With the Internet economy in full swing, newly formed technology companies are forced to work at Internet speed in virtually every aspect of business. There is no time to waste, and the pressure to quickly succeed drives every decision and every move that’s made.
In the midst of this environment, it is absolutely critical that new companies embark on a focused and clearly thought-out launch plan to make sure they maximize their introduction into the marketplace. Aside from an IPO or acquisition, a company’s launch is perhaps its most important marketing event.
With that in mind, below is a summary of key factors that will help ensure your launch firmly plants the company in the ground and positions it for the next stage of development.
- Don’t wait too long. A lot of companies think if they launch too soon, they risk tipping their hat to a competitor. The truth is, there are a lot of ideas out there, and if you don’t get into the market soon, someone else will. If you have a new story, be aggressive in telling it. While product development, raising capital, and employee recruitment are vital to building the company, none of these issues matter if you don’t have customers, partners and some general market traction and awareness. As long as your company is beyond the concept stage, and you have a well-rounded story and some initial market validation, you shouldn’t wait to get it out there.
- Choose your marketing/PR firm two to three months before the launch. Like every other industry within the Internet and technology universe, marketing has a supply problem. There just aren’t enough seasoned marketing/PR consultants out there. Today, most good PR firms are stacked to capacity and are having a difficult time attracting and retaining the top talent. So it will probably take you several weeks to find a firm to take your business, then schedule the initial meetings and get an agreement in place. Once you’ve added marketing expertise to your team, it takes at least two months to properly plan and implement a solid launch strategy.
- Find a firm that understands the start-up environment, can act quickly, and has a strong track record. Whatever you do, avoid the urge to hire a large, high-profile PR firm that has a roster of clients filled with names like Oracle, Cisco, Sun or Microsoft. These firms typically do not have the expertise and business models that cater to the unique needs of small, start-up companies. They are not prepared to work at the warp speed you are used to dealing with on a daily basis.
Instead, choose an agency that specializes in emerging growth companies and has a model that focuses on results rather than market analysis, positioning strategy sessions, and the like. These days, markets can change overnight, and it just doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of time on such activities. Instead, your marketing team should devise a plan quickly and immediately begin executing on it. In short, try to find consultants who come from the same corporate culture and mentality as the rest of your company, because the marketing firms you work with are truly a direct extension of your organization.
- Secure as many third-party references as possible. It will be extremely helpful to meet with at least a few influential technology analysts (Forrester, Gartner, and IDC, for example) before you talk to the press. These analysts will have an objective understanding of the industry, and most will be willing to offer feedback on your presentation, as well as provide general thoughts about the company and technology. Equally important, make sure you have a handful of customers and partners (or at least potential ones) who understand your company and are willing to actively support your launch.
- Make a media event out of your launch. Regardless of what you are ready to announce, the timing and strategy implemented should always be tailored to convincing the press that you have something new and special to offer the marketplace. Target the right press not only based on where you want to be, but on where your story truly has legs. Everyone would love to be on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, but not every company has the goods to deliver that kind of story. Offer some juicy exclusives to a variety of media so the journalists can feel good about how unique their story is going to be. A well-targeted media strategy will serve you well in maximizing the exposure of your launch.
- Credible, charismatic spokespersons make a BIG difference. The company should be able to clearly communicate both short- and long-term visions, and have a deep understanding of its industry. The company’s spokespersons are the gatekeepers of information and funnel that flow directly to the press. So it’s vital that these executives are comfortable talking to reporters and answering tough questions related to the competitive landscape, funding, and other sensitive issues. Going through some practice sessions should help these executives ease into this comfort zone.
The last few years have proven undeniably that the initial launch of a company can signify ultimate success or failure. There are dozens of examples supporting the notion that a great product or technology doesn’t mean too much if people don’t know it exists in the first place. With all due respect to viral marketing, most companies won’t get very far unless they proactively create positive mindshare that will help attract employees, customers, partners and, of course, that ever precious next round of capital.