All right, our plans have been implemented and the company ‘s infrastructure is in place. I know you may be thinking that you can finally relax-and to some degree, you’re right; after all, the hard part’s over. But don’t get too comfortable just yet: the launch phase must be carried out with the same diligence as all our previous work. Now, it’s true that the actual launch may seem somewhat anticlimactic compared to the time and effort spend on getting your infrastructure up, but this final market push is absolutely necessary to build a successful business. This decisive push should, as always, be a clearly planned strategy that takes full advantage of the most appropriate sales and marketing channels. This phase should not only fully complement all the devoted time, effort, and expense thus far, but it should also make a statement for others. It should validate your business model enough to impress your current investors while making potential investors interested. Believe me, you’ll thank yourself by the next round of funding or eventual IPO (Initial Public Offering) or sale of the company.
In this day and age of Internet-based business, Beta testing your product is critical. As Beta launches are usually reserved for technology-based companies, this preparatory measure may not be entirely applicable to your company. But if your product or service involves software, database development, networking, or other computer-intensive issues, testing can serve as an invaluable way to work out kinks before putting your idea on the chopping block.
For instance, let’s look at those video games that attract customers because of their ability to pit players from all over the world against one another via the company’s own network servers. These game designers know that they have a great idea: a fun game, augmented by the whole new realm of playability, afforded by networking. But how did they get it to work? The designers, themselves, must have wondered if it could really be done. In many cases, Beta testing can supply all the answers.
Let us further study the case of the video game software manufacturer. The game involves complicated, memory- and graphics-intensive software. In addition, to the actual play of the game, it has to have smooth network functions to allow for the multi-player aspect on the servers. Finally, the servers, themselves, have to be robust enough to handle high traffic. The only practical way to know if everything will come together is through testing. One experimental network server can be set up as a model for others to come, and a copy of the game can be issued to an appropriate number of random gamers interested in taking part in the test. Small-scale tests such as these can act as an “experiment in a bottle”, wherein a small portion of the public act as the experimenters…for free! This forces the game, or any other product or service, to work in the real world, devoid of wishful thinking and sympathetic users. Meanwhile, it also grants a great deal of leeway, as it allows for the correction of any unforeseen problems before it’s too late.
The name of the game is feedback. You get potentially significant information on how your product handles in the real world. In addition, besides being given the chance to improve the product based on real-world experience, you get the added bonus of having free hype generated prior to the final version launch simply by virtue of the Beta test. Whether there are bugs to work out or not, testers will take your product or service seriously and, for good or bad, news will invariably begin to spread by word-of-mouth. Free advertising is good. But keep in mind, nothing is truly free: note the sacrifice in time to market and any other resources expended in the actualization of the test. Everything must be weighed before going ahead with a Beta launch.
There’s definitely a lot to learn about advertising and marketing from the pre-Web days. In fact, it’s almost embarrassing to look at some of the dot-com ad campaigns that have come down the pipe in the last few years. Here’s a familiar experience: a slick, stylish, artsy commercial, spouting some pseudo-philosophical message. Now, how many times have you utterly missed the name of the brand or URL that flashes for about one nanosecond at the end of this commercial? Brand building is an art form; it has got to leave a positive impression or message about the company and product with the target audience.
Good marketing decisions must be made at the outset, as there is little time to waste. Brands, which may once have taken years to develop, can be made or broken overnight. As I’ve emphasized before, marketing is key from step one, and as such, a portion of even your first round funding should be allocated to it. Remember: a strong customer base and its subsequent revenue aren’t the only things at stake. You have to prove your business model and at least demonstrate that you can make money for investors in order to get further capital.
For this push, let’s focus on a few points. First, if the primary way your company communicates to its customer base is via a website, you should make sure that the site’s content is compelling enough to accomplish three things. It must attract customers in the first place. It must keep them there long enough to buy a product, sign up for a promotion, or do whatever it is that generates your revenue. Finally, it must keep them coming back for more. This is such an important part of brand building, which you should be ready to pay big bucks for effective content preparation.
The next point is designing your company’s look. Think about it: the first thing that people will see is your logo and the look your company takes on will act as its calling card. This design should reflect what makes your company the best. It should create a common reference point for all your customers, and most of important of all; it should make your company stand out proudly from the sea of look a likes out there. You don’t want to have to do it again, so get it right from the beginning. Hire professionals.
Outsourcing public relations should have been taken care of at this point and now their competency is needed more than ever. It’s always a good idea to go with an established public relations firm that has an impressive track record. This should attract further investors and or potential buyers. Again, don’t hesitate to spend money, albeit wisely, on public relations. You have got to be noticed and the public relations firm should be guiding you through this process.
Finally, advertisement, itself, should be considered the most critical facet of your plan at this point. Indeed, after all is said and done, marketing communications can potentially determine your company’s success or failure, even if the implementation went off flawlessly. Don’t be surprised if you end up spending up to fifty percent of your capital on advertising, direct marketing, promotions, and events. At the risk of repeating myself, understanding the market is key, so pay special attention to it. For instance, if you sell computer parts, do you really need a television spot during the Super Bowl? Well, though it may have been a bad idea for many dot-coms, the idea doesn’t sound so bad if you’re planning an IPO soon. It may even be a good idea if this expensive spot is part of a combined campaign effort including direct marketing, trade show events, etc. Another example is the recent boom in dot-com radio advertisement. Why radio, you ask? Maybe dot-coms are learning from history that, for comparative loose change, their names and products can be mentioned during their target demographic’s morning commute.
Tying It All Together: Hype
Your marketing analyst, planning group and public relations firm should know all this. Do you really have to worry about tying it all together? Well, for those of us who like to have a hand in our own destiny, I’ve prepared a short pre-launch list of rules for playing the media game.
Work to achieve unity in how people see your company. In other words, ensure that your officers, executives, and employees all communicate the same message: same ideas about the company using consistent key wording. This message should be consistent with your marketing efforts. All you need to do is set up a workshop for your employees run by one of your public relation teams. Based on market research, the public relations team should be able to formulate a positive statement or a message that emphasizes the company, market, and product or service using unified key phrasing.
Next, keep the advertisement simple. The message sent to customers should be clear and easy to understand. The goal here is develop an immediately memorable image. Since the average attention span can only grasp one or two key concepts, the campaign should reflect the value of the company in a provocative way. Along with simplicity is relevancy. The tone of the advertisement should prompt the audience to believe that what you offer will actually affect their lives. Thus, your advertisement will stand out that much more and viewers and listeners will pay at least a few more seconds of attention. In addition, making the advertisement seem more personal will help customers support your business. They will subconsciously associate your company with friendliness and compassion. Remember, your campaign should also hit them from every angle. Television and billboards are great, but let’s see some signs on the sides of buses, airplanes with trailing banners, radio advertising, sky-writing, you name it.
Finally, take an active role as your company’s spokesperson. Forget about being an entrepreneur for a moment, and focus on what got you here to begin with. Take those strengths and promote education in a highly publicized way. In other words, if you originally were an aerospace engineer (the discipline that prompted the creation of your company, which, say, produces rocket parts for different manufacturers), speak publicly about that discipline. When dealing with the media, push your accessibility as a valuable resource of subject-matter expertise. You don’t even have to mention your company: once you’re recognized as an industry expert, your company and brand will gain a great deal of respect. Give talks at colleges, do radio shows, and get on Nightline or Politically Incorrect.
Every little bit helps.