The Three Phases of a Product Launch

In my previous post, I shared about the process I used to finally find my first private label product.  But once I had a product, now I had to figure out how to get people to buy it!  After listening to hundreds of hours of podcasts, with a few books thrown in for good measure, I had a basic idea of what I needed to do.  In a nutshell, here was my strategy:

  1. Grow a mailing list of potential customers
  2. Get them excited about my product before it’s even available
  3. Build a foundation of 25 reviews for my product once it arrives
  4. Have my mailing list and everyone I know go buy the product over a one week period

I divided up the process in to what I call the Pre-Launch, Soft Launch, and Hard Launch phases.  Below are some of the things I did, along with a few I wish I’d done!

 

Pre-Launch

pre-launch-phaseOnce you order your first product, you’ll probably have several weeks or even months until it arrives and is ready for sale.  This gives you time to begin thinking about how you’re going to launch your product.  Your two goals during this phase are to rank for search terms (i.e. get to page 1 on Amazon search results) and to get as many reviews as possible so potential customers will be more likely to purchase our super widget.

 

1. Build a Mailing List

A. Sign up for an email service provider that can collect the email addresses of interested people from your target market.

My personal favorite is MailChimp.  I’ve used it since 2012, and not only is it easy to use and powerful, it’s also free for your first 2,000 subscribers or 12,000 emails/month.  If you decide you need additional features, like an autoresponder series (which you will – see below!), it’s only $9/month when you enroll in autopay.  Click here to sign up for a free MailChimp account.

 

B. Begin collecting the email addresses of your target market.

1. Research Facebook groups, discussion forums, blogs, etc. related to your target audience. You might already be active in a few that you used for market research when creating your product.  Share about your new product and recruit people join an exclusive beta-test or launch group.  Tell them that in exchange for joining your mailing list and helping with your product launch that they’ll receive a steep discount (or free product) when it’s available.

2. Ask friends & family to spread the word to people that would be interested in your product and get them to join your list. Note that family & friends should not join your list themselves as Amazon specifically prohibits “family members or close friends of the person, group, or company selling on Amazon” from writing “Customer Reviews for those particular items” which is one thing you’ll eventually want.  Violating this can get your account closed!

3. Optional: Run Facebook ads to a landing page to get mailing list sign ups. Obviously this isn’t free, but it is another way grow your mailing list by targeting specific demographics, interests, etc.

 

2. Introduce You, Your Company, and Your Product via Email

A. Build a connection with your mailing list by telling them about you (& your family, if applicable), your dreams, why you started your company, why your product is awesome, etc. This personal connection will make people more likely to support you and tell others once your product is available.

 

B. It’s best to drip this content out over a series of emails rather than a long novel that rivals Moby Dick. The easiest way to do this is by setting up an autoresponder series using MailChimp or whatever provider you chose.  An autoresponder is a pre-written series of emails that is sent to new subscribers in a certain order over a certain time frame.  For example, you can have the first email sent immediately after the join, the second email sent a day later, the third email sent two days later, etc.  Again, this is easy to do with MailChimp but you’ll need to upgrade from a free account to their $9/month account which is what I use.

 

3. Keep Your List Informed

Let them know what’s going on with your product. Build excitement by sharing your logo, pre-production shots, anticipated release date, etc. as they become available.  By the time your product is actually offered you should have a salivating group of people ready to buy!

 

4. Sign Up for the Amazon Associates Program

Amazon has a referral program called Amazon Associates that allows you to earn a percentage of every sale for traffic that you send them. You ARE allowed to use this program to send traffic to your own listing, but you CANNOT click and use your own referral link.  The nice thing about this program is that you earn a percentage on everything the people you refer buy while on Amazon.  For example, someone clicks your referral link, adds your product to their cart, then keeps shopping for other items they need.  You will earn a percentage of everything they buy during that shopping trip!  This program is absolutely free so go sign up at https://affiliate-program.amazon.com.

 

5. Get Your List to Begin Reviewing Other Amazon Products

Eventually, you’re going to ask your list to leave an honest review of your product. It can look suspicious to Amazon if your new product suddenly gets a barrage of reviews from first-time reviewers so I suggest having your list review other products they’ve previously purchased on Amazon.  Send an email walking them through this process and explaining why it’s important.  Give some guidelines on what a good review looks like –several sentences in length, describes features of the product, talks about what the reviewer liked and didn’t like, etc.

 

6. Build Your Company’s Social Media Accounts

A. Create accounts for your company on the various social media platforms. Although you can have multiple accounts, you’ll want to spend your effort on the one or two platforms where your target audience spends most of their time.

 

B. Post regular, relevant content to your accounts. Make it easy on yourself by curating the content from other sites and accounts you follow rather than creating a bunch of new content yourself.  It feels a bit like stealing, but they’ll actually appreciate you spreading their content around!

 

Soft Launch

soft-launch-phaseOnce your product is available I recommend doing a soft launch before beginning Amazon Sponsored Ads, social media marketing, etc.  The purpose of the soft launch is to get a foundation of around 25 reviews to act as “social proof” for potential customers.  I know it’s hard to be patient and wait for those 25 reviews, but it will pay off in the end with better conversions for both your organic and ad-driven traffic.  While you can certainly skip this step, the odds of someone buying a product with zero or few reviews is very low so you’ll likely just be wasting money on paid advertising.

 

1. Ask Your List for Volunteers to Purchase Your Product

The BIG DAY is here and the product you’ve been hyping for days, weeks, and possibly months is finally available! Email your list with the big news and ask for a “handful” of volunteers who are willing to test the product and give their honest feedback.  At this point, I wouldn’t offer any discount.  If you’ve done a good job building excitement with your autoresponder series, then you should be able to get a few dozen volunteers to buy it at cost.  If not, then offer a small 10-20% discount for the “privilege” of early access to your product.

Choose around 35 volunteers and individually email them with directions on how to buy your product.  (You really only need 25, but odds are that some won’t follow through.)  The optimal way is to have them search for your primary search term and scroll through the pages until they find your product.  This will give a little boost to your ranking for that particular search term.  It helps if you include a screenshot of what your listing looks like so they know what to look for.  If this is too much work, then just send them directly to your product using your Amazon Associates link.

 

2. Follow Up with Your Volunteers

A. Ask How They’re Enjoying Your Product

1. Rather than asking directly for a review, email them directly and ask how they’re enjoying the product. This is a good opportunity to catch recurring problems with your product before it goes wide to everyone.  It’s also a way to head off potentially negative reviews by offering to making things right with your customers.

2. Remind your volunteers to review other products if they haven’t yet.

 

B. Ask for Their Honest Review

If they’re happy with the product, then ask them for their honest review. You can either provide a direct link (easiest) or walk them through the steps in an email.  Amazon is insistent that all reviews be honest so be careful not to influence them with what to write.  You can however remind them of some general guidelines: ideal length is 75 to 500 words; discuss why they liked the product; focus on specific features; comparisons to other products are fine; photos & videos are awesome!

 

C. Sign Up for a Salesbacker Account

Salesbacker is basically an autoresponder service for your Amazon customers. It will automatically email your customers at set intervals requesting and reminding them to leave a product review.  You can either use their prebuilt email templates or write your own personalized sequence.  It is a fantastic way to quickly grow your reviews and build up your all-important “social proof” that helps turn browsers in to buyers.  I use Salesbacker myself and couldn’t be happier with it!

At this point I wouldn’t turn Salesbacker on because you’re manually reaching out to your group of volunteers and walking them through the review process.  But you do want to set up your follow-up sequence and have it ready to go for the next phase.

 

Hard Launch

hard-launch-phaseIt seemed to take forever, but you finally have 25 positive reviews for your new product!  It’s finally time to move on the last phase of your launch.  Your patience is about to be rewarded!

 

1. Get Sales and Improve Your Rank!

This final phase is focused on maximizing sales over a one-week time frame to increase your rank and hopefully reach page one of search results for your primary search term.

A. Offer a Limited Time Discount Code to Your Mailing List

1. Share a few of your best early reviews with your mailing list to get them excited. Then offer them an exclusive coupon code to purchase your product at a discount.  If you’ve done a good job of grooming your list, you should be able to offer a break-even or slightly profitable discount rather than giving your product away for free or at a loss.

2. Emphasize that this discount code is for a limited time and will expire on a specific date at midnight. (You can set this in your Amazon promotions.)

3. Ask your list to find your product by searching for your main primary search term and scrolling through until they find your product. Again, including a screenshot of what they’re looking for will help.  It’s a bit of work, but most people are willing as it’s a small price to pay for a discounted, brand new product!  Alternatively, you can give them a direct affiliate link to your product via the Amazon Associates program but you’ll get less of a boost to your page rank.

4. Continue to email them throughout the week, reminding them that their exclusive coupon code expires at midnight on a certain day. On the last day, emphasize that this huge discount will not be repeated as you’re not making any (or very little) money off the product at this price point.  Deadlines are powerful motivation.  You’ll typically find that you’ll get a huge number of sales the first day and another spike the last day, just before the coupon expires.

 

B. Offer a Limited Time Discount to Friends & Family

There’s nothing in Amazon’s terms of service that prohibits friends and family from purchasing your product, so repeat the above steps. Blast the affiliate link and a coupon code out on your personal social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) every day during launch week.  Ask them to share the link & coupon with anyone they think might be interested in your product.  You can decide how large of a discount you want to give, but it should be substantial to maximize the number of sales.  The goal during launch week is not profit, it’s sales rank, so get as many sales as you can!

 

C. Share a Limited Time Offer with Your Target Market

Go back to the Facebook groups, discussion forums, blogs, etc. that you researched way back in step 1.B., share some of your best initial reviews, and offer then a limited discount code. For Facebook groups, it’s best to approach the moderators first and ask permission.  For blogs, ask if they’d like a special code just for their audience.  (The code can somehow be related to the blog’s name.)  Blog owners tend to appreciate this as they like offering valuable, relevant content to their audience and a special code makes them look important.  J

 

D. Post a Deal to Your Company’s Social Media Accounts

Hopefully by now you’ve gotten at least a small following that has enjoyed the regular content you’ve been sharing.  Start mixing in your content this week with affiliate links to your product and a steep discount code.

 

E. Post a Limited Time Discount on Deal Sites

Create another offer that you can share on deal sites such as slickdeals.net. Use your affiliate link and a give as steep of a discount as you can bear.  It’s all about sales this week!

 

F. Turn on Salesbacker

Now’s the time to start automatically following up with buyers, asking them to leave an honest review. The more sales you get, the more reviews you’ll get, which leads to more sales, which leads to more reviews, and on and on it goes!  (You should personally follow up with family & friends, telling them NOT to leave you a review as it’s against Amazon’s Terms of Service.)

 

That’s it!  Hopefully by the end of your launch week you’ve reached page one for at least one of your primary search terms.  You will most likely lose a little rank after the flood of sales slows to a trickle, but thanks to your rank and dozens of excellent reviews, you should begin getting organic sales.  With a little work, you should slowly see your regular sales increasing week-over-week.

 

What’s Next!?

1. Keep Up the Momentum

A. Begin Running Amazon Sponsored Ads

I recommend NOT running ads until your launch week is over, otherwise your well-meaning supporters may click the ads when searching for your product which costs you money!

 

B. Continue Reaching Out to Your Target Market

1. Keep posting in relevant Facebook groups, discussion forums, and blogs. Reach out to more blog owners, offering them a free product to test and a discount code for their audience if they like it.

2. Post regularly to your company’s social media accounts. Be sure to focus on offering valuable content that is only occasionally interspersed with sales and links to buy.  Focus on delivering value first and the sales will come.

 

C. Use Free Press

One of my favorite avenues of attracting customers is using newspapers, alumni associations, employer newsletters, etc. Let others talk you up and tell their audience how great you and your product are!  Click here to learn how I used free press to build my business and to get my Free Press Checklist for more information.

 

D. Build Your Own Ecommerce Website

Amazon is a great source of traffic and revenue, but you’re also completely at their mercy. They can, and have, shut down accounts for the smallest of infractions, even if only perceived.  Having your own online store has multiple benefits:

1. You Control It – Amazon can’t shut you down on a whim.

2. Collect Customer Email Addresses – A customer mailing list is one of your most valuable resources! It’s like a spigot of sales that you control and can turn on at will.

3. Increased Profits – You’ll keep a much larger chunk of your profits when Amazon isn’t skimming off the top!

4. Larger Orders – By combining targeted coupons, free shipping offers, and other strategies, you will get larger orders. On Amazon I average just over 1 unit/order but on my company’s website it’s closer to 2.5 units/order!

Click here to learn how I built my online store and to get my Ecommerce Website Checklist.

 


My Launch Week Results

So how did my Launch Week go?  After about a month-long soft launch, I officially held my hard launch from April 26 – May 2, 2016.  Here are my results:

 

Amazon Sales: 143 orders, 182 units, $2,720.90 in sales

launch-week-amazon-results

 

Amazon Associates (Affiliate Program): $58.77 (pure profit!)

launch-week-affiliate-results

 

Amazon Reviews: 37 total by week’s end 

 

Amazon Page Rank: First page, #3 for my primary search term

 

All in all, I counted it a rousing success!  And the great thing was that I didn’t need to give away dozens of products for free while spending tons of advertising.  In fact, the only expenses (other than Amazon fees) were the $9/month for my MailChimp account and $19/month for my Salesbacker account.

Whew!  That’s a lot of information to digest so I created a simple Launch Process Checklist to summarize it.  Click the button below to download the checklist.

download-the-checklist

 

 

In my next post, I’ll share about how I’m using free press such as newspapers and alumni associations to spread the word and build our customer base.

I’d leave to hear your questions or comments, so leave them below!

 

[Disclosure: Please note that some of the links included in this post are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase through them. If you do decide to use them I truly appreciate your support, so thanks!]

Kent McCorkle

Dr. Kent McCorkle is a chemistry professor, online entrepreneur, world traveler, and self-proclaimed foodie.

4 Comments

  1. Hi Kent, loved your poddie iwth Scott V which i listened to this morning in England however THE THREE PHASES OF A PRODUCT LAUNCH Download Checklist- wont download the checklist – wonder if link is broken. Also tried to contact you via your contact page and the CAPTCHA code thingy is not working so wouldn’t submit the contact page.

      (Quote)

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