback is a natural and welcome opportunity. But in a time when instant gratification rules, customer trust is down, and it’s all about buy now, pay later, you have to take your best shot out the gates.
With a GTM strategy built on real intelligence, that’s focused on the customer and the community you serve, you’ll ace your commerce goals.
If you’re launching a product, I’d love to help. Hit me up in the comments.