It happens even to the best companies: a stellar idea and a creative campaign fall flat, and that product launch — the one you spent months planning — fails. Take Butterfinger for example.
After changing their candy bar recipe, Butterfinger launched a “Better Butterfinger” campaign. Their once positive social environment now gets hundreds of negative comments on every new post they make.
Unless you buy into the “any press is good press” ideology, it’s clear something went wrong.
Now, you’re probably not bringing a new Butterfinger recipe to market (if you are, feel free to send a few samples to this address), but this kind of product launch “fail” and social media backlash is most likely something you’ll face in your career as a marketer. But don’t fret, there is a path to recovery.
First, find out what went wrong
Here are some of the most common causes for failed product launches. Consider whether any of the following apply to your case:
- Targeting the wrong audience: Definitely one of the most common reasons why product launches fail. Have you made enough detailed buyer personas? Do you know exactly what types of customers are interested in your products? Did you validate these personas with internal and customer feedback? Have you kept them updated to avoid going stale?
- Not satisfying a real customer need: If your product doesn’t solve a real problem, nobody will need it or want it. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a mantra Butterfinger probably should have taken to heart.
- Technical or functionality problems: Sometimes, the issue is caused by a technical problem. For example, Samsung’s new folding smartphone has a breaking problem. Somewhere, internal quality assurance fell short.
- Poor Execution: Is the quality of the product not up to standards? Did you cut corners hoping for a quick win? If this is the problem, your customers won’t shy away from telling you on social media.
- Wrong pricing: If your high pricing isn’t justified, customers won’t hesitate to buy from the competition.
If you cannot determine the “why” by yourself, there are several places you can go:
Survey customers: If the problem is the product and not the marketing, surveys could give you valuable insight into where you went wrong. Give incentives to your customers for filling out the survey like product discounts or gift cards to third parties.
Conduct interviews: Like with surveys, you’re able to hear straight from the horse’s mouth. Interviews are much more personal and have the potential to uncover a lot more information you didn’t previously suspect. You may end up exploring tangential issues and be able to judge perception through body language or tone.
Check metrics on analytics platforms: Analytics platforms like Google Analytics can help you find the root cause of the problem if you take a look at a few key metrics like bounce rate and exit pages. For example, if a lot of your customers are leaving the site during the checkout process, you may have too many barriers to purchase or unclear costs throughout the buying journey.
Analytics platforms can also help you find more about your existing customers, which is useful when trying to target the right market. It can reveal audience data such as age, device preference, geographical location and much more.
Consider the campaign’s timing: Could your campaign have failed because of bad timing of the launch? Maybe it was a holiday, or a day when your audience is less likely to spend the time to look at your offer. Maybe it clashed with someone else’s marketing campaign or other current events.
Talk to niche experts: If all else fails, then insight from one or many niche experts might be just what you need. Try tapping your own network for people you trust to give candid advice, or hire consultants to take a look at your campaign by paying a small fee or by giving a free product in exchange. Look for people who understand your customers, your industry and marketing.
Document your findings and create an action plan not only for this launch, but also with measures that will prevent similar errors from occurring in future launches. When doing this, carefully consider what your customers had to say in the surveys and interviews you held.
Then, communicate clearly
If you’re anything like Butterfinger and you’re taking some punches on social media, make sure you communicate your plans to fix the problem with your target audience. Carrying on like nothing is wrong will only alienate your customers when they’re trying to have a conversation with you. It also creates a vacuum for other customers to step in and pontificate, typically not to your advantage.
And if it was a product-related failure, make sure you carry out more interviews and surveys for the new product before re-launching. For added safety, give free samples or demos to customers to review it after the changes you made. Don’t make any assumptions.
Learn from the masters of the greatest disasters
There’s lessons to learn from every failed launch and that’s why they’re not a failure in their entirety.
And never underestimate the power of owning your failure.
In 34 years, you can pull a “New Coke” and relaunch your failed product with a new sense of humor.
Or pull an IHOP and lean into the negative comments as a preview to their upcoming mystery campaign.
— IHOP (@IHOP) May 28, 2019
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