Brand launch strategy is one of the five types of “brand lifecycle strategy,” one of the various brand strategy classes.
5 Brand Lifecycle Stages and Types of Strategy
There are five stages in every brand’s lifecycle. Each stage represents a different kind of and volume of consumers, who differ in their adoption preferences, and thus need a distinctive and progressive brand strategy.
Every brand goes through this scientific lifecycle irrespective of the type of brand story.
Stage 1: Early Market
-Innovators are 2.5% of the total market, are risk-taking, not price or time-sensitive; they are the first to try new ideas and products and proactively hunt for the new and improved in a particular category. Leap in innovation or story wows them.
-They hold authority on the category as experts, critics, or lead influencers.
-When it comes to product features or quality, they don’t mind a less than perfect version and aren’t too worried about a complete solution, but the core of the innovation or story should wow them.
-Innovators love being involved in behind the scene walkthroughs.
Launch up to Post-Launch
-Significantly larger than Innovators in size, 13.5% of the market, early adopters are opinion leaders with a considerable influence within their social and professional circle.
-They want to stay ahead of the curve and adopt the brand before hitting the tipping point.
-Are interested in the brand’s benefits and not worried about paying a premium.
-They follow, are in touch, and are well aware of the innovators’ experience and satisfaction levels.
-Need more information and do their due diligence, especially learning from the innovators’ experience.
-Early adopters are the bridge to the early majority and hence impact mainstream.
-Early adopters help build word-of-mouth, delivering real impact when combined with subsequent marketing by the brand.
-Early adopters love being involved in launch events, and are inclined to review and share.
Stage 2: Post-Launch to Early Growth Stage
-The early majority consumer, 34% of the market, is well aware of the experience with the brand through go-to people in their circle, the early adopters, for the respective category. This circle could be personal, professional, or extended.
-Need proof that the brand has crossed the tipping point and is genuinely successful.
-Low risk and need to be fully convinced with comprehensive information.
-Not opinion leaders but opinion seekers.
-The brand needs to offer a consistent and perfect experience of the core promise at every touchpoint.
Stage 3: Late Growth
-Are 34% of the market, need social proof as well-accepted by the early majority in their social circle.
-They will adopt when they feel the social pressure to do so.
-The late majority are highly risk-averse, highly skeptical, sensitive to price and privacy.
-They are instrumental in extending the brand’s life cycle.
-Typically, an older demographic (vs. category evolution) is not open to new ideas until they feel compelled to adopt.
-Effective prices(value), increased availability, exposure to advertising, observing others around them using the brand, and well-aware of the people in their circle’s experience with the brand drive the penetration into this stage of consumers.
Stage 4: Maturity
Protect and Maximize
-True to their name and 16% of the market, these are the final consumers to adopt the brand. They are usually price-sensitive with affordability issues. Also, they have a low perceived need for the brand and the problem it solves.
-Promotions and heavy discounts attract these consumers.
Stage 5: Decline
Harvest and Reinvent
Late Majority and Early Majority (-%)
You will start losing the innovators and early adopters during the decline stage, as they would hop onto the next big thing.
It would help if you tried to hold on to your consumers and adopt defensive strategies rather than aggressive consumer acquisition. The focus is profitability and margins over volume.
Eventually, you would have to reinvent your brand.
The diagnosis determines the class and type of brand strategy you should employ. The lifecycle stage of a brand is a diagnosis in itself.
Usually, a diagnosis provides an opportunity but combining the lifecycle stage with a more specific opportunity, within the broader matrix of consumer, competition, channel, and category increases the odds of delivering the desired outcomes.
5-Step Brand Strategy Framework
Brand strategy has an envious brand at the center, driving its core strength at every touchpoint while focused on an opportunity to achieve a brand’s L-T goals and vision.
Your vision includes your core purpose, the reason for existence, and your BHAG-big hairy audacious goal, 10-30 years, defined as vividly as possible.
With brand strategy, you aim to achieve five-year goals that lead to your BHAG.
Here is a 5-step framework I created for brand strategy. Brand Strategy and the process deserve a separate article for sure.
Envious Brand(Core Emotional Promise) at the center and driving the five step-Brand Strategy
5-Step Brand Strategy Framework
The primary target of your brand strategy dependent on the stage of the lifecycle.
2.Source of Power
Makes strategy effective
Strategic and Tactical, is the result of diagnosis and dependent on the class of brand strategy within the broader landscape of competitors, consumer, channel, and category.
Tells us that the strategy is eventually going to deliver the desired outcome.
Leads to the L-T goals of the brand strategy.
Pre-Launch Stage: Envious Brand
3-6 months before Launch(Duration)
(Ideally, you should finalize product formulations after the brand is created. In that case, the pre-launch phase could extend to well around 12 months. If you already have the product formulations ready to solve the particular problem, then the pre-launch phase could take anywhere between 3-6 months.)
Before you venture forth with any brand strategy, you need to create an envious brand. There was an old Onida TV ad in 1990s that went, “Neighbors envy, Owner’s pride.”
I define an envious brand as “Non-buyer’s envy and a brand owner’s love & pride.”
Envious Brand Creation
An envious brand is a powerful brand story with a core emotional promise, coherently experienced at every touchpoint.
Brand Launch Strategy
Launch of a new brand, existing brand in a new category: brand extensions, introductory stage of the brand lifecycle.
Any brand launch strategy has two phases, soft-launch and launch, which cater to two different consumer types during the first and early market stage of a brand lifecycle.
Soft Launch: Brand-Market Fit Stage
Market type: Beachhead
It makes sense to soft launch your brand in an organized market where you have a level of intimacy with the consumer and channel for feedback and eventual dominance.
A beachhead is that market in a small geography where you are well-connected and most likely to be a dominant player.
DTC is the best channel for soft-launch, but you could also use an existing retailer, you have a great relationship with, who is committed to collaborating.
Timelines: 6-18 months
a. Brand-Market Fit and scaleability tested in an information-friendly, organized environment.
Fit in beachhead: Virtuous cycle of orders feeding more orders.
5-Step Brand Strategy for Soft-Launch
2.Source of Power
Focus on exciting innovators’ “curiosity” with brand story and tribe. Use outreach plus the right online platforms for engaging conversations and pull for innovators.
First Follower Effect
Derek Sivers defined the “first follower effect” at a TED conference. According to Sivers, the first follower transforms an individual with a unique idea into a leader.
You need to hire the first, right-fit, brand tribe partner.
Excitement and onboarding of innovators, engagement with your tribe program, motivated to work on favorable terms, economics, and conviction that you will cross the chasm into early adopters.
Virtuous demand cycle of more orders than you can handle, Brand tribe kickstart, pricing fit, NMC(net marketing contribution) >M&S Expenses.
Enrolment of the right fit innovators into the brand tribe for the launch campaign.
Don’t recommend skimming or penetration pricing but sticking to the pre-designed pricing with the desired margin. Ideally, start high and go higher, as Prof. Ken Wong of Queen’s University would recommend.
Check for the demand and NMC(net marketing contribution) at the desired price and margin along with price elasticity. Do adjust based on feedback but ensure healthy margins.
NMC(Net Marketing Contribution)
NMC=Demand Generated*Avg. Selling Price*Channel Discount*Percent Margin-M&S Expenses
Target NMC>M&S Expenses so you can invest back more in the business with every cycle.
Channel Fit and NMC
Limited and Beachhead( Geo & organized, intimate channel)Number of consumers*consumer price*channel discount*Margin-Channel M&S expenses=NMC
Starting from DTC, you should calculate the NMC of every channel, again to ensure that you can invest back into the channel and create an ever-increasing favorable cycle for NMC.
Work on the relevant driver of NMC to ensure the virtuous cycle if it is not there.
Brand Health: Core emotional promise rating, awareness, purchase, loyalty, and tribe % out of the total reach.
Brand Wealth: NMC>M&S Expenses.
Tribe Metrics: Influence+Reach+Conversion+Content.
Advertisement and Price Elasticity: % change in sales as a result of 1% change in ad budget and % change in volume as a result of 1% change in price.
Launch-Early Market to Tipping Point
Move from innovators to acquire the early adopters by amplifying awareness and distribution.
Timelines for Launch Event
3 months(Heavy Buzz)+9 Months(Momentum)
5-Step Brand Strategy for Launch
Innovators(2.5%) and (Majority)Early Adopters(13.5%)
2.Source of Power
Focus and Leverage
Focus to leverage the excitement of innovators and brand tribe for “maximizing reach to early adopters” with the promise of exclusivity.
Combine the strategic opportunity of leveraging innovators with a tactical launch campaign. It could be a seasonal or yearly event with the offering of space and time exclusivity for the early adopters.
For example, a virtual or physical launch event that coincides with an existing seasonal or yearly event, which is a fit with the brand.
You will multiply reach and awareness because of the above.
-Bobby Brown launched its Crushed Lip Color with an influencer event in NYC, wherein the brand invited influencers, onboarded them on the products, had cocktail parties, and did an influencer photoshoot for the brand.
-Tom Ford Beauty successfully launched limited-edition lip colors on Valentine’s day in 2020.
How to Focus?
Focus-media, channel, message & brand tribe.
Because you need to cross the chasm from innovators to early adopters, focus on single media, channel, core promise & message.
The aim is not to go broad or big but to cross the chasm.
The brand lacks awareness and distribution with limited resources at this stage in its lifecycle.
On top, huge number of brands are entering the market vying for the attention of consumers, influencers, channels, etc. Unless you appear bigger and more promising than the rest, you won’t acquire the support of the stakeholders to cross the chasm.
How to Leverage?
Innovators and Brand Tribe Campaign:
Involve the innovators in a collaborative campaign, including an event, to take the brand to their followers, starting from early adopters.
How would you ensure that you are reaching the right early adopters?:
It is the promise of exclusivity with in-depth information on the brand from the innovators’ perspective that will influence the early adopters to come onboard.
Create a storytelling campaign, involving innovators, with longevity of 3+9 months.
Use BRIEFCASE content marketing strategy for the entire launch spanning 3+9 months.
The first 3 months of the launch campaign should be highly concentrated and the next 9 months would mainly work with the momentum generated.
-Enrollment of early adopters into the brand tribe and a step up in sales(might not be 10X as the primary goal is awareness)
-Leap in awareness and engagement( 10X) beyond innovators.
-Consumer(early adopters) acquisition, retention, lift, and referral in this particular order.
-NMC>M&S Expenses: Acquire+Retain+Lift+Referral leading to a virtuous cycle, especially for DTC. Objective should be positive NMC with consumer acquisition as the focus but achieve a minimum level of repeat, loyalty, and advocacy.
To acquire early adopters, the brand moves from outreach and partnerships, soft launch strategy, with innovators(influencers) to “leveraging” outreach and partnerships for collaborative launch.
The chances are the brand will achieve 10X awareness with not quite proportionate sales, which is normal, but it should be profitable enough( because of right fit partnerships with influencers) to keep achieving even higher reach and sales as a result.
For 3rd party channel, movement from the shelf should be the focus. Don’t progress to a new channel without creating an example out of the existing one.
Example of Brand Launch Strategy: Drunk Elephant
Envious Brand (Core Emotional Promise)
Cool, clean compatible skincare without suspicious 6 ingredients
5-Step Brand Launch Strategy: Soft-Launch and Launch
Soft-launched to beauty editors and on the website, true beauty innovators and early adopters, for about two years. The feedback helped tweak the brand a bit to achieve brand-market fit.
The brand focused on exciting innovators, helping attract Sephora.
After 2 years, they launched at Sephora for the retailer’s innovators and early adopters.
2.Source of Power
Hyper-Focused on exciting innovators: Social media influencers, editors for the soft-launch & then Sephora for the launch.
Focused and leveraged influencers to attract and land an exclusive partnership with Sephora to reach Early Adopters.
Clean Movement Philosophy to overcome Lack of Performance in natural/organic:
In the words of Tiffany Masterson, the founder, “I also knew that if I delivered a philosophy and products that truly worked, the brand would grow by word of mouth, and to this day, I credit that one thing with the success of Drunk Elephant.”
Exclusive Partnership with Sephora:
According to Tiffany, “All of our energy and investment goes into Sephora, and it allowed us, in the beginning, to get our feet firmly on the ground in this market, which proved helpful in later launches in different markets around the world.”
“I believed that if we acted big and successful, we would become that way. It was kind of a fake-it-till-you-make-it strategy, and I think it worked.”
She is referring to her formulations, philosophy, pack design, website, and partnerships with influencers.
In her own words, Tiffany states that she grew the brand without a single dollar spent on ads and without paying a single penny to any influencer.
Exciting influencers: The brand philosophy and performance was motivating enough for the influencers to associate with Drunk Elephant without any money involved.
2013-Launch on the website and social media with unpaid influencers.
2015: Huge success at Sephora(exclusivity) led to even more support from the channel partner for consumer acquisition and retention and a virtuous cycle of higher sales and profitability.
2017: In March of 2017, Drunk Elephant received funding from private equity firm VMG Partners and Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine, among other backers.
2019: The brand got bought by Shiseido for $845 Million(USD).
Brand launch strategy is one of the 5 types of brand lifecycle strategy, which, as the name implies, is based on where the brand is on its lifecycle curve.
Brand launch strategy itself has three phases.
First is the pre-launch stage, where you create an envious brand with a core emotional promise at the center and coherently applied to all touchpoints for a powerful brand story.
The second phase is the soft-launch stage, where you feel the market, look for, and find the brand-market fit and excite the innovators to enroll them into your tribe.
The third and the last phase is to launch with a bang where the focus is to leverage the innovators to reach the early adopters for 10X awareness and sales.
Focus and leverage are the sources of power for the brand launch strategy.
For the rest of the 4 types of brand lifecycle strategy and other classes of brand strategy, please keep visiting the site!
Are you thinking of launching a brand? Feel free to book a free consultation here.
ROHIT BANOTA, Founder of StorySaves, has transformed dozens into envied beauty brands for sharp and profitable growth, kickstarted from day 1 with “strategic brand story” and “story-led brand strategy” & powered by digital.
He has over 17 years of marketing and business experience growing consumer packaged brands including with startups and MNCs like P&G Beauty and Grooming in North America, Europe and rest of the world.
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