In a constant effort to establish portfolio diversification, especially in the omnipresent IOT world, many hardware companies are now offering software and solutions that are compatible with their hardware, and many software tech companies are venturing into the hardware space. New products propel the business forward into new territories, opening up new revenue streams, new markets, and many new business opportunities. But while the new offerings are often game changers, the unique requirements to successfully launch these vastly different offerings are often ignored for the status quo.
So, what are those unique requirements that need to be considered when preparing to launch something new and different, and what does it take to successfully market hardware, software or solution? How does a business, one that’s worked hard to build a reputation as a leader for either their hardware or for their software products, break into new territory with successful launches, especially when these launches require a dramatic shift in market perception?
In recent months, I’ve been asked these exact questions by Marketers in industries ranging from manufacturing to financial services to tech, and have many times since cursed Google for not having a clear POV. So instead of relying on the robots of the internet, I ventured out to speak with industry experts to see what they have to say on the matter.
There are no shortcuts
First, there are many similarities. All three offer brand new value to the end user. All three enhance business performance. And they are all meant to improve the operations of a Client’s business, enhancing efficiency or directly driving revenue growth. A very important similarity though is that all three require significant levels of marketing rigor and resource to ensure a successful launch. What you’re introducing to the world needs to be considered, as there are important distinctions to each, but the truth is, one is not easier to launch than any other. Hardware, software and solution launches are vastly different in many ways, and ultimately each category offering cannot be brought to market in the exact same way.
Hardware, software and solution products… all require significant levels of marketing rigor and resource to ensure a successful launch.Warren Ibbotson and Phil Ledger
Launching hardware vs. software products
THE DEVELOPMENT TIMES
With hardware, the production and distribution cycle will happen well in advance of the official launch announcement.
By the time your product is off the production line, on store shelves or in the hands of distributors, you’ve had some time to formalize the articulation of its functional and emotional benefits, to establish the best positioning in the marketplace, and prep the launch materials. While beneficial to the marketing team, the longer lead time does come with a big challenge of ensuring your physical product will still be relevant by launch date, and for the next few years while you’re manufacturing its replacement. Consider a value proposition that looks to future industry trends, and carves out the white space that exists not only today but could exist into the future.
Software, on the other hand, has a much shorter development cycle. Software tools and apps do not require the procurement of materials, the time to manufacture, or the time to ship. This means that, as a marketer, you have a lot less time from when the product is “done” and tested (and hint, it’s never really done) to establish the best go-to-market plan. This squeezes the lead time needed to come up with a solid go-to-market plan, as your developers have essentially until a release launch day to make updates to the software. Oftentimes this means that the features and functions of the tool could fundamentally change at the last minute, requiring a much more agile approach to the marketing plan and the development of collateral.
THE DISTRIBUTION PLANS
For many businesses, hardware is typically sold through a distribution partner.
Through-channel marketing materials are developed, handed off, and not often refreshed. Software, however, is often a much more direct route. Users or developers can purchase themselves, without a partner. With this type of access, you must consider the right tactics to directly reach the end user and not rely on partners. The best part, you now have access to a user database, offering remarketing and lifecycle opportunities that were not previously possible with through-channel hardware distribution. Taking advantage of this data should be a mandatory consideration in the marketing plan.
THE COMPETITIVE THREATS
Software products have a much higher competitive threat.
Software programs can be copied and replicated more quickly and easily than a physical product. Users can more easily walk away from your software if it isn’t exceeding expectations, and software can be deleted in 2 seconds, whereas hardware is much harder to walk away from. This means that launching a software product requires research and insights to inform a truly unique selling proposition. The value proposition for software is often even more difficult to establish than those of hardware, and they’re harder to hold onto.
THE PRODUCT RELEASE
When launching hardware, the product goes to market and can’t be updated. With software, the product is always in development.
Software is launched at a higher frequency, and each release requires marketing attention. When launching a software product, consider first launching an MVP (minimum viable product) when the tool is stable enough for release 1.0. This allows the developers to continue optimizing and updating the tool for release 1.1 and 1.2. Marketers need to get comfortable with an agile approach, as the “launch” of a software product continues through the lifespan of the offering.
It is highly recommended that you consider multilingual software languages. These are ways that software developers construct software so that it’s available to end users in many different languages at the same time. For a launch to be successful, you’ll want to make the user comfortable in their language when using your software, which can have a challenging impact on the MVP.
New software and its subsequent releases require considerable coaching and training when launched. Successful companies launch their new software releases with video introductions, video tutorials, and personalized 1:1 marketing material, truly ensuring the user is comfortable with the features and functions. You can also consider webinars or personalized video chat conversations to even further personalize the experience.
Marketers need to get comfortable with an agile approach, as the “launch” of a software product continues through the lifespan of the offering.Warren Ibbotson and Phil Ledger
Software isn’t a set it and forget it type of launch, as is more typical of a hardware product launch, in which products are often replaced every 2-3 years. Take advantage of this new found freedom with software to test and learn. The tool doesn’t have to be perfect on launch day, it just has to offer unique value, especially because your audience already expects a software update by next quarter.
This is further compounded when a company known for hardware ventures into the software space, and vice versa. For this, a critical component of a successful launch is to build credibility first, priming the marketplace for your introduction. If known for hardware, consider aligning your brand with those respected in the software space. Find those trusted software developers that have clout and give them a 30-60-90 day trial to get them talking about your business. Other’s will be more likely to trust that your company should be taken seriously.
An even more unique opportunity arises with the launch of a solution
When launching a solution, you’re combining the opportunities and challenges of hardware and software, and opening a new world of opportunities. This approach is best suited for those truly facing a perception issue. By combining the hardware and software, you’re able to offer an end-to-end solution workflow. The end user gets both hardware and software, you all get access to data and together can turn the data into actions. Unique to this approach though is that the hardware you develop must be able to withstand future software updates, as we’ve established that software is more frequently updated. Ensure the product teams and working hand in hand with the developers, and your marketers have time to trail the workflow themselves.
The launch of something new, whether it’s a hardware, software or a solution, is a launch of something new. These launches all require the same level of rigor and work despite what format of value you’re introducing to the world. Develop a pre-launch, launch and post-launch plan. Do the research needed to develop a market positioning and white space analysis to prove the value you offer. Ensure a clear understanding of your audience, the problem you’re solving, and how your offering is the only one who can solve the problem. Make sure you can clearly articulate the value proposition, and build the credibility in the marketplace to make a splash. Don’t think of a software launch as an easier launch than a hardware product launch just because the software doesn’t need to be manufactured or distributed. In fact, the differences in types serve up unique challenges, and of course, opportunities, that often require a different level of investment, and skillset, from your marketing organization.
Special thanks to Warren Ibbotson and Phil Ledger for sharing their expertise.