When launching a new product or service, the amount of attention you give to marketing could mean the difference between success and failure.
Joan Schneider and Julie Hall of Schnider Associates wrote in the Harvard Business Review that the biggest problem they ran into with new products that failed was that companies were so focused on design and manufacturing that they ignored marketing until it was too late in the process.
Marketing is often confused for advertising, the Small Business Administration says in its electronic learning module about marketing. Both marketing and advertising are important, but advertising is just one part of a marketing process that can include media planning, sales strategy, public relations, customer support and other initiatives.
The most important step for starting the marketing process is discovering what products your customer needs and will want to buy. Once that is out of the way, your business can focus more on the details about finding customers and convincing them to buy.
Shaking up commercial real estate
Launch Workplaces, a coworking company, was born when The Brick Cos., a family-owned commercial real estate firm in Edgewater, Maryland, reacted to changing market conditions that made it harder to compete with well-funded larger real estate companies. The larger firms were able to rent office space at a lower price than family-owned companies were willing to go.
“At the end of the day, we just can’t compete with the best buildings in the best locations that are that are backed by institutional money,” CEO Mike Kriel told BetterSMB. “So we forced ourselves to come up with a creative solution on a viable product to fill our space and even try to disrupt the market a little bit.”
Instead of fighting an uphill battle for large clients for their buildings, the company turned to coworking — a model in which office space is rented in smaller chunks in shared spaces — to fill unrented space. Unlike other coworking companies’ practice of keeping the coworking space separate from other building tenants, Launch Workplaces offers amenities such as conference space and networking events to the entire building as a differentiator.
Launch began operating in buildings owned by The Brick Cos. in 2013. Just four years later, Launch began partnering with other buildings to fill their unrented space, increase possibilities for social connections among tenants and grow future customers for larger spaces.
Launch has had enough success that it hasn’t needed to call other building owners to start new locations; all of those calls have come in organically. The company puts more resources into finding clients for new coworking spaces it opens.
We have a whole team,” Kriel said. “Anytime we open a new location, … we have a protocol established of everything that needs to be done.”
About 95 percent of Launch’s marketing is digital, though it’s not highly segmented for a particular age group or industry, because Launch wants a diversity in companies to promote collaboration and sharing.
“We measure the success of each marketing piece and what we found over the last couple of years is, different things work in different places and at different times.”
A postcard mailer may get a decent return in one market, but not another, when compared with a post to Facebook, other social media, or driving traffic to the website, Kriel said.
“It’s kind of a throw the spaghetti on the wall method to begin, and then you start to say, ‘OK. We seem to be getting most results from this. Let’s change our messaging,” he said. “Let’s focus it a little more. Let’s put a little more attention on this, a little less on that and see if it continues.'”
In addition to marketing materials, the company hosts events, from construction tours before the space opens to a ribbon-cutting on opening day. After the office opens, the company encourages visitors to come see the new space, even if they aren’t interested in an office for themselves.
“You want people to know your name, know where you are, know what you do,” Kriel said. “Because odds are, even if they don’t take an office, they know somebody who is in the small business world that may be looking for space at some time.
Developing an original product
Kelsey Abernathy and Daniel Fucich, two graduate students pursuing doctorates in molecular biotechnology, developed a an algae-powered air purifier that they say cleans air, reduces carbon dioxide and increases oxygen. “It does so as effectively as 25 house plants, but it’s a lot easier to maintain and it’s cheaper as well,” Fucich said.
The product, called the Aerium, was in a presales phase as this article was being reported. They expected to ship a limited release of 200 units in mid-November.
The pair got into business together because of their shared interests in entrepreneurship and in algae.
“We kind of think about it from our general love for algae,” Abernathy said. “We’re algae biologists.”
Abernathy and Fucich didn’t rely just on their own scientific knowledge when they formed their company, called AlgenAir. They were both involved in an environmental entrepreneurship program at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology in Baltimore.
The program gave the pair some expert guidance about launching their product. Fucich likened the experience to condensing an MBA into a shorter period of study. Mentors gave participants lessons on topics like marketing and idea generation in the program. The experience culminates as participants pitch their businesses to a panel of investors. “It’s kind of an intensive program that teaches you everything you need to know to get yourself off the ground,” Fucich said.
Both scientists work closely with a manufacturing partner, to make their ideas into reality. There can be a temptation to keep tweaking the product until it’s perfect, but that could lead to a delay in launching, Fucich said.
“We could release this in 2025 and it wouldn’t be perfect, ” he said. “But I always liked the advice that I received before: get that minimum viable product out there test how it works and see if customers like it,” he said. “And then you can always refine and tweak and make your ultimate product down the road.”
Abernathy said the manufacturing process can take longer than expected, and that knowing how much time to allow and how much money it will cost will prepare your business for whatever may happen before the product launches.
For marketing, the two are focused on guerilla tactics, hoping to work with influencers that resonate with demographics they have targeted.
“We do have a few caricatures of what our customers look like,” Fucich said. “We know where they hang out online and we’re going to be getting the voices of people that they listen to and having the product in their hands, showing them how how great it is and kind of using them as a mouthpiece for us.”
The company also does some marketing on Facebook and Instagram and sends emails to a list they have complied over the past year and a half, and is experimenting with Google AdWords.
AlgenAir used a tool at GoDaddy to build the first version of their company’s website, but there’s a plan to replace it with a more elaborate site later.
For people who may be interested in launching a new product or service, Abernathy recommends a careful approach.
“Focus a lot on doing your customer discovery and defining who you’re targeting that marketing at, because that’ll save you a lot of time and money in the long run rather than trying a shotgun approach,” she said.
That advice echoes the Small Business Administration’s lesson about marketing: Discover what products your customer needs and will want to buy.