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A product prelaunch is much more than getting early adopters.

In the past, we’ve written numerous articles about product prelaunch campaigns.
It’s true.
Referral marketing can be beneficial during a prelaunch period. It reinforces word of mouth about your product; thus, it helps you generate a list of prospects that you can blast when your product is ready.
However, I don’t think we’ve been as thorough as we could have been. We’ve been caught up in teaching about getting early adopters for products, that we completely ignored an important fact.
referral marketing guide
A product prelaunch can give you much more than a prospect list.
A prelaunch campaign offers three opportunities. You have a chance to:
  1. Present your dream to the world.
  2. Test the market interest by gathering early adopters.
  3. Gather feedback about the product.
To attain all three goals, you should run your prelaunch campaign for more than four months.

A product prelaunch is about getting Intel.

When you build something, it becomes something like a child to you. It’s normal; it’s your vision and a version of how you see the world.
What we need to understand is that the moment we offer our creation to somebody else, it stops being our property.
It sounds like I’m romanticizing, but think about it.
What would Headspace be without a fantastic community of people with interest in meditation?
Headspace may be an app you can use to meditate, but its users seek and offer help to one another.
Headspace pays close attention to the conversations among its users and receives them as constructive feedback.
The needs of their users, direct their product development.
Product development is an ongoing process, and user feedback is essential. Thus, gathering information from your early adopters is crucial when launching a product.
Back in 2008, AirBnb’s founder watched their dream getting shuttered week after week; the company made around $200, and there was no sign of growth.
Action beats despair.
The founders decided to stop the product development, track down some of their (few) customers, and interview them.
Joe Gebbia described the experience was “agonizing and enlightening.”
After gathering all the precious feedback, they spent a week fixing the most significant issues and relaunched their product. Their revenue doubled and continued to increase until Airbnb became a billion-dollar company.
Airbnb story may have a happy end but imagine the stakes. They gave time and burned money to build something out of pure instinct. Everything could go wrong.
  • When you want to create a new product or feature that people love, your goal should be to learn as much as you can before you’ve even written a single line of code or designed a single pixel.

The first step of a tremendous prelaunch.

Getting feedback out of thin air seems almost impossible, but a great way to start is by doing competitive analysis.
It’s not like you should care about what your competitors do, but more like trying to understand how your potential customers feel about the other products in the market.
That kind of research might save you from various pitfalls, and reveal a market gap that you can fill with your product.
Based on the information you gather, you should proceed with creating a Minimum Viable Product, and test it with an initial set of users.
That’s when your prelaunch starts.
Now you need to gather a list of early adopters to test the product itself.
Robinhood managed to gather 1M users before its launch, with a waitlist referral program. When users signed up for Robinhood Referral, they were put on the waiting list.
The higher a person’s position is on the list, the earlier the Robinhood fan got access to the beta, and the way to get higher was by referring other people.
That way, you’ll get enough people to test your product, and also reinforce word of mouth.
From the moment people start to sign up for your prelaunch, you need to start learning more about them immediately. This will be possible in 2 steps:
  1. Segment prelaunch subscribers and gather the people that fit the target persona for your product.
  2. Interview and record their experience with your product.

Segmenting prelaunch subscribers.

Before segmenting your list, you need to define what the segment is.
As I mentioned above, you want to segment the people that belong to your target customer persona.
Probably the best chance you have is your first touchpoint with your early adopters, the “welcome email.”
Apart from thanking people for subscribing, and offering more info about your upcoming product, you can attach an early access survey that will help you learn more about who’s planning to use it.
Keep in mind that there are four things that you need to extract from the survey:
  • More personal info (e.g., name, gender, age, job description, etc.)
  • If they’re using any similar product and how it solves their problem.
  • What problems they face with the products they use/used.
  • If they are willing to talk to you in person.
If you want to create an early access survey, you can use Typeform. It’s really easy to set up, and you can integrate it with all the popular email marketing platforms.

Interviewing early adopters.

Since you segmented your list, it’s time for you to conduct interviews with the people that gained early access.
When we hear the term “interview,” most of us think of a series of questions followed by answers, but interviewing early adopters is more about studying the behavior of people using your product.
The role of the interviewer is to make the users feel comfortable enough to provide honest feedback and nudge them to interact with the product organically.
This could be an easier task if you’re conducting the interviews face-to-face, but more or less, the same rules apply via a call.
Whatever the type of interview, make sure to record the session. Keeping notes might make the interviewees feel uncomfortable, and you also need to study their reaction later.
Your interviews with early adopters divide into five steps:
  1. The welcome.
  2. Context questions.
  3. Introduction of the product.
  4. User testing of the product.
  5. Debriefing questions.
The process is thoroughly described in the sixth chapter of the Sprint book. The first two steps are all about making the person being interviewed to feel comfortable.
It’s preferable if the person conducting the interview is someone that isn’t involved in product development.
Make also sure that the interviewees know it. It will make them feel more comfortable to give honest answers since nobody’s feeling is on the line.
When you finally introduce the product, make sure to point out that it is an early version, and some things are not working yet. Allow the users to explore the product, and remind them to think aloud.
When it comes to testing the product, it’s important not to lead the users to take specific actions. In the real world, people examine and evaluate things on their own.
Your role is to nudge them and examine their behavior.
The debriefing step will help the person interviewing to pick the most critical reactions from the interviewee.
The debriefing questions could be:
  • “How dos this product compare to what you’ve used?”
  • “What did you like about the product?”
  • “What did you hate about the product?”
  • “What are the three things you would improve about the product?”
When the interview is over, make sure to thank the participant and reward them (preferably something they can use within your product).

Before you go.

Running a prelaunch campaign for your product may give you a batch of early adopters, but most importantly, it provides enough feedback to build a better product.
Understandably, you’d like to launch your product as soon as possible, but you shouldn’t be in a rush. Robinhood prelaunch campaign lasted about a year.
We strongly advise you to run your prelaunch campaign for more than four months, as it takes time to get constructive feedback.
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