Launching a New Science Product: It’s simple (but not easy!)

Okay! So you’ve done months or years of gruelling R&D. Hardware, software, firmware are all finished and even the user manuals are written. Your production, calibration and testing protocols are all in place. Yes, you have finally reached the finish line! Oops, did I say finish line, scratch that….. I should have said “Yes, you have finally reached the starting line!”.

Launching a product is the beginning of a journey that never ends, unless and until you decide to abandon the product at some point in the far distant future. And like all great journeys, the preparation you make before you get started will significantly affect the chances for a successful adventure. So what should these successful preparatory steps look like? Well, they will vary somewhat depending on the product you are launching and the target market you are launching it into. However, there are some other things you should always consider.

Let's start with understanding who your target market is. Your target market should be a clearly identifiable group of potential customers that will benefit from your new product. Your target market could be all the people residing on the planet known as Earth (I don’t recommend it but it could be!). It could be a subset such as all the adults residing on the planet known as Earth (I don’t recommend that either), or it could be all the adults on planet Earth with enough spare cash to buy your fantastic new product (also not recommended). By now you are probably starting to get the idea. What we want to achieve is an identifiable category of potential customers that is useful for the purposes of planning our product launch. By identifiable we mean targetable i.e., we can understand, very clearly, how to find them. This process is called market segmentation and the end result doesn’t have to include all possible customers. Indeed, it shouldn’t! It should be a sub-group who we can target with our available resources. Usually these will be the most identifiable candidates and the ones with the strongest need for our new offering.

To be very clear on this point, you should be able to use the description of your target audience to find individuals to sell to. If our product is a new miniature device for measuring pressure in tiny mouse hearts and our definition of the target market segment is ‘life scientists', then we have messed-up. It’s just too broad. We will end up wasting a huge amount of time and money trying to communicate with hundreds of thousands of scientists around the globe, most of whom just won’t care.

Now let’s try narrowing in on heart researchers. If we include clinical researchers working on humans then we are still wide of our target. We need to be more specific. So we will try ‘basic cardiovascular science researchers working on small animal models' '. This is a statement that gets us closer to the people we want. Next we need to test it. Can we use this statement to help us make direct contact with individuals i.e. scientists who will benefit from our product. For example, does this statement make it easy for us to pick scientific conferences to attend, or to find the names of top researchers in the field through publication searches? If the answer is yes then we are onto something. If not then we need to go back to the drawing board, repeat, and test again until we are happy we have a definition of our potential customer group that is clearly identifiable, contactable and for whom our products offer significant value.

Now you have identified your target audience you can begin preparations for communicating with them. The key here is to make sure you are talking to them in a language that they understand and that you are clearly focussed on things that have value to them. Language is important. All too often engineering language used during product development creeps into marketing literature and ends up confusing or actively annoying the intended target audience. For example, I have seen frequency described in Hz in a document intended for a group of scientists who customarily describe frequency in ppm (pulses per minute). Language used in this way (or misused) says very clearly to the potential customer that we don’t understand or even care about how you will use our product. It conveys an engineering arrogance that creates distance between the manufacturer and the intended use or application, when the goal of marketing materials should be to close that gap.

What we need to do here is to clearly answer some specific questions before we begin writing any content i.e. brochures, web pages, etc. etc. These questions are:

  1. What is our product?

  2. What is our value proposition?

  3. What are our points of differentiation?

Firstly, WHAT IS OUR PRODUCT? Yes, what is it? If you have ever walked past an exhibitor at a trade show and wondered what it is they are selling then you have encountered the all-to-often repeated mistake of failing to make clear the basic category a product falls into. So if we are selling a pressure sensor for implanting into mouse hearts then let’s make that clear. Too many pictures of smiling people and graphs of general blood pressure signals will just confuse people to the point where our target audience may assume we are selling a clinical device and just walk on past. The message here is MAKE IT CLEAR.

Second, what is our VALUE PROPOSITION. Our value proposition is a clear statement of the problem our product solves. It says that our new device can make our customers’ lives better by solving X or improving the way we do Y. In essence, it identifies a pain point in our customers lives and removes or seriously reduces it. So let’s show them we understand, we feel their pain, and let’s be very specific about it. Tell them: “You were unable to measure X in mice, well now you can!”.

Third and finally, we need to make our points of DIFFERENTIATION very clear. Differentiation is where we make it clear how we differ from our competitors' solutions. If your product has created a new category (marketeers love to call this “disruption”) then you need to make clear how your product differs from the previous paradigms. For example, if you are in the field of travel and you invent the first human time-travel machine then you are lucky, your job of explaining how time-travel differs from spaceltravel is easy. However, if you are trying to sell hovercraft to customers who are used to using cars and motorcycles to

get around then you will need to explain why a hovercraft is better for their needs. Differentiation and value propositions tie in very closely with market segmentation, mentioned earlier. They are two sides of the same coin. Points of differentiation will vary depending on the market segment you are targeting. For example if you are selling hovercraft in Europe and the USA then you may be targeting hobbyists of one sort or another and your differentiators may revolve around the fun and adventure you can have using a hovercraft.

If, however, your target market is an undeveloped and very wet region of the world where roads are less useful, then you may be targeting NGO’s with the message that hovercraft offer a practical mode of transport after tsunamis and hurricanes, etc. when water is everywhere and roads have been washed away.

Once you have clearly defined the market segment you are targeting, have understood what your product category is, have worked out what part of your customers pain you can alleviate (your value proposition) and are clear about your differentiation versus either direct competitors or previous ways of doing things that your product is replacing, then you're ready to start planning a launch campaign.

Now I know that was a long sentence but as I said at the outset: It may be simple, but that doesn’t mean it is easy!

Rory Geoghegan

July 21st, 2021

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