One of the key responsibilities, of many, for product marketers is nailing product launches - it’s something we take the lead on within our orgs.
In this article, I want to share some key learnings I’ve gleaned from over a hundred product launches I’ve carried out over the last five years, including the importance of right-size launches, internal marketing, and post-launch activities.
My name's Devang Sachdev and I run product marketing and partner marketing for Twilio's application platforms. I've worked previously at Nvidia, but I've served as a product manager so it's interesting for me to compare my life as a product manager or head of product, and then also my life as a product marketer.
For me, I think one of the key responsibilities for a product marketer, if not many, one of the key ones is launches.
There's debate over what does a product manager does and what a product marketer does. When it comes to communicating with customers, and launching new products, the product marketer takes the lead and carries the charge.
In this article, I want to share a little bit about the learnings that I've had in the last five years at Twilio. Over the course of five years, I've helped launch more than 110 different launches - big, small, all varieties.
What I want to share with you today is a little bit about what are some of the things that you can watch out for, what are some of the things that you can avoid. I'm gonna start with a story.
My very first week at Twilio, I run into a product manager and he goes, "Oh, great that you're here, I want to talk to you about launching a product next week".
That's happened to me a few other times at Twilio too. I have restrained myself from doing what the bitmoji version of me is doing...
But it's not just that, it's not that the product needs to go out in a week but it's more so it also comes with red hot expectations.
Every product manager believes that when we want to launch this product, we want to do it very much like how Steve Jobs announced the iPhone. It has to be that level of quality, it doesn't matter if this is a bug fix, but it's got to have attention.
Oftentimes, what a product launch turns out to be is a humble tweet, with a few retweets.
This really causes angst and disappointment so my goal in this article is to help you crush product launches.
Product launches need to start earlier
I think we all agree that product launches should start earlier than we all believe. The question is how early?
- Is a week an appropriate time? No.
- Is a month an appropriate time? Maybe.
- Six months? Maybe.
I believe that product launches should start way, way early. In fact, they should start at product inception.
Whenever this kernel of an idea comes that, "Hey, we should launch this in the market", whether it's a new feature, whether it's a net-new product, whether it's going into a new category, the point of inception is key to engage and latch on with the product team to make sure that from the very beginning, you're involved in thinking about how this product is going to go to market.
Typical launch phases
Let's go through a few phases of a typical product launch lifecycle. Some of you already do this. Some of you may be doing parts of this.
When you think about any typical product launch, you think about there's a pilot stage for the product development, there's a beta stage, and then there's a general availability or mature state of that product.
When you think about a pilot, this is when you want to start thinking about - who is this product being built for? You want to come up with the positioning pieces - what is this product going to do when it enters the market?
With that light level of analysis, you're now able to determine who the right customer would be when the product is available, either at launch or when even the product is available in beta.
Because those initial customers and connecting with those customers is going to be key in terms of understanding what's the best way to introduce this product in the market?
Then comes the beta phase, the beta product is shipped out, it may or may not be publicly available, but it's in the hands of a few customers.
These customers are important because, from these customers, you're going to understand how are they using your product? You're going to understand who else are they using that they want to replace with your product? Why are they believing that your product or capability is the best capability for them?
It's really important to document all these things because as you move into a larger launch phase, you want to have these anecdotes, you want to have these stories available to you so that you can create the right kind of message once you're ready to go big.
At this point, you sit in this loop:
- Is the product mature enough that I need to kick off a larger launch activity?
- What does the larger launch activity look like?
There's a lot of work that you need to do as a product marketer, whether you're the sole product marketer, or whether you're a product marketer with friends doing competitive intelligence, whether you have friends who are doing customer intelligence or customer marketing.
But nonetheless, product marketing, specifically all the blue boxes that you see are somewhat tied to product marketing.
All the nonblue boxes are the ones where you need to corral other teams, you need to get them excited about this particular product launch and you need to project manage this launch to a to launch event or to an actual go to market plan.
Who are some of these other teams?
If this launch is big enough, you would want to involve your press analysis team. You want to involve your content team, you want to involve your growth team or your demand generation team.
Of course, they will all have their own streams of work but nonetheless, I like to think about product marketers as a lion tamer. You are corralling, herding cats, big cats, small cats, you're herding everybody towards the same common goal.
It's really important to keep everybody in lockstep. Primarily, this is a big portion of the calories that you spend as a product marketer. I know what you guys are thinking, seriously, this is a lot of work, and how are you going to get it all done? The reality is that not every launch needs to be done in this full-court press.
I want to introduce this idea about how do we right-size these launches so that we're able to deliver them with the right expectations.
The number one type of tier that I think about, you may think about right-sizing as t-shirt sizing; small, medium large type of launches, I like to think about this in a slightly different way.
Tier 1: All guns blazing
I like to think about a tier that I call 'all guns blazing', where you are going to use every single piece in your marketing arsenal to go out to market.
You typically want to use this when you're introducing a major new product, which is going to change the course of your company, it's going to bring your company into a new market where you didn't exist before. Or you're trying to change the perception of your brand.
If the company is always recognized as, for example, Twilio is often recognized as an SMS provider and we're constantly on this path to help our target audience understand that Twilio does a lot more than SMS.
This is where we would want to introduce an 'all guns blazing' launch. What does an all guns blazing launch look like?
Of course, something that we've built up before and I'm sure that when you look at this chart, you will also recognize that there are elements in here that may be missing from what you might be doing for your launches.
All guns blazing: Twilio
Let me give you an example of what a full all guns blazing launch look like for Twilio.
Back in 2016-2017, we had this idea about entering a new market of contact centers. If you know Twilio a little bit predominantly we've worked on providing communication API's and not necessarily applications.
Back in 2016-2017, we had a research project that focused on entering a new market of contact centers. It's a $20 billion market, there are existing providers in this market such as Cisco, Genesis, and Avaya. We had to be very thoughtful as to what is the real thrust of our motion into this new market?
Mid 2017 is when we started doing a lot of beta tests and in 2018 March, we did the big reveal, and the large launch. This launch included a few different things.
- One, it was done at an industry event where we didn't have a chance to get the keynote but we secured a spot to hold a party the evening before, and we used that party, of course, to get everyone entertained but also we used that time to talk about this new product that we had introduced.
- We took over Twitter's homepage, so of course, the benefit over here is that we do have a property like twilio.com that has thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people visiting every month. Since this product was such a major change for the company, we had a complete takeover of the homepage and we featured very strongly with our customers who were involved in our beta test process.
- We focused on this one particular key asset, what I call the sizzle reel or the promo reel. This was a short 30-second video, a good amount of energy in the video, and this helped us drive a tonne of signups in the early days of this particular launch.
- Doing this we also engaged analysis and press, certainly got great coverage from TechCrunch and a few others in the tech industry or tech press, also trade press.
But then, really what blew our expectations was that this ended up with five times more signups than we had expected during this launch phase.
Not only that, but we also ended the year in 2018, with three times more pipeline than we had anticipated.
It really came down to us being thoughtful in terms of applying all the mechanisms that we had, not only in our own customer base but also in a new customer base that we wanted to build out. This is just one example.
Tier 2: Megaphone
The other tier that I think about is a 'megaphone' tier, this is where you want to tell, especially your own customer base, that you have a product that's new, or you're delivering on an asset that they've always been waiting for.
Or you're introducing a feature that is revenue-generating.
These are things that will add to the top line of your company and you want to be very thoughtful as to how do you leverage the existing customers that you have? When we think about this type of launch, certainly there are parts of that matrix of a product launch cycle that are not as relevant.
Depending upon the launch, you could either add or remove a few things from this list too. But the way I think about it, if this is a minor product, or if this is delivering on the ask of your customers, then it's very relevant for your customers, it's not necessarily very relevant for the rest of the market.
Press might not be an activity that you would pursue in this case. You would still want to do the same amount of work that you've done before in terms of creating your thesis on positioning, talking to early customers, and making sure that when you are going to reach your customer base, you're reaching the people who are going to find value in this new addition to your portfolio.
An example of this is a product that we launched in 2017. It was called Twilio Studio. If you think about Twilio, Twilio is a set of APIs that developers use to write applications.
In 2017, we introduced this new capability where users who didn't know how to write code or didn't want to write code, could use Twilio to build applications using a simple drag and drop interface.
It was opening up the market or opening up the number of users that could use Twilio a little bit more but it wasn't necessarily changing the way that our value proposition was set up.
The focus that we had for this particular launch was on identifying customers who are not necessarily known for being very developer-centric, or who are considered developer-centric, even for them this particular tool is a way to accelerate their go-to-market.
Focusing on those types of customers and highlighting those types of customers on this product page was very important. Another aspect was how do we engage our own user community and help them see this tool in a different light? Because at the end of the day, they were used to using Twilio in one way, how do we show that there's a different probably even a faster way of using Twilio?
We ran a tonne of social campaigns. There are a couple of ones that I remember that worked out really well.
- One of them was to submit an application (and these were applications that you could build within minutes), get a free t-shirt, get free stickers.
- There's also another program where we said, 'create an application around a specific fun challenge'. One of the challenges that we had created was how would you create a bot that would take requests for Christmas presents? We got a few hundred submissions on that as well.
Engaging the community with a small contest could be a way to engage your own users, and show them a different view of your product.
The last part was where it wasn't just about inspiring with the existing customers or showing them a different way of using our product, but it was educating them - how do you get from zero to having an application ready within minutes?
This is where we invested a lot of effort in creating how-to videos, small video vignettes, two minutes or less, and that focused on how do you create different use cases, using Studio - we have probably 15 different vignettes of videos.
Tier 3: In the loop
This third tier is what I call 'in the loop'. This is where you are talking about routine releases, minor feature updates, bug fixes, delivering on small asks that customers have always asked you and you've always put them on the back burner, and you're slipping that into the market.
This is where you can conserve a lot of your calories, you can build a little bit more rigor around doing this on a monthly basis rather than having to do it on a cycle basis.
A lot of calories are not only preserved in your PG launch state but also in your beta state because essentially you're addressing the same market.
In the loop: Twilio
An example of this is releasing a key feature that was relevant for creating video-based apps. We ended up doing a couple of different things to introduce this feature.
- One was having a changelog entry so every new feature release is entered into a running changelog for product, and writing a small blog about why is this change relevant?
- We also added it to the newsletter, and that was pretty much it.
It was less than a week's worth of effort. If this was the kind of launch that I had to run the first week I joined I think I'd be okay.
I think this is the most under-leveraged piece or tool in your arsenal.
Let me give you one example of how we've used internal marketing. It helps if you have a bigger company but even when we were a small company, this was one of the ways in which we create excitement for ourselves.
Internal marketing at Twilio
I told you about the Studio launch that took place in 2017 - the tool that allows you to build applications without having to write code.
We held a party internally before the launch for our employees, we even created virtual parties, especially in locations where we're not headquartered, and we did a couple of things.
- One, we had the celebration poster, so anyone who had worked on Studio could come in, put their name on it, and then we framed it and put it in the office - it became a badge of honour.
- The second thing we did was every desk had a studio balloon and we doled out these temporary tattoos. This is the only time when I put a tattoo on my neck, I'm glad it's temporary.
It was a way to get everybody excited. There are a few other things that you can do to get folks excited:
- Talk about it at company meetings,
- Do promo codes only for your employees in the beginning,
- Craft up social media messages that make it really easy for your employees to copy and paste.
We just brought them along that this is a big thing for the entire company and it's not just your own personal mission or motive to get the launch out but it's relevant for the entire company to get behind.
That's it, mission complete, right?
Not just yet, I think there's one more bit that we need to do before we call it a day.
You remember this matrix of the launch life cycle, there's a part of this matrix that takes place after the launch.
I like to include it as part of the launch because a lot of things that happen here can help you make sure that whatever your intention and expectation for launch was, is actually delivered, and also helps you prepare to do launches better, it helps get you into the right spot for your next launch.
At the end of the day, this cycle can repeat but if you do it in these phases, you can settle into a cadence where you can crush through a lot of different launches in parallel.
The areas to focus in this post-launch state, of course, are a lot of analysis as to how the launch did, but also where the leaks are in your funnel so that you can go optimize. Whether it's the message, whether it's the sales pipeline, or whether it's marketing campaigns.
One example of this, we talked about the launch of Flex, which is the product that we launched in the contact center space, we launched it in 2018, we generated a good amount of interest with our message and we generated a good amount of pipeline too.
But what we found at the end of 2018 was we weren't able to turn that into a substantial amount of revenue. So in 2019, we revisited the message, we carried out almost 17 or 18 different customer interviews, especially with our champions, to figure out what about our message was not necessarily specific and sticking with the audience in terms of converting them from being interested to getting down to being a customer?
In 2019, we not only updated the message, but we also got our sales teams to qualify leads better so that we could be a little bit more targeted on bringing the right people through the funnel.
These types of optimizations are important because if you were to think that your job is done at launch, you may have still not moved the needle, or you may be leaving some money on the table if you end your launches at launch.
Five key takeaways
I'll leave you with these five things.
First of all, when someone comes up to you and says, "Hey, we need to do a launch", gauge and set the right expectations for them. I think it'll help you a lot in the long run.
Think about launch at product inception.
Right-size them, however you want - t-shirt size, size in terms of calories burned, the type of impact that the launch will have on the market and your company.
Invest in internal marketing, I think this one is sort of a secret weapon.
And then launches don't end at launch. They continue to persist even once the product is out in the market. Thank you.