Getting a physical product to market, part 1: Pre-launch

Illustration by informal member Tanya Shyika

You’ve spent the last three, six, or twelve months building the perfect product, now what? It’s time to get customers! There are a few common ways to do that with a new physical product:

  • Launch on crowdfunding
  • Go it alone with e-commerce
  • Launch with a partner

In this three-part series, we cover tangible steps and tips for the pre-launch, launch, and post-launch stages of your consumer product.

A successful pre-launch is the best way to ensure a successful product launch. Will your product have enough wow factor to appear out of nowhere and become an overnight success? Not without some prep!

A pre-launch campaign, or soft launch, is a lightweight way of getting your brand out in public so you can start gathering feedback and, most importantly, collect contact information for potential customers. Pre-launch campaigns can be anywhere from three months to a year-long, depending on how far in advance you launch. Factors that can affect this decision include the number of units you want to sell, your revenue goal, and how many ready-to-buy contacts you already have.

The rule of thumb for launching a new business is to start acquiring potential customers and gathering feedback as soon as you can, so that if you need to pivot, you can do so early in the process. It’s always better to start marketing sooner rather than later. You’ll build a marketing list in the process, which will prove immensely valuable in the long run. A marketing list contains email addresses for prospective customers, allowing you to engage in marketing activities such as:

  • Market via email
  • Show ads to lookalike audiences on advertising platforms
  • Recruit beta testers
  • Identify VIPs and partners

There are essentially three pre-launch techniques you can use to build your marketing list: passive pre-launch, active pre-launch, and reservation campaigns. Each of these techniques is related and can be combined, depending on your available time and leeway.

Passive pre-launch

As soon as you have the idea and intention to build a business, get a domain, launch a landing page with some basic email capture, and leave it alone for a while. You can point people to the page to sign up for more information and use the website to file for any licenses, apply for insurance, etc. It’s called “passive” pre-launch because you’re just putting something out there and not much more. The goal is to tease your existence and get the ball rolling on customer acquisition without investing a ton of marketing resources until you’re ready.

Active pre-launch

During an active pre-launch, you push people to your landing page to get them to sign up or take some other action. This is generally done through paid traffic (such as Facebook ads) and earned traffic (referrals from other websites). We’ll talk more about these channels in future posts, but for now, know that your objective is to acquire 10% of your sales revenue goal in email addresses. So if you want to make at least $250,000, aim for 25,000 email addresses by the time you launch. Remember to keep the people whose email addresses you collect engaged between when they sign up and when you officially launch. You can send update emails, share blog posts, and post on social media, for instance, to build excitement for what you’re launching.

Reservation campaigns

A reservation campaign is like an “active pre-launch+” where the primary goal of the campaign is to get people to put money down for the product well ahead of the actual launch. “Put money down” can mean a lot of things. For many crowdfunding pre-launches, like our client Lodge Outdoors, that might mean $1–$5 for early access to the product and exclusive discounts. For a vehicle launch, like our client Tarform, you might offer reservations worth a couple of thousand dollars each. Getting potential customers to put money down for your product shows a higher willingness to pay than simply signing up for a newsletter. You still collect email addresses as a backup, but they’re not the main objective. In exchange for their payment, potential customers who reserve your product should receive a perk, like early access or special pricing.

Which is right for you?

These three types of pre-launches build on each other to create a sales funnel. You can run ads to drive potential customers to a landing page with a call to action (CTA) to sign up for more information, and put people who sign up into an email drip campaign that sends them a sequence of emails encouraging them to reserve your product. As mentioned, it always helps to give anyone who reserves the product early access and exclusive perks.

A pre-launch campaign can and should be run regardless of how you hope to accomplish your full launch. Whether you plan to launch on crowdfunding, go it alone, or launch with a partner, showing that you can generate interest and build a preliminary list of customers will make your launch a lot easier and set you up for success. If you find that you’re ready for your full launch but didn’t do any preliminary list building or a reservation campaign, we highly recommend delaying your launch. As a general rule of thumb, you should spend at least three months acquiring email addresses and talking to potential customers before launching.

This is part one in a three-part series. In our following pieces, we will cover concrete steps and tips for your consumer product’s launch and post-launch stages.

informal is a freelance collective for the best independent professionals in hardware and hardtech. Whether a client is looking for a single contractor, a full-time employee, or an entire team of professionals to work on everything from product development to go-to-market, informal has the right collection of people for the job.

Hardware Handbook
Nate Padgett

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