Launching new products is part of being an entrepreneur. But what you launch and how you launch it are crucial.
As an object lesson, let us revisit the 1985 release of New Coke, an event so bleak in the eyes of Coca-Cola fans that some actually call it Black Tuesday.
The backstory is that the company decided to retool its Coca-Cola recipe to make it sweeter, in hopes of targeting the taste buds of younger people. This was at the height of the company’s war with Pepsi, which had pulled ahead in popularity and was poised to wipe the floor with Coke unless drastic steps were taken.
Even though New Coke had performed well in taste tests, its rollout was beset by problems. Taste testing didn’t reflect how consumers actually drink a beverage, which generally involves more than a single sip. Die-hard Coke fans, particularly in the southern U.S., felt betrayed: Coca-Cola had become part of the fabric of their identity, and Pepsi was for Yankees. The backlash was enormous, and within three months, the company reintroduced its original recipe. Still, the specter of New Coke hangs in the corner of board rooms everywhere; an eternal, fizzy warning of a launch gone bad.
Launching a new product is a necessary piece of running a business. But as we know from Coca-Cola, it’s crucial to do it right. At my company, we recently released a new product called Jotform Sign, and I want to share a few observations about the process.
It’s easy to get carried away by flights of fancy. Trends show up, and like birds attracted to shiny objects, we want to go after them. It’s even harder to avoid chasing the latest craze when all your competitors seem to be doing it — shouldn’t we step into the ring, too?
Not necessarily. When deciding on whether to pursue a new product, it’s critical to ask yourself what value it will bring to your business and to your customers. Does it interest you just because it’s popular? Or because it’s really, truly in line with your company’s core mission?
E-signatures are seeing a boom in popularity post-pandemic, but that wasn’t why we decided to release our own product. The fact is that e-signatures are a natural extension of online forms, and we realized that implementing them would create a seamlessly automated workflow. Jotform was founded on the principle of making people’s lives easier, and adding this product matched our core values.
Understand the market
Under no circumstances should you move past the “idea” phase of a new product until you understand the market. Is there a need for your product? Who’s the competition, and how will your product be different from theirs? As Forbes Council member Doug C. Brown explains, failing to survey your audience to assess whether there’s market acceptance is the biggest mistake companies make. He recalls New Coke as an example, adding that “there are numerous products from new and existing companies that end up failing.”
Your findings won’t always be pretty. Back when we started testing what eventually became Jotform Cards, we were disappointed to find that customers weren’t responding the way we’d hoped they would: People who received the new card-style forms were 30% less likely to become active users. As bitter a pill as that was to swallow, it was far better to learn it early on. But more importantly, we came to realize that what our users really wanted was choice — and by giving them that, we were able to expand our active user base by 20%.
Be okay with imperfection
Launching a new product as an existing company carries a degree of risk. When you’re a new company, no one is paying attention to your mistakes and flops. But when you’ve already amassed a loyal following, the risk of a public misstep is very real.
That said, there’s a difference between pursuing greatness and pursuing perfection. Yes, you want your product to be perfect. You want people clasping their hands in awe; for TV news anchors to interrupt regularly scheduled programming to sing its praises. This probably won’t happen. You’re never going to reach the point where it’s perfect; you may not even reach the point where you think it’s ready. Get it to “good enough,” then send it out into the world.
As proud as I am of Jotform Sign, I know this is just the first of many versions to come. We’ve still got a lot to learn, and I’ve released enough products to know that we’re going to get better with time.
Position your product
Put simply, product positioning is determining how your product fits into the market, and how it differentiates itself from the competition. Positioning establishes who your audience is, what they need and the way your product specifically can fill that need.
If you release your product without positioning it, the world will likely see it simply as the latest addition to a crowded field of existing options. It would be easy for Jotform Sign to be interpreted as just another e-sign tool, joining the dozens (if not more) that are already out there. If you don’t position your product, the public will, and you lose control of the narrative.
To keep this from happening, it can be helpful to write a positioning statement. Start with these three questions:
- Who is the product for?
- What does the product do?
- Why is it different from other products out there?
What separates Jotform Sign from the competition is that it essentially automates whole workflows by integrating with our other products, like existing forms, approvals and tables. We made sure that messaging was front and center during our launch, so it’s clear how it stands out from other sign products.
Releasing something new is never easy, and even the best product can fail if it’s launched improperly. Give yourself every opportunity for success by preparing correctly.