It’s no exaggeration to say that your prelaunch campaign can be the difference between success and failure.
A well-thought-out prelaunch campaign that aligns with your long-term business goals can catapult your brand to a rarefied group of businesses that were successful right out of the gates. The goal is to make it so that when you launch your product you'll have people ready to buy. With a well thought out plan, complete with a prelaunch waitlist, you’ll have customers waiting to give you their money.
And while a poorly-executed or missing pre-launch campaign isn’t a kiss of death, it can take a significant amount of effort to undo leaving a bad first impression with customers.
In addition to increasing how many customers you have out of the gates, a prelaunch campaign also allows you to fine-tune your marketing material and website with smaller stakes. That way, when you launch you’ve already had a chance to optimize your marketing strategy, sales funnels, and conversion rate.
But pulling off a successful prelaunch campaign isn’t easy. When crafting your prelaunch campaign strategy, there are several things you should keep in mind.
Here are thirteen essential concepts you must get right if you want your launch to succeed.
#1 - Make sure your product is wanted
While having customers waiting to hand over their money the day you launch is a goal, the real power of a prelaunch campaign is that it lets you validate market buy-in with lower stakes. It lets you understand if your product fills a need and if potential customers are willing to pay for it.
Of course, you should believe that there is an audience for your product, but how do you know? The pain, not to mention financial hardship, of seeing a launch fall flat on its face, not resonating with anyone, is something you want to avoid at all costs. A prelaunch campaign gives you the chance to make sure there is a market for your product. Because the stakes are lower, you’ll have time to pivot to new marketing, even a different product, by crafting your prelaunch campaign.
By validating a need, you could even get people to give you money without even having a finished product. As entrepreneur Pat Flynn writes in Will it Fly, “It might seem ludicrous to think that you can get paid for something you haven’t even created yet, but when you can understand your target market well enough, truly define the problems they’re going through, and become the point person who will provide that solution for them, it becomes a completely real opportunity.”
#2 - Know what you do and why people should care
One of the most important but biggest challenges for any business is understanding how to make potential customers care about your product. It involves not only your marketing material but the product itself.
The solution lies in presenting your product and solution in a way that resonates with the intended audience. You need to hone in on what problem you are solving and make it clear to the user their life will be better if they use your product or service. As Jay Abraham writes in Getting Everything You Can Out of All You've Got, “If you can define the problem better than your target customer, they will automatically assume you have the solution.”
A prelaunch campaign is all about experimenting with different presentations for your product to get it perfect.
#3 - Understand your Niche
A big challenge for marketers is not only understanding their niche but how to reach people interested in it. A prelaunch campaign is a chance to investigate different niches, discover the best channels to reach them, and see if your product resonates there.
As you identify an audience and understand how to reach them, you can amplify those efforts when it’s time to launch your product.
#4 - Focus on Customer-driven development
A technique used by many software companies to make sure their software is meeting the needs of their customer is referred to as customer-driven development. It means viewing every decision in terms of how it impacts the customer and getting continuous feedback about the product. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has said, “We’re not competitor obsessed, we’re customer-obsessed. We start with the customer and we work backwards.”
You should always be working to understand how satisfied your customers are with your product. But the prelaunch stage is important because it gives you a chance to quickly iterate and test several different strategies. When you launch, you’ll be confident your campaign will resonate.
In many ways, your prelaunch campaign is a chance to understand what the real needs of your customers are. As Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz write in Lean Analytics, “We sometimes remind early-stage founders that, in many ways, they aren’t building a product. They’re building a tool to learn what product to build.”
Think of how to leverage your prelaunch campaign so that you understand and create a product and complementing marketing campaign that solves a real problem for real people.
#5 - Grow word of mouth advertising
A solid pre-launch campaign is all about building word of mouth advertising. You need to get as many people as possible to talk about your product before it launches.
You do that by finding and communicating something that resonates with your audience. When you have a product that fills a need, your prelaunch campaign is all about building hype for your product or service.
You want to get as many people talking about it as possible beforehand so that when you do launch people can’t wait to try your product.
Here are some ways to increase Word of Mouth advertising.
#6 - Leverage the Press, Influencers, and Public Relations
What used to be called public relations or getting “press” can help you get the most from your prelaunch campaign. By seeking out publications, websites, and social media influencers that are involved in your niche and getting them to write about you, you’ll stand a good chance of getting in front of people who will be interested in your product.
#7 - Use FOMO to energize your audience
A powerful concept that has become almost inescapable is Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). You’ve likely heard about it, but it involves our innate human desire to be a part of the in-crowd, to not miss out on what is going on with our social groups.
Your goal is to convince your audience that your product or service is the next big thing for their group. As Marketing guru Seth Godin puts it in his post People like us do things like this, “More than features, more than benefits, we are driven to become a member in good standing of the tribe. We want to be respected by those we aspire to connect with, we want to know what we ought to do to be part of that circle.”
FOMO means we don’t want to be left behind if everyone is using your new product or service. Of course getting your product or service to be “the next big thing,” even in a tightly defined niche, can be a struggle.
#8 - Foster exclusivity as a motivator
One of the most powerful ways to generate interest is to foster a sense of exclusivity. The idea is to portray the sense that there are a limited number of people who can use the product.
This phenomenon plays out in the real world when you read about new restaurants or clubs that not everyone can get into. In 2017, a British writer managed to leverage mystique (and some fake reviews) to turn his backyard shed into the top-rated restaurant on Trip Advisor. Part of what propelled his the listing to the top was people leaving reviews as if they had eaten there, but in fact, the “restaurant” didn’t exist. People were leaving reviews as if they had visited because they wanted to be part of the exclusive club that had eaten there.
An example of a real product that went on to become one of the biggest companies in the world by channeling exclusivity is Facebook. When Facebook was starting, it was at first limited to students with Harvard’s .edu email address. That made it extremely exclusive as only students at Harvard (arguably the most exclusive university in America) could participate. Facebook expanded slowly, first to other Ivy-league schools, then to more and more colleges and universities, before eventually opening up the platform to anyone. Because at first, not everyone could use the platform, it created an exclusivity that made users feel privileged to use it.
#9 - Prioritize growing your email list
One of the ways a prelaunch campaign can ensure that your campaign gets off on the right track is by growing a prelaunch waiting list and email list. One of your goals should be to drive email sign-ups so that you can talk to potential customers directly instead of having to pay to reach them through paid advertisements.
#10 - Form a “virtual line”
You’ll likely want to set up a prelaunch waitlist landing page to allow users to sign up for your product to receive whatever the incentive is.
When crafting your prelaunch campaign you’ll want to leverage social media. Make sure you add a social element so that each user can bring in additional users. Don’t just ask for their email, make it clear the value they’ll receive when they sign up.
A new product launch social media strategy means that you figure out a way to incentivize sharing. Why should someone share your product with the people that trust them? How does it help the referrer? How does it help the referee?
You need to have a compelling answer for at least one side of the equation, but for the best results, you should satisfy both.
#11 - Use rewards to increase participation
One tactic to create a viral waiting list, one that grows organically, is to provide a reward for sharing your product with others. The reward could be early or free access to your product, a discount, or access to something else of value to the user. But the reward must be tied to your product. Being entered into a drawing for an iPhone or an Amazon gift card might get a few people to share, but it won’t resonate with the audience. Craft your rewards so that they align with your overall business goals.
One way to help you find ideas to incentivize is by browsing through the top Kickstarter campaigns. On Kickstarter, each campaign comes with different tiers of rewards based on how much money is pledged. See what people are offering to spark ideas.
Among the most successful rewards programs of the past few years is stock trading platform Robinhood’s Referrals Program. “Invite Friends, Get Free Stock” is the headline on the landing page for the program. It’s clear and simple how it works. For each new user an existing user refers to the platform, both will get a free stock in a publicly-traded company. While most will get an inexpensive stock, the possibility of getting free stock in a high-flying tech company not only serves as a financial motivator, but also ads a bit of gamification to the campaign. Both users will want to know what reward the other received, adding a gaming element.
Speaking of gamification.
#12 – Use gamification to increase stickiness
When dealing with pre-launch waitlists and campaigns, and viral marketing in general, you’ll hear a lot about “gamification” and “stickiness.” Gamification refers to adding an element to the campaign to make it more like a game. Stickiness refers to how well your product grabs the users attention and holds it, keeps the user coming back. This can involve badges that reflect how many other people that person referred, tiers of rewards, any elements that make it fun to share, get other involved, and keeps users coming back.
#13 - Measure and analyze as much as you can
And of course one of the most important things to get right in any business is measuring the success of the product. When planning out your prelaunch campaign, spend a lot of time thinking about what metrics are the most important to track.
If you are creating a virtual waiting room, then you’ll want to know how many people signed up. But perhaps more important is how they learned about you in the first place. What marketing channels drove the most sign-ups, and what was the conversion rate for each channel and medium.
Maybe your Facebook ad resulted in a ton of traffic, but not many conversions. Meanwhile, a post on a blog didn’t drive as much traffic overall, but nearly all who visited did sign up. If that were the case you might want to focus your efforts on replicating the success of the blog, e.g. finding similar sites, rather than more Facebook ads.
Crafting and executing a successful pre-launch campaign can be difficult. But when you get it right it can ensure that your business is on solid footing from the get-go.