Building a Future for Distributors and Dealers of Building Products
Volume 44, Issue 9 November/December 2005
How to Gain Profits
The Three Rules of a Successful Product Introduction
by Jim Groff
Manufacturers seek to build revenue and market share by developing new products. But every one of them will tell you that research and development is just the beginning.
Every successful product launch involves three key strategies.
First, the launch focuses on selling “through”—rather than just selling “into”—the distribution channel. That means the manufacturer introduces the product to every market along the channel: distributors, certainly, but also dealers, builders, consumers and architects, depending on the product.
Second, the manufacturer develops a detailed plan and carefully oversees the timing of its
And third, a product launch requires adequate resources. Any neglected element can weaken the chance for success. Every year, new products that should succeed instead wither on the vine because the manufacturer fails to devote enough time, effort and money to its launch.
With product launches, timing is critical. If possible, the product should be introduced during a period of receptivity: a large trade show, for instance, or particular season. Once a release date has been established, the manufacturer should determine the tactics it will employ to reach its various audiences. In a successful launch, the marketing tactics aimed at one audience support and strengthen the tactics for other audiences. (See examples below.)
Note that messages to different audiences may focus on different benefits, depending on the needs of a particular channel member. A builder may care most about ease of use and consumer reaction, for example. But a dealer may care more whether the product’s benefits are clear and simple to explain to builders.
When scheduling the tactics of a product rollout, a general rule of thumb is first to address internal audiences, then external audiences, moving from the beginning to the end of the distribution channel. Having said that, some tactics that target builders and consumers may take a longer lead time than those meant for distributors and dealers—yet another reason for a comprehensive plan with a timeline for every element.
Touching Every Point Along the Channel
During a successful product launch, the manufacturer sets the tone early on by enlisting partners along the distribution channel in planning the rollout. By bringing distributors, dealers and even influential builders to the table early in the process, the manufacturer can clarify roles and develop early “buy-in” from these partners. When planning, consider how you’ll reach each market along the channel:
Distributors: These partners have much to gain from a successful product rollout. As such, distributors may be willing to share costs if a manufacturer can demonstrate a product’s value and potential profitability. Early and frequent communication with distributors is critical, not only about the product itself but also about its potential payoff.
Because distributors sell through the rest of the channel, the manufacturer should provide them with product knowledge of some depth. Typically, that involves a program to educate sales staff: training sessions, sales kits and collateral materials that help them work with dealers.
Dealers: Dealers see hundreds of new products every year, so a launch must differentiate the product and state its benefits in clear, simple terms. The rollout should focus on the sales team: offering incentives, running contests and providing educational support. That might include sales materials, in-store displays, manufacturer participation in educating builders and more.
Builders: Builders lead busy lives, so it takes a particularly strong, well-coordinated effort to reach them and affect their behavior. Builder breakfasts, introductory discounts or rebates, carefully-crafted direct-mail or e-mail programs, point-of-purchase displays and other tactics can help generate trial of a new product.
Consumers: Consumer demand for a specific product will certainly drive sales. More and more often, manufacturers are including direct-to-consumer elements in a product launch. Brand awareness advertising can increase the likelihood that consumers will consider a product.
A concerted public relations effort can enhance a product’s credibility and explain its benefits in greater detail. And a strong web presence can provide depth of information and further support for the buying decision.
The Product Launch in Practice
The specific tactics used during a launch differ from product to product. But examples from our own clients’ experiences demonstrate how various elements of a launch work together:
In 2004, Baublitz coordinated the regional launch of KOMA, a product manufactured using a PVC composite, with the manufacturer and a regional distributor. Among the key program elements:
Sales incentive: Dealer counter and outside salespeople who had established relationships with builders were given a limited-time cash incentive to sell KOMA.
Direct Mail: A direct-mail campaign boosted builder awareness of the product. By targeting key builders with three separate mailings, the program ensured builders would remember KOMA. And the mailings included actual product samples—a hands-on approach that was key to generating interest.
Purchase incentive: Builders were also offered a limited-time discount on KOMA Trimboards. This, coupled with the incentive for the dealer sales teams, created greater opportunity to generate product trial.
In-store support: Carefully crafted point-of-purchase displays, complete with product samples, further educated builders and created more support for a KOMA sale.
Baublitz also helped launch Dodge Regupol’s line of soundproof sub-flooring, Regupol-QT™, in the mid-Atlantic region. One goal of this rollout was to entice architects to use the product in designs. Elements of the launch included:
Trade advertising: An intriguing trade advertising campaign aimed at multiple trade partners showcased the product and its benefits, and also built brand awareness and supported other
Direct mail: A three-dimensional direct mailer echoed visual elements of the ads and used the actual product to provide structure for the piece. Because the mailing targeted architects, technical specifications were provided along with more general benefits.
HTML e-mail: The supporting e-mail campaign maintained design consistency with the ads, and provided a link to far more detail on the product, including photos and applications.
These abbreviated examples show that any launch is a multifaceted process that differs from product to product. But remember, every successful launch relies on three key elements: selling “through” to all partners along the channel, careful planning and timing of all efforts and providing ample resources to the launch.
Jim Groff is president of Baublitz Advertising of York, Pa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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