What’s the difference between a product release and a product launch? Does it matter?
blogJuly 28, 2021
Learn more about the difference and how to make the splash you're hoping for.
Learn more about the difference and how to make the marketplace impact you’re hoping for.
Your product development teams have worked countless hours, scrutinized hundreds of figures, and crafted numerous prototypes. The moment is finally here: the product has been released. Your hard work has paid off. You’re finished.
Or are you? What about launching the product?
Whether you’re talking about a product for your e-commerce channels or a software product, both need a launch. So, what’s the difference between a product launch vs release? In this article, we’ll use a software product as an example of how your product rollout plan should look and how it fits into your larger product management strategy.
Product release versus product launch: An overview
Some companies mistakenly equate production readiness with launch readiness. However, while a sound product strategy covers both elements, there are striking differences between a product release vs product launch:
Product release: Your product is technically complete and ready to hit the market or be used by your partners and customers. For product development teams (such as engineers, UX specialists, and product managers), this is the heart-in-mouth moment when you finally get to see your product shine on digital and physical shelves.
Product launch: Your organization is ready to tell the world about the new product release. What does “launch” mean? Think of your launch plan as a fanfare – your new product’s moment in the spotlight. A launch isn’t a technical process. Yes, it depends on the product being ready for release, but it’s also when other core business operations get involved, particularly sales, marketing, and legal teams. So, although you can quietly release a product, you’ve got to ask whether that’s the most suitable strategy for your product.
When does a release become a launch?
Understanding the distinction between a product release and a product launch is essential, but knowing when a release becomes a launch is equally crucial. Consider the following key factors when transitioning from a release to a launch:
- Market Readiness: A product release indicates technical completion and readiness for the market or usage by partners and customers.
- Core Business Operations: A launch goes beyond a quiet release; it involves sales, marketing, and legal teams actively promoting, selling, and supporting the product.
- Communication and Visibility: A strategic launch plan ensures your product receives the attention it deserves, capturing the interest of your target audience.
- Cross-Team Collaboration: Successful transitions from release to launch require close collaboration between product development, marketing, sales, and customer support teams.
- Launch Goals and Strategy: A launch sets specific goals to maximize customer adoption, accelerate revenue growth, and deliver an exceptional customer experience.
- Continuous Improvement: Evaluating the impact of the release and gathering feedback helps refine future releases and improve the overall product lifecycle.
By recognizing these factors and planning accordingly, you can ensure a successful product introduction that resonates with customers and achieves your desired marketplace impact. Effective cross-team collaboration, strategic communication, and a focus on specific goals are the pillars of a well-executed launch.
Product release checklist: Roles & Tasks
Typically, it’s the Product Manager who is responsible for the entire product release. They’ve mapped out the requirements, agreed on the Epics, and often, identified the BETA test customers. Just as each of the teams involved in the product development has their own checklist, the final checklist for release rightfully belongs to the Product Manager.
Here are some of the activities that fall under a typical product release:
- Feature definition: Define the sizing, prioritization, and documentation for the engineering team.
- UI/UX design: Provide designers with specifications, UX research, and wireframes.
- Engineering: Build the fundamental capabilities.
- QA and operations: Test the new product in a real-world environment. Fix any issues. Rinse and repeat until the product is ready to roll out!
Once you have a live, stable, and relatively bug-free product, it’s time to execute your actual product launch, based on the planning that you started earlier in the process.
Product launch: What you need for success
Now it’s time to launch. You worked hard to perfect your product release. Partners and customers are going to love it. (And if they don’t, you’re about to find out.)
How can you make sure that your product will be one of that 5% that succeeds? It boils down to closing the release-launch gap. To ensure a quick, seamless, and consistent transition from product release to product launch, you need cross-team collaboration. Think product development, marketing, and sales. And don’t forget your customer support organization! Working together, you have a far better chance for a successful product launch, especially when you’ve crafted a launch plan with the end goal and launch date in mind. Teams that do effective planning are more likely to meet their go-live date, accelerate adoption, and deliver an exceptional customer experience.
To create an effective launch plan, make sure it includes:
- A description of the features that will improve customer experience
- Planned deliverables (and due dates) from sales, marketing, and other teams
- Outline of dependencies between phases (product releases and launch) and groups (particularly product development, customer support, sales, and marketing)
- Milestones and associated dates that influence the actual launch. Remember to add your Issue and Risk logs to monitor dependencies or hidden surprises
Product launch checklist: Roles & Tasks
If you want your product launch to make the impact you’re hoping for, make sure you spend time clarifying and reviewing the following key deliverables:
- Product documentation: Complete your documentation for the launch so your partners and customers can get familiar with what’s new and review relevant product information.
- Legal considerations: Make sure your legal team creates an appropriate legal agreement, where needed, that outlines your promises and liabilities to the partners and customers.
- Product release training: Train your sales reps, customer support teams, and partner network on the product’s key features and benefits.
- Assess the launch delivery plan: Review your product delivery methods. How do your customers want to buy products like yours? Is your partner network fully up to speed? Do you have a plan for tracking and reviewing success metrics?
- Plan feedback collection: Decide what methods, type of feedback, and channels you’ll use.
- Set up pricing strategy: Agree – in advance – on the product pricing structure. Make sure to include pricing in your sales and partner enablement training.
- Marketing: Plan your promotion strategies for existing customers and prospects! Decide on your communication channels, create new marketing content, add relevant articles to your knowledge base to get the word out.
After you launch, you also need to follow up on your release. Consider how this product release stacks up against previous releases and how it impacted your bottom line, customers, teams, and organization. This will help you refine your future releases, including tracking new features to get an understanding of how customers are using them.
Plan your product release for a successful product launch
There are many stages to a successful product launch, with involvement from teams across your company. While a product release is a critical milestone, a release without a strategic launch won’t resonate with your customers. Your successful product launch requires meticulous planning, cross-team collaboration and communication, and a coordinated delivery plan.
For an e-commerce look at product release and product launch, find out how a product lifecycle management (PLM) solution and a product information management (PIM) solution are complementary when it comes to launching products for your omnichannel landscape. inriver’s PIM solution helps syndicate product information, making things simple when it comes to launch time.
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