Product launch strategies are departing from the mainstream
Every company, large or small, wants to have new product launches like Apple. Every time Apple releases something, the anticipation is palpable, and on the first day of release there are lines snaking out of the Apple stores around the block all over the country. How do they do it? Apple fans argue that it’s simply because of the coolness factor of their innovative products. But there are plenty of other companies with innovative, cool products that don’t have lines of customers snaking out the door on the first day of release. There’s something more to it than that, and it goes way beyond product. Waterstone Management Group Partner Ken Ewell said that the execution of the launch process is often a bigger success factor than the product itself. Companies today have to scrap the old model of new product launch and go in a completely different direction.
We may never be able to completely understand Apple’s secret sauce, but we can take a peek under the hood at how new product launch has changed in the tech world. According to Ewell, “Typically, we think about features and functions, but it’s also pricing, design configuration, packaging, all those are elements that actually get iterated through the process.” And what makes the new product launch process call for a new model is the fact that the frequency between iterations of product is much tighter than in any other industrial example. “The ability to be good at this, to be consistent, and to be able to replicate the process will continue to be a significant differentiator.”
The recent iPhone 5 announcement made big news, and it was a big win for Apple. Again, it’s not just product, but process. Let’s take a hypothetical look into the iPhone of the future with Ewell. “Apple has gotten to the point where they have concurrent waves that are running, so behind the scenes, whatever the iPhone 7 will be, they are in the middle of a process right now. The marketing team is already coordinating with the owners of major accounts, and the process is also ongoing. The sales teams associated with these accounts are doing the things they need to do to preset both the customer-facing and technological innovation elements that are required for the iPhone 7."
The back-end logistics, the decisions made years ahead of time, and coordination between many, many stakeholders is not something for the faint of heart. Ewell continues, "There’s a conversation going on between senior engineers at AT&T and senior engineers at Apple right now, about network design changes that are going to be needed to optimize the functionality of the iPhone 7. And the piece that is most compelling about the Apple store, is that they appear, and then, it’s clear by the outcomes that they have all those elements coordinated, and they work down the process, with enough advance time to be able to get products to markets that are clean and ready to go. You contrast that with their competitors, who also made announcements that were preemptive, but they didn’t have pricing, they didn’t have functionality, they didn’t have the capabilities or the availability dates.”
Ewell emphasizes that Apple, in just being able to drive that systematic process and think through all of the elements, and then successfully deliver over three or four launches, has now put everyone else on their heels. "It becomes less about the actual functionality advantage that they have, and more about the advantage that they have generated around just being able to drive that cadence for launch, so that consumers are waiting, and they’re getting a complete solution and they’re ready for the next one. It’s a very powerful example," Ewell says.
In the case of Apple and almost everybody else in the software and hardware business, particularly in the cloud arena, there’s a whole new world. Besides the company making the product, there are third-party developers, open standards, and APIs that other people are writing to. The game is about integration on the engineering side as well, and there are infinitely more players involved in a successful launch than ever before. If you’re a company like Salesforce for example, you have to think not only about your own functionality, but about how third parties are going to write apps on top of your core platform. The traditional development and marketing model just doesn’t hold water any more.