Ten Reasons Your Next Launch Will Fail

To introduce your new products successfully, meet a need, aim for a broad audience, and research, research, research

Introducing new products and services successfully requires: a) sufficient expertise and resources, b) a defined process (BusinessWeek.com, 5/8/08), and c) leadership resolve (BusinessWeek.com, 5/20/08).

But talking about expertise, process, and resolve is boring to everyone except engineers (and people who introduce new products successfully). So, with apologies to David Letterman, here's our list of the top 10 reasons your next new launch will fail.

10. Science Run Amok.

Companies use their research and development capabilities to come up with unique products, instead of making customer needs their starting point. They begin with what they are good at, as opposed to what customers want. New products aren't bloodhounds that go find markets. They must address an unmet need.

9. The Lemming Effect.

"The competition has just introduced an X, so we need to have an X, too." If all you are offering is a me-too product, you can only gain market share by cutting price, and who wants to go that route? Find an unmet need and go after it.

8. "Team ACME."

See if this sounds familiar. Someone comes up with an idea and it gets implemented by an ad hoc team with money found in a slush fund. It's a daring approach. It's innovative. And it almost never works because it isn't sufficiently thought out.

If you have ever watched a Wile E. Coyote cartoon you understand the problem. The Coyote's ad hoc solutions to the problem of catching the Road Runner always seem on the surface to make sense, but they always contain a fatal flaw that causes them to blow up in the end. If you substitute your company for Wile E. and "a nagging consumer challenge" for the Road Runner, you'll see why there are better ways to go. Meep Meep.

7. It's Scary Out There.

There are thousands of reasons not to be bold. The economy is weak; the market is unsettled. Somebody needs a hug. Fine, go get yourself one. Then buck up and get aggressive.

6. The Market is Too Small.

For a new product to be successful you need sufficient sales. It sounds ridiculously obvious, doesn't it? But you would be amazed at the number of companies that design a product for too small a market. Say your new product is targeted at households with at least $55,000 in annual income. Well, that's only 50% of the 105 million U.S. households. But it's really just for the 18-65 age group—there goes another third of the market that's left.

And this mythical product will only appeal to those with an active lifestyle: one-third of the remaining 35 million homes—some 12 million. Say you get 33% to try it, and of those 4 million households, only 50% said they would buy it again. Your potential market is about 2 million households, and sales at that level won't cover the developmental costs, advertising, etc.

Instead of acknowledging this, we redefine the market as "for everyone 18 and over"—and then wonder why a product designed for a narrow target didn't sell well.

5. Dartboard Product Design.

There is almost never sufficient thought given to what the total product should look like. Let's say there are four key components—price, packaging, size, and usability—that could affect how well it sells. And each one of them has four options. So there are 256 different ways you could manufacture that product.

What's the predominant technique used to choose among them? People sit around a conference table with some pizza and soft drinks and say, about a new paper towel, for example, "Let's go with 500 sheets, super-high absorbency, and middle-of-the-road packaging, and priced 10% above the market leader."

What's the probability they've chosen right? By definition, it is 1 out of 256. Maybe they have some expertise; that boosts the odds to 1:128. Better, but still not great.

4. Death by Consensus.

If everyone has to agree on the key characteristics of a new product, you are going to end up introducing really bland products. The higher the number of people who have to agree, the worse this gets. Create a small task force of new product experts and empower them. Get out of their way. Let them live (or die) by how often they are right. You will get more compelling ideas to market faster.

3. Lack of Alignment.

You have a great idea. But because your process did not identify key stakeholders and influencers, it is your idea, not everyone's. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Pat Lencioni does a great job talking about what happens to teams when trust is not established. Your success criteria should reflect the wants of the stakeholder. Trust builds momentum. Want to see your boss kill an awesome idea? Fail to include him early and often.

2. Leadership Churn.

Great ideas are like kids. They need to be nurtured, protected, pushed, challenged, and loved. Innovators are the proud parents that make sure this happens. So when these parents move from one brand to another, are poached by competition, or simply burn out, the kids suffer. (See? It really is always the parents' fault.)

1. Ready, Fire, Aim.

Tom Peters and Bob Waterman perpetrated one of the biggest crimes ever against Corporate America when they told it to do a little homework, get the product in the marketplace, and make corrections based on market feedback, a concept they called "ready, fire, aim." Speed to market is a killer concept in the negative sense. It kills new products.

You don't want to make your mistakes in public. To launch a product before it is ready with a $40 million campaign is just idiotic. The problem is, it isn't seen as idiotic. It's seen as one of the costs of doing business. That's sad. People who do this should not be seen as bold, they should be seen as bad marketers.

After reading this, feel free to smile knowingly, roll your eyes in frustration, or forward it to unresolved leaders. Better yet, why not take a look at your current innovation initiatives and make sure none of these things is happening on your watch.