Product Launch Advice, Part 1: “I feel like I did everything right but it still flopped. What went wrong?”

Welcome to day one of our blog series of advice on product launches. Day one is unique in that it is the only day that comes before day two, but after the introduction.

As promised, we’re answering common launch questions. We’re trying to answer the hard ones, too, so that you’re not totally wasting your time. We are very aware that you had a choice in what you did today, and that getting blasted on egg nog was among those choices, so please accept our thanks. We will work hard to ensure you feel you made the right decision.

So. First question. Probably the most common among people who have launched stuff in the past. You feel like you did everything right and it still flopped. What went wrong?

There are three things to consider. We will list them.

1. You did everything perfectly but you launched to a near-empty room.

In a certain percentage of cases, the launcher really did do everything right. They just didn’t have any real platform to launch to. This is very similar to perfectly executed pick-up lines in an empty bar. You might have executed flawlessly, but there was nobody there to see it.

This is most common in people who start out launching a product – usually their first one, or their first serious one, but not always – and have very realistic expectations. They say, both to themselves and the people around them, that they don’t expect the launch to do anything significant in terms of sales, but that it will be a learning experience.

Then they start doing the launch and get really invested and forget that they said they weren’t going to get really invested. They go through most of their promotional period and don’t sell much (or anything). They keep hope alive by saying that Naomi and Dave said that you make most of your sales on the last day anyway. The last day comes and results are… lackluster, to put it charitably.

  • The bad news: Can be incredibly disheartening if you let it.
  • The good news: You did it perfectly. Go build your platform and do it again. You even already have the product made, which means that unlike most people launching products, you’re not scrambling to make the product, at the same time as trying to sell it to people, at the same time as trying to find people to sell it to.
  • The solution: Build your platform. Improve your launch process while you’re at it. There’s always room for improvement. Six sigma, baby. Mmmm… kaizen*. Tasty, tasty kaizen.

Then relaunch when you feel like your platform is big and strong enough. Doesn’t matter when.

2. You did everything technically perfectly (or perfectly enough) but your product sounded like a “nice to have.”

This is most common in ittybiz owners who started out with strong ties to the blogging community. They read a lot of blogs. These bloggers tell them what great launches they’re running, and our hero decides to make products just like theirs. Obviously they’re selling well, so that must be what people want, right?

Here’s the problem with that approach: People lie.

If people had a crappy launch, it is highly unlikely that they are going to go out on their blog and tell you they had a crappy launch. And if people have a crappy launch, they feel that they need to say something, because that’s what they’ve seen their bloggy heroes do.

  • So blogger # 1 feels compelled to make up a whopper about their launch because they’re too nervous to say nothing and move on. This person is not a known liar with the morals of an alley cat, they simply don’t realize that they’re allowed to shut their mouth and move on with their life.
  • Blogger # 2 reads it, launches their own product, and feels compelled to make up a whopper about their launch because they’re too nervous to say nothing. Probably also not a known liar, probably also doesn’t realize they’re allowed to say nothing.
  • Blogger # 3, probably a mommy blogger turned launch consultant, reads both. Launches a product about product launches, and feels compelled to make up a whopper about their launch because, well, for obvious reasons.

Our hero reads all three and says, “Man, other people are making a lot of money. I should make products just like theirs.”

Good products fall into two categories – Must Have, and Nice To Have. Most products put out by bloggers, coaches, service providers, even physical product sellers are Nice To Have.

Now, please don’t get us wrong. We’re not saying that Must Have products are ones that dwell on pain points to the point where they qualify as old-school “desperate buyers only” stuff. Many luxuries fit the criteria of Must Have.

Ever seen the headline “The Must Have Handbag of the Season? It’s not an actual Must Have. It’s not a need. It’s a compulsion, an obsession. When Marc Jacobs started making eyeliner, I know a lot of people who would have sold their hair to buy it if came down to that.

Must Have is “Oh my God, that’s AMAZING.” There’s a breathlessness, a catch in the voice.

Nice To Have is “Oh, that’s so cool.” There’s a sweetness, an affection.

The first product flies off the shelves.

The second product gets you emails saying how great you are.

So, in this situation…

  • The bad news: Can be incredibly disheartening if you let it.
  • The good news: Much of this can often be solved by positioning. It’s possible, even likely, that the problem wasn’t the product, but the presentation. That means you don’t have to scrap your product. And if your presentation wasn’t thrilling, nobody paid much attention, so if you get the positioning right and relaunch it better next time, they’ll sort of forget what happened before. Let’s face it – Nice To Haves aren’t that memorable. In your case, that’s a huge blessing.
  • The solution: If your product is good but badly positioned, stop pulling your punches. Figure out what’s really great about your product and lay it out there. Relaunch in 6 months to a year.If your product sucks, make a new one. I have made lousy products and I have made great ones. The great ones are easier because they take over your soul. They’re never things you have to “get around to”, but things that are a joy to create. Launch your new product whenever you feel like it – nobody really noticed this one anyway, so they’re hardly going to be overwhelmed. Wait at least three months, though.

3. You did only as much of “everything” as you felt comfortable with, which wasn’t really everything at all.

This is common in ittybiz owners who have spent a lot of time loosely learning – either through free sources or purchased information products – but never sat down to create a strategy. Strategies that work are ones that other people make for you, or ones you make on your own. But a strategy must be made.

You’ll know this was you if you find yourself saying, “I know, I really should have…”.

Things you “should have” done include, but are in no way limited to:

  • Sending a decent number of emails
  • Writing a proper sales page in advance
  • Doing that webinar
  • Getting back on social media more than a week before you had something for sale

You can’t half-ass a product launch any more than you can half-ass a rocket launch. You have to plan them properly, and you have to work your plan, and you don’t get to sit around saying, “Yeah, I know I should have…” Or “Yeah, I really meant to…”

Some things don’t go according to plan. Sometimes most things don’t go according to plan. That’s fine. But when you have a real, non-half-ass plan (is this a full-ass plan?) and something can’t be done, you replace it with something. And so it works anyway.

Think of it like this. If you have a plan for what you’re going to do for Christmas dinner and for some reason the turkey falls through, what do you do? Let your family eat Stove Top and starve? Or do you find a not-bad replacement?

If you do not have a plan for what you’re going to do for Wednesday night’s dinner and anything at all falls through, what do you do? You wander around your house complaining about how hungry you are and mutter over and over that you really meant to pick up some food.

  • The bad news: This can be incredibly disheartening if you let it.
  • The good news: Your entire village didn’t die in a fire? A tornado hasn’t ripped the roof off your home? You’ve still got your health?  At this point, there’s not a lot in the way of good news. Presumably your product didn’t suck, which is a blessing. And you’re clearly trainable, because you know what you should have done, you just didn’t do it. So that says to us that if someone gives you a plan, or you pull it together to make one, you’ll at least be capable of doing what needs to do be done. That’s something hopeful, at least.
  • The solution: Relaunch in 6-12 months. Do it properly this time. Try to build and strengthen your platform in the meantime. You’re looking a little wussy right now.

This is part one of our launch advice series. You can read more in part two.

Tomorrow we’re going to answer the question “How sexy does my launch need to be?” Keep an eye on the blog or sign up for The Letter and we’ll email you when new posts are out.

Issues related to launch are not inscrutable or closely guarded secrets. They’re generally things that you don’t realize until you’ve had a few under your belt. We’ve run over 80 launches for ourselves and our clients. We’ll help you not have to learn everything the hard way.


* What we mean by “kaizen”: A Japanese philosophy / practice that focuses on continuous improvement. Kind of helped them become an economic superpower, so, there might just be something there.

Naomi writes more things like this in The Letter. Get it for free today. (It also comes with free marketing courses. You can’t move for free here.)

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.