Product launches are perhaps the most important events on a brand’s calendar. Getting a product launch right – meaning launching the product to an eager and willing market – requires coordination from top to bottom in an organization. It’s likely that everyone will play a role, and bringing together so many different parts of the company to work toward a single goal can take time.
But that’s time that you really can’t afford to spend. In this article, we’d like to talk about the concept of time to market, or TTM. This concept highlights the importance of developing a new product in a timely manner, while still creating something that your clients or customers will love.
What is time to market?
The definition of time to market is simple enough – it is the time it takes for your company to go from initial idea to product launch. If your management team agrees to move forward with a new idea on March 1st, for example, and the product goes live one year later, your time to market would be 12 months.
The simplicity of the definition of time to market belies the complexity of improving performance in this area. Too often, attempts to optimize time to market result in corners being cut and mistakes being made. The goal is not to rush a product out with no regard for the importance of the research and development process. Rather, the aim is to hit the market quickly with something that your brand will be proud to stand behind.
How time to market offers a competitive advantage
Before we get too deep into the weeds on how you can improve time to market, it’s important to first stop and think about why it matters. If your product is good, why does it matter when it becomes available to your customers? Simply put, it’s all about gaining a competitive advantage.
In an imaginary market where there was no competition and your audience would be waiting to buy from you whenever you were ready, time to market would be rendered irrelevant. But that’s not reality. There are competitors in all markets, and your success depends not only on impressing your customers, but doing so in a manner that gives you an edge over the other players.
If you are late to the market – that is, if your competitors beat you to the market with a new product or service – you’ll need to find a way to overcome that disadvantage. While not impossible, you’ll be playing from behind, and no business wants to be in that spot. Unless your product is so good that it simply can’t be ignored, you may never catch up with the competition that first gained the attention of the relevant customers or clients.
With this concept of gaining a competitive advantage at the heart of why time to market matters, it’s easy to see a paradox developing. You want to get to the market quickly to gain an edge on your competitors – but offering the best product on the market is also a competitive advantage. So, something has to give. It’s striking the right balance between getting to the market quickly while still meeting quality and innovation expectations that is central to success with TMM initiatives.
Other benefits of improving time to market
As discussed above, the primary motivating factor in reducing time to market is to give your company a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Responding to market changes quickly and meeting customer demands before the competition is an obvious benefit.
But are there other time to market benefits worthy of your attention? Consider these possibilities –
● Explore more opportunities. As your time to market comes down, decision-makers in your organization may see an opportunity to test out more new product and service ideas. If there is only a six-month lead time to take a product to the market, rather than two years, for example, the barrier to trying new things is lowered. With a reduced time and financial investment demanded by each project, more projects can be given the green light. From there, it’s a simple matter of math to see how your organization can benefit – if half of your projects are a hit, and you launch 10 instead of 5 in a given timeframe, you’ll be left with twice as many strong products in your portfolio.
● Launch on time. Not only does a streamlined time to market process help you beat the competition, but it also helps you time your product launches accurately to meet customer demand. Have a new product that will be a big seller for the holiday season? With strong time to market procedures in place, you can be sure it will be available by November. Or, launching something that is primarily a summer product? Schedule the development and production process so it is available by April or May. When organizations don’t put an emphasis on time to market, they never really know when things will be ready – and this uncertainty can cause problems.
● Don’t waste resources. This is another benefit of being as predictable as possible with your product launch process. When you know what is going to happen when on your journey to the market, you can allocate resources strategically and cut down on waste. A less-organized, ad-hoc process for product development will inevitably be inefficient, and expenses will rise as a result.
Product development processes that can reduce TTM
At this point, it should be clear that there is a lot to gain by streamlining your product development processes and launch timelines. Getting to the market faster with increased efficiency, while maintaining the same level of quality, could make all the difference to your bottom line. While there are countless factors that will influence TTM in your organization, the following keys are a great place to start in this endeavor.
● Streamline the starting point. Depending on the size and complexity of your organization, there may be several rounds of approvals involved in getting anew project started. It’s understandable why management would need to thoroughly review any idea before investing time and money in its development, but those approvals take time. If there are even just a couple of extra weeks spent on approval, that could make all the difference if you are beaten to market by a competitor. Work on identifying any unnecessary steps or delays in the approval process so you can avoid falling behind right from the start.
● Outsource strategically. Getting a product to market quickly will likely require help from outside your organization. Knowing what elements of the process you will outsource, and when that help will be acquired, is another important piece of the puzzle. As you move through one product launch after the next, you can develop a trusted network of contractors that understand your industry, timeline, and requirements.
● Effective integration. Often, the friction that comes up during the product development process has to do with various departments within your organization not interfacing properly. When the project is handed from one department to the next, or when two or more departments need to collaborate, bottlenecks tend to form. Creating clear systems for how your departments are integrated, and investing in IT as necessary to improve those integrations, is another step toward getting to market faster.
● Leverage technology. Speaking of IT, utilizing modern technologies to handle repetitive tasks in the development process can improve TTM. For example, an automated system may ensure that everyone has the latest version of a development file, or it could be used to synchronize calendars and confirm that everyone is working with the same due dates, as any changes will be reflected in real-time across the organization. If too much of your product development process is still happening on traditional spreadsheets, or on pen and paper, it’s time to take a step forward and let technology speed things up.
● Continually adjust. Your time to market process is never “done”. This is one of those things that is always been improved, adapted, and adjusted to the realities of your business. If you come up with an initial TTM strategy and then leave that strategy document alone for years to come, you’ll be certain to lag behind. Remaining current on how modern products are developed, and integrating new strategies and techniques into your own process, is the only way to remain relevant in a competitive industry.
How important is the actual length of time and is it possible to move too fast?
Throughout this article, we have been extolling the virtues of time to market. And, to be sure, it is a critical concept for nearly any organization, as getting to the market quickly offers many benefits.
With that said, we need to issue just a brief word of caution – it is possible to go too fast. The risk here is obvious when you stop to think about how the product development process works. You’ll start with an idea that you love, but problems and second thoughts will come up along the way. As development moves along, adjustments and concessions will be made to reach the finish line.
When an organization is completely consumed by time to market, some of those adjustments and concessions might not be the right choices. If all else is set to the side in deference to the goal of a specific launch date, the product might fall short of market expectations – or it might miss the mark entirely.
Successful TTM management involves pushing the envelope on speed without going over the limit. If five companies are all trying to develop a similar product at a similar time, each will be hoping to land on the market first. The goal isn’t always to be the absolute first to the market with any product. Rather, the goal is to be the first company to land on the market with the right product. Walking that line is not easy, and it requires a combination of experience and careful market research.
Work with Starlight on your product launch today
Nailing a product launch is a massive challenge. In addition to developing and executing a quality time to market strategy, there are plenty of other related pieces like marketing and sales that have to come together just right. By working with Starlight Analytics for custom consumer research in your industry, you’ll have the accurate data you need to make strategic decisions. Contact us today to learn more.