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Rand Fishkin's recipe for a successful marketing launch

Lucy Fuggle
22/05/19 13:55

There are few more familiar faces in the worlds of marketing and SEO than Rand Fishkin, founder of influencer intelligence startup SparkToro.

Rand first established his place as a leading figure in the marketing landscape as founder and former CEO of SEO software platform Moz, and is widely known and loved for transforming the way we learn about SEO via his Whiteboard Friday video series and prolific blogging.

In 2018, Rand published his most recent book, Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World, which takes a deep dive into Rand's lessons learned in tech with his trademark memorability and creativity.

In his Turing Fest 2018 keynote, Rand shared some hard-won advice for making your marketing launches a success. Launching a new product or project is worryingly easy to muck up — but with the right tactics, thoughtful processes, and stable foundations in place, you can calibrate your way to the tangible results you hope to see from every launch.

Got 40 minutes? Watch Rand's full keynote...

 
 

Launches matter because we have an obsession with what's new. We think what is new is better than what is best – we tweet about the new Google algorithm update, even though it's not all that noteworthy. And often we only remember the glory of the launch, even if the post-launch metrics suck.

Every time we publish new content (including blog posts, guides, and whitepapers), it's a launch. We communicate new product offerings and announcements. And with our marketing campaigns, we target new audiences, tell a new story, or shift our brand's message.

As marketers, we take things that are created by us or others and present them to the world. And it's hard. But with some intentionality, we can avoid the common mistakes behind failed launches.

Most launches fail because of 5 things:

  1. Misaligned expectations
  2. Unhealthy team dynamics
  3. The wrong process
  4. Failure to reach the target audience
  5. Lacking a compelling story

Here's Rand's toolkit to fix some of the most common things that hold us back from a successful launch and achieve the eyeballs, memorability, and return we need to make it a success.

1. Align your expectations from the start

Launches can help us get in front of a new audience, tell our story, earn amplification from people who care, and drive those who have interest to take action.

But there are many things that launches cannot do. Launches cannot create an audience from nothing, control a story the way you want it, earn amplification from anyone or everyone, or create or force demand.

One specific piece of advice from Rand: do not tie your expectations to outliers. "Let me highly recommend that you do not do what so many companies do," says Rand. "Don't say, 'ok, we're ready to launch, let's find our oldest, boldest whitest, turtleneckiest dude and put him on a stage to present to a big audience and get us the investment and amplification we deserve.'" Don't presume the lessons from a few outliers apply to your own business.

DSC_0032

Ask these questions with your team ahead of a launch:

  1. What are the business goals of the launch?
  2. What numbers will be used to measure?
  3. What are the numerical targets?
  4. What's the launch plan?
  5. What do we do if we miss our targets?

You need to get specific on what your goals are for every launch – and avoid getting too attached to your past launch strategies, even if they worked.

"With Moz, I spent 5 years blogging basically every night, Sunday through Thursday," shares Rand. "It was a tremendous amount of work, and it did help build the Moz brand... but it was a long, slow content marketing flywheel that got built up."

For SparkToro, Rand and his co-founder thought maybe there's another way to do this. "Maybe we can build assets that have ongoing value that people want to visit again and again that don't require us to put in an equivalent amount of work every time we want to attract traffic."

What a launch should ideally do, says Rand, is boost the new normal. It should be a sustained, ongoing dynamic.

Launches should boost your site's new normal - Rand Fishkin-min

2. Unhealthy team dynamics

Your team is at the foundation of everything you do. Make sure you're not sacrificing your success with unhealthy team dynamics.

3. The wrong process

Rand outlines three main processes for launches. There's a time and a place for each of them, but it's crucial to make sure you choose the right one for each launch.

Process 1 – The Traditional Launch:

  1. Execs have an idea
  2. Creators build the idea
  3. Marketers launch the idea
  4. Success is based on whether the idea hits the exec's goals

I bet you're thinking, oh, Rand is going to be real mean to this process... no! This process works fine sometimes. It can even be very successful for some companies...

Traditional marketing launch - Rand Fishkin

Process 2 – The MVP Launch, based on Eric Ries' philosophy:

  1. Creators identify a market problem
  2. Creators design and build a solution that requires the least amount of time and expense
  3. Creators launch the solution and iterate until it's good enough to scale (product/market fit)
  4. Marketers and product folks are hired to continue iterating and promoting

"This process can be awesome too... if, if you're launching a new product to a very early-stage, early-adopter audience that's comfortable with new things that don't work great," says Rand. But if you try to apply this to a bigger company, you're running a risk of burning your brand reputation.

MVPs can harm brand reputation – Rand Fishkin

Looking at Moz Analytics, Rand says, "it's probably the most embarrassing thing I've ever launched. It was very much an MVP, but I thought let's launch it and we'll iterate on it." That didn't work out.

A bunch of people in our community – and probably some of you – responded with, I guess Moz is launching shit now? And that became associated with the brand. Even when it became pretty darn good, it still carried the MVP hangover... the reputation for being minimum and non-viable.

Process 3 – The EVP Launch:

"An alternative to the MVP is what I've been calling the Exceptional Viable Product, the EVP," shares Rand.

The exceptional, viable product - Rand Fishkin-min 

  1. Execs identify a market problem
  2. Marketers, creators, customers & execs agree on the problem > product story that resonates
  3. Creators design and build an MVP solution
  4. Creators and marketers show customers a private beta, iterating until they're thrilled with the product
  5. Once customers are ecstatic, marketers proceed with the public launch

"I've done this process for four different launches now," says Rand. "It usually takes between 3 and 6 months to get from MVP to ecstatic early customers who want it. You can adapt this process from mid-stage all the way to a tiny one-person startup idea."

With an EVP, you get the best of both worlds: "You get the iteration of the MVP, but you don't get the MVP brand hangover."

The launch process you use depends on the size of your company:

Traditional MVP EVP
Big brand Relatively unknown brand Mid-size brand or well-followed new company
Large marketing team with historic success A poor initial reception won't harm long-term prospects Customer base that will judge quickly/harshly 

 


4. Failure to reach the target audience

"This is actually a really damn hard problem," says Rand. Even if you have a huge publishing platform, most of your audience will ignore your launches:

At Moz, we had 3.4 million visits a month and we would struggle to get 0.3% to check out any new product launch we had. It was very hard. The way to go, the way we found consistently worked, is that you have to go about this indirectly. What we say about ourselves people immediately discount.

If you can get in front of the right indirect audience, they can take care of getting in front of your target audience in a way that is credible, believable and can be amplified.

Indirect marketing is perfect for launches - Rand Fishkin-min

This definitely isn't easy. Discovering the right publications, people and sources to reach out to is hard. You have to select the right targets for your pitch. And you have to craft a message that earns amplification.

As one tactic, Rand recommends using Google to select Past Year + Site: command to identify the right people who are probably still publishing.

Selecting good targets for launch – Rand Fishkin

Another piece of advice: "Don't overly focus on how you craft your outreaching emails and messaging, says Rand. "I don't think this should be the focus. If you really want to earn better amplification from your launches, you need a better story."

5. Your launch lacks a compelling story

Before you build, before you launch, before you reach out, you should have a great answer to the question, "Who is going to help amplify this and why?" If you can answer that, a lot of your amplification strategy will be solved.

No surprises here: stories are far better tools at building memories than features or benefits. 

Emotions, benefits, features - Rand Fishkin-min

"If you can craft your story in a way that the problem triggers a negative emotion, and the resolution triggers a positive emotion, you are in good shape," says Rand.

Launch as the solution – Rand Fishkin-min

Remember: what we know resonates with people, works in story format, and gets emotion is a focus on one person

For your next marketing launch, figure out the story you can tell about one person, before and after your product provided the solution. "I hope, after seeing this, all of your launches will be a little bit better," adds Rand.

 

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