Why Most Product Launches Fail
Flaw 1: The company can’t support fast growth.
The Lesson: Have a plan to ramp up quickly if the product takes off.
In 2000 we worked with American Biophysics on the launch of its Mosquito Magnet, which uses carbon dioxide to lure mosquitoes into a trap. The timing was perfect: The West Nile virus scare had elevated mosquitoes from irritating nuisances to life-threatening disease carriers. Mosquito Magnet quickly became one of the top-selling products in the Frontgate catalog and at Home Depot. But American Biophysics proved more adept at killing mosquitoes than at running a fast-growing consumer products company. When it expanded manufacturing from its low-volume Rhode Island facility to a mass-production plant in China, quality dropped. Consumers became angry, and a product that was saving lives almost went off the market.
Flaw 2: The product falls short of claims and gets bashed.
The Lesson: Delay your launch until the product is really ready.
Microsoft Windows Vista:
In 2007, when Microsoft launched Windows Vista, the media and the public had high expectations. So did the company, which allotted $500 million for marketing and predicted that 50% of users would run the premium edition within two years. But the software had so many compatibility and performance problems that even Microsoft’s most loyal customers revolted. Vista flopped, and Apple lampooned it in an ad campaign (“I’m a Mac”), causing many consumers to believe that Vista had even more problems than it did.
Flaw 3: The new item exists in “product limbo.”
The Lesson: Test the product to make sure its differences will sway buyers.
For its biggest launch since Diet Coke, Coca-Cola identified a new market: 20- to 40-year-old men who liked the taste of Coke (but not its calories and carbs) and liked the no-calorie aspect of Diet Coke (but not its taste or feminine image). C2, which had half the calories and carbs and all the taste of original Coke, was introduced in 2004 with a $50 million advertising campaign. However, the budget couldn’t overcome the fact that C2’s benefits weren’t distinctive enough. Men rejected the hybrid drink; they wanted full flavor with no calories or carbs, not half the calories and carbs. And the low-carb trend turned out to be short-lived. Why didn’t these issues come up before the launch? Sometimes market research is skewed by asking the wrong questions or rendered useless by failing to look objectively at the results. New products can take on a life of their own within an organization, becoming so hyped that there’s no turning back. Coca-Cola’s management ultimately
deemed C2 a failure.
Flaw 4: The product defines a new category and requires substantial consumer education—but doesn’t get it.
The Lesson: If consumers can’t quickly grasp how to use your product, it’s toast.
In 2004 P&G launched a scent “player” that looked like a CD player and emitted scents (contained on $5.99 discs with names like “Relaxing in the Hammock”) every 30 minutes. The company hired the singer Shania Twain for its launch commercials. This confused consumers, many of whom thought the device involved both music and scents, and the ambiguity caused Scentstories to fail. When a product is truly revolutionary, celebrity spokespeople may do more harm than good. A strong educational campaign may be a better way to go. The product’s features provide the messages to build brand voice, aided by research and development teams, outside experts, and consumers who’ve tested and love the product.
Flaw 5: The product is revolutionary, but there’s no market for it.
The Lesson: Don’t gloss over the basic questions “Who will buy this and at what price?”
The buzz spiraled out of control when news of a secret new product code-named Ginger and created by the renowned inventor Dean Kamen leaked to the press nearly 12 months before the product’s release. Kamen, it was said, was coming up with nothing less than an alternative to the automobile. When investors and the public learned that the invention was actually a technologically advanced motorized scooter, they were dumbfounded. Ads showing riders who looked like circus performers perching on weird-looking chariots didn’t help, nor did the price tag—$5,000. Instead of selling 10,000 machines a week, as Kamen had predicted, the Segway sold about 24,000 in its first five years. Now it sells for far less to police forces, urban tour guides, and warehouse companies, not the general public. If there was ever a product to disprove the axiom “If you build it, they will come,”
it’s the Segway.
Why Most Product Launches Fail (Joan Schneider and Julie Hall)
Harvard Business Review (April, 2011)