When is the right time to launch a new product or service? As a business educator, I hear that question often. Like everything in business, the answer is complicated. It’s highly dependent on who’s asking and what kind of business they’re in, and it comes with a string of “ifs,” “ands,” and more than a few “buts.” The shortest possible answer would have to be “it depends.” The longest possible answer would fill a textbook.
Is the product ready?
To start, the best time to launch is generally As Soon As Possible. I’m a firm believer in Eric Ries’ Lean Startup philosophy. According to this strategy, trying to launch a perfect product is a fool’s errand, and wastes critical time. Instead, release what Ries calls the MVP: minimum viable product. Basically, the product has to work. It has to perform the stated function, and that’s all.
Bells, whistles, and other additions can be added later or included in future iterations of the product. Every product should be released as soon as it can be used, and all of the honing and perfecting you might be tempted to do beforehand can be accomplished while it’s already on the market. This is cost-effective, because it allows you to start profiting from your product before you start tweaking it, and it allows you to take advantage of the excitement your product creates to sell more refined versions later.
That’s not to say you should release something inferior to the public, of course. It simply describes a different way of looking at product development. Namely, product development should be a never-ending process, a lifelong struggle for perfection that’s never actually achieved. Knowing that, why not make money as soon as the product is viable? If Apple waited until the first iPhone could do what the latest ones can, we’d still be flipping open our Nokias.
With a minimum viable product ready to launch, the exact time of the year, month, and even week you choose can make a difference. For instance, most sales experts agree that Monday is not a good day for a product launch. Consumers are too focused on the coming week, with its responsibilities and expenses, to be in a buying mood. Fridays are problematic, too. The weekend is coming, and people are in social mode, not consumption mode. Therefore, mid-week, from Tuesday to Thursday, is statistically the best time. Not as overwhelmed as on Monday, but not as carefree as on Friday, consumers are in a headspace conducive to a purchase.
The time of year matters as well. Naturally, there’s lots to be bought and sold in the weeks leading up to holidays- but launching a product on Christmas day is unlikely to work out. The same goes for minor holidays as well. July 4th or Memorial Day are just as bad a time to launch as New Year’s Day, for the same reasons. The key is to avoid days or weeks in which people have reasons not to buy, either because they’re too busy, or they’re financially stretched.
Of course, the product itself will determine when the best time of year is to launch. January, for example, can work well for fitness equipment or other self-improvement products that may help fulfill New Year’s resolutions. Spring and summer are best for outdoor products. Statistically, May and June are the top months in which cookware and other home goods sell, given that so many weddings take place in the summer. August is best for laptops and other things students will need come September.
It all comes down to what car salesmen might call the Convertible Rule: never try to sell a convertible when it’s snowing. Always look for the right seasonal conditions to move your particular product, and the odds will do a lot of the selling for you.
Choosing your ideal launch time will also depend largely on your own schedule. Don’t plan a product release on your anniversary, or your kid’s birthday, or during the season finale of Game of Thrones. If you can, try to schedule the launch when both your personal life and your business have as little going on as possible, so that you can devote whatever time and energy will be needed to the launch.
It makes sense to prioritize product launches over other considerations. You only get one shot at this, after all. Inevitably, there will be glitches, customer service issues, press release management, and a host of other unpredictable demands on your attention. It’s important to have all hands on deck, and yourself at the helm, ready to execute the launch with 100% presence. No matter how well you plan it, there’s no way to put a product launch on auto-pilot.
When it’s a rocket ship, the good folks at NASA wait for a clear day and a particular alignment of the planets. Just so in business, where there are conditions that have to be met in order for a product to be launched successfully. These conditions have nothing to do with the calendar, but rather with having certain ducks in a row in order to facilitate the best outcome.
First, you’ll have to have established your brand’s credibility enough to justify excitement for your new product. Have you advertised? Sent out emails? Hosted a webinar? If you haven’t already given your consumer base a reason to trust you, it’s time to lay that groundwork down. This way, more customers will be willing to gamble whatever the price of your product is on the certainty that it will meet their needs.
Secondly, make sure that your business infrastructure is prepared for the jump in sales, lest you risk the “catastrophic success” of having loads of orders without being able to fill them efficiently. Is your distribution system in place? Is your payment system glitch-free? Do you have team members standing by for customer service and tech support? Anticipate success, and you’ll guarantee it.
Finally, time the launch in relation to existing products and their performance. Does your product address a shortcoming in something the competition has on the market? Can it supplement another good product, working in tandem? Even your own product’s performance should be taken into account. The best time to launch a new product of yours is when another product of yours is reaching the peak of its success, so that you can ride that momentum into the next wave of sales.
Launching a product can be as stressful as actually creating one. The best way to ensure that your launch goes well is, first and foremost, to have a unique and creative product in the first place. Beyond that, it’s a matter of communication. Stay in touch with your audience. Use email and social media to build excitement around your product, and be there to usher it into the market.
Expect the unexpected, and be ready to handle questions, concerns and other feedback from your audience. Be open to it, and respond to it quickly and professionally. Step your customer service game up for the occasion, and be honest and straightforward as the response to your launch rolls in.
Stand by your product, and listen carefully for all the notes it hits with your audience. You’ll need to know what went well, and what didn’t- because the day of your big launch is the day you start preparing for the next one.