Product Releases & Product Launches Are Very Different Things

Pop quiz:

Your next product release will be pushed to production in 7 weeks.

Q: When should you do a launch for that release?
A: You shouldn’t launch a release. 

Instead, as a product marketer, your job is to decide what products you want to LAUNCH, to whom, and when. It doesn’t have much to do with a product release.

Product Release vs. Product Launch

Product releases are an engineering and deployment event.
Product launches are a marketing and sales event.

While your company *does* need to communicate to current customers/users any changes you’ll be making to their experience, that’s not a product launch. That’s release communications. It’s important, but not where you should focus.

The PMM’s focus is on product launches. 

  • Telling the market (prospects, customers, analysts, journalists, employees, partners, investors) about a new way you can help customers in a certain situation
  • Reinforcing your positioning/differentiation with customer & product evidence
  • Tying a story about change in your customers’ lives to a story of how you can help
  • Distracting & disrupting the competition

You notice there’s nothing in there about a new product widget.

Launch Strategy

Launches drive the market conversation, and create an excuse-to-call for sales.
Timing of events in *the market* should drive the timing of your product launches.

Purchase cycles, buying seasons, competitor acquisition or product end-of-life, macroeconomic changes — these are market-driven timing factors. Use them.

Once you’ve set the timing, you have all the product you’ve ever built to talk about, and all to land your positioning.

Product launch ingredients:

  • 50% positioning
  • 20% existing features
  • 10% new features
  • 20% future vision and features

It’s the story of a launch: positioning, timing, value, differentiation… that matters most.

Some of you will say “But I can’t make news out of stuff we shipped last quarter!”

Your Customers Know Less about Your Product than You Think

As a PMM of a software company, you have a job that immerses you in the capabilities, limitations, competitive compares, and real-life customer use cases of your product.

You customers have a job that does NOT include knowing everything about your product. They’re busy. Your product is a small piece of their worlds. They forget things.

Ask yourself: if you polled a random set of your customers, how many would know about a feature you launched last year?

I’ve been presenting the roadmap to customers for 20+ years.
The roadmap always starts with talking about what we’ve released in the last year.
A customer almost always asks, “that’s cool, when is that coming?”
And I get to say “we shipped it last May.” 

In MOST cases, what you shipped last quarter will be news to most of your customers.

Launches as the Positioning Drumbeat

Q: So why all the fuss about product launches?
A: Because your customers, your prospects, and your salespeople are paying attention.

Launches are how you beat the drum to make repeated impressions of your positioning on participants in the market. 

Keep beating the drum. Tattoo your positioning onto the market’s brain.

Final Note: Competitors and Your Product Launches

Disrupt, distract, intimidate. 

Your competitors have decent products, sales teams, marketers, and word of mouth.
You can’t affect that.

But you can affect their focus:

  • distract them
  • force them to react to you
  • sow fear
  • cause them to hesitate on their strategy and execution

You can affect their focus. It’s a (fun) part of your job.

Launch, launch, re-launch!

From the front porch in Moss Beach,

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