Don’t Forget Internal Research

CLEARED FOR TAKE-OFF: Internal Research and Consensus Building

Internal research is often just as important as external research for the launch of a new campaign, product or brand. Why? Not only does it provide insight from key company decision-makers and stakeholders, it begins to activate their “buy-in” – one of the most important elements of any launch.

Obtaining internal buy-in is often one of the most overlooked elements in a launch plan, perhaps because it covers such a potentially broad range of people. Think of all the different constituents who are affected by a new product launch: everyone from line employees to marketing staff, sales force, executives, board directors, shareholders, even partner companies. Unfortunately, without their blessing and support, the launch is not going to reach its full potential for success. Putting on sales conferences to educate the staff and sales reps for the new product is great, but if that presentation doesn’t really engage them and motivate them, you could be in big trouble.

So how do you go about getting buy-in? It is usually best to help your key players feel some ownership early in the process…starting with research. Typically, internal research starts with realizing there’s a need for a new product – which should be an ongoing process, not just limited to the R&D department. Ask the employees that interact with customers about the ongoing demands and product requests received from current and prospective customers. Perhaps you conduct focus groups with top performing sales and customer service staff, an online anonymous survey with the entire staff, or a hard copy survey at the next sales meeting. Whatever the tactics used, an important ongoing goal of your internal research is to determine market needs.

When a new product is being developed, survey the new product launch team about what they view as its major benefits. Compare this feedback with the market demand you’ve identified both externally and internally. This will help you examine the product’s value proposition, the reasons why customers should invest in it. Understanding the product’s benefits and point of difference will also lead into developing a name.

Admittedly, name development is one of the touchiest points of a product launch. Some companies try to use research to gain internal buy-in at this point; i.e., asking employees to submit suggestions into the mix of names developed by the marketing department/ad agency. While this occasionally works, we don’t recommend it – “creative by committee” is usually a recipe for disaster. However, convening a small group of key players from different functional areas for a comprehensive input session prior to the agency starting is a good idea. Think of it as a representative government, with each person polling staff in their department for specific concerns and insights and then articulating that nuanced input to the agency.

This same group can serve as a sounding board to review the initial group of possible names from the agency and provide them with feedback – a key part of the overall vetting process. This internal “sniff test” will almost always identify several names or phrases which may make sense on the surface but just don’t feel right to internal audiences who are intimately familiar with the product, market and competition.

Once a final name is selected, of course, one more piece of external research should be done – a trademark check conducted by legal counsel. However, before going to market, a final internal survey should be done to review and sign off on the chosen name, value statement, and logo design. Once consensus has been reached by the group of representatives, they should be charged with helping sell it in to their functional areas – after all, they’ve been involved all through the process.

Keep in mind, this is a general approach to pre-launch internal research and consensus building. However, there’s no cookie cutter way to do it. An incredibly wide range of variables can come into play, including the size of the company, privacy/confidentiality concerns, market considerations, model year timing and so on.

But regardless of the specific situation, suffice it to say that if you want your external brand, product or campaign launch to be successful, don’t just focus on external market research. Listen to the ideas of the company’s thought leaders, cultivate their buy-in and get everyone singing from the same song book. Then you’re truly cleared for take-off.