6 Product Launch Examples That Went Well (And Not So Well)

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    Home / Product / 6 Product Launch Examples That Went Well (And Not So Well)

    Here's a stat you've probably heard a million times: 95% of product launches fail.

    Having grown up around iconic products launching one after the other, it never did feel like that to me.

    You don't really think products fail when you go around seeing billboards of the "1000 songs in your pocket" iPod campaign.

    Iconic Ads: iPod - Thousand Songs in Your Pocket Point of View

    Well, they do.

    And now you know that working your adult job in tech.

    So, in honor of all the iconic product launches we witnessed in real time, let's take a closer look at some good examples of successful product launches to get inspired and some not-so-successful ones for a cautionary tale.

    Let's go!

    1- Dropbox: A Viral Sensation  

    A marketing sensation to this day, Dropbox was founded by Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi in 2007.

    The founding story of Dropbox is already interesting enough, with Houston applying for sponsorship and being asked to get a partner. So he meets a perfect stranger at the time, Ferdowsi, which then leads him to drop out of MIT to launch Dropbox with Houston.

    Dropbox was launched, and it introduced cloud technologies, which revolutionized file sharing at the time. For people to trust this revolution, they had to do their market research and know their target market and potential customers very well.

    But Dropbox held many more lessons for those going for a new product launch:

    Why it was a success

    Dropbox's initial challenge was introducing a new product to a naturally skeptical target audience. They needed to build anticipation and overcome potential prejudice.

    And they did it very gracefully.

    By going viral.

    Still in the pre-launch stage, they used a demo video as a teaser that explained Dropbox as a new product, looking into its features and basically tapping into its value proposition.

    ‎The video was shared on online platforms, where the target audience for this new product launch could see it.

    Online communities like Reddit and Digg buzzed like crazy and Dropbox saw numbers going from 5,000 to over 75,000 almost overnight.

    But you can't entrust your new product launch go-to-market strategy to a viral video and call it a day and Dropbox knew this.

    So they paired their early spotlight with a referral program (which would later be taught in marketing strategy courses as the textbook example of a good referral marketing program) and nailed not only their pre-launch but also their post-launch strategies.

    And that's what makes Dropbox a product launch marketing genius and a massively successful product launch.

    Key Takeaway

    When a new product is actually good, it might seem easier to come up with a marketing plan.

    But Dropbox's virality wasn't a stroke of luck, it was just launched by people who did their market research, knew their target audience, and understood the impact of their product.

    Referral programs are as old as Julies Ceasar, and our grandmas do word-of-mouth marketing.

    The secret to achieving all this before social media as we know it came to be was the fact that Houston and Ferdowsi knew their product and their audience well.

    Kudos 👏

    2- Google Glass: A Vision Not Realized  

    What Dropbox was able to overcome before and after its product launch was exactly what Google Glass wasn't able to overcome.

    Google Glass, developed by Google X as part of its mission to create futuristic tech products, was introduced to the public in 2012.

    It was basically a display technology that made the user able to display information in a smartphone-like, hands-free format. The internet wasn't even at your fingertips; it was on the tip of your tongue, which was crazy at the time.

    Having seen the launch of Siri in 2011, it was a step forward with a Terminator-esque design to the wearable tech. But it wasn't love at first sight for everyone. Here's a Business Insider article from 2012:

    That last line was... 🤭

    ‎And that was just the start of Google Glass' downfall as early as in the pre-launch stage.

    Why it failed

    Assuming you were around in 2012, the hype around Google Glass was pretty big.

    But if you ask me, or the Business Insider writer Jay Yarrow above, who later wrote another article on Google Glass and declared nobody really likes the device, Google should have thought a second time before they made the decision to build hype that big.

    Even before Google Glass rolled out, people were concerned about privacy, usability, and the social implications of wearing such a device. Nobody really knew how helpful it would be in real life other than looking cool. It was going to be super pricey, and nobody wanted their photos taken with Google Glass without their knowledge.

    And guess what? Google answered practically zero of those concerns 🤷‍♀️

    Before the launch date had even come, Google Glass was banned in some hospitals, casinos, bars and movie theatres.

    A successful product launch already seemed unlikely during the pre-launch, and even a launch event with skydiving with Google Glass didn't change the device's fate:

    After the launch date, a lot more surfaced about Google Glass. It was buggy, glitchy, gave users a headache, and it honestly was just weird to be wearing it 😬

    So, in 2015, Google discontinued it for commercial purposes.

    Key Takeaway

    Some might say Google Glass was ahead of its time since AR glasses are still in the works at Google. But the rumors around these new AR glasses being shelved and discontinued every 6 months don't really help that claim.

    The truth is that Google did have a good product launch plan and built anticipation quite successfully.

    But a product blind to its users' concerns and customer feedback is just doomed to fail.

    So when devising a product launch plan, it is important to distribute efforts equally between the marketing plan, and the launch strategy that goes beyond product marketing efforts.

    3- PlayStation 2: Dominating the Console Wars

    When PlayStation 2 launched, I wasn't big enough to play video games. But I remember always wanting a PS2, even after PS4 rolled out.

    That was the impact of the PlayStation 2 product launch, pre-, post-, and way post-launch.

    In 2000, Sony decided that the PlayStation needed a sequel, which led to the launch of the PlayStation 2, and it quickly becoming a beloved console.

    It had advanced graphics, a vast game library, and added functionality as a DVD player. Basically, anything you could ask for in 2000, and from casual users who wanted to watch DVDs at home to hardcore gamers, the people were pleased.

    Why it was a success

    Much like in Dropbox's case, there was more than one reason PS2 is one of the most legendary consoles - and product launches - ever.

    First of all, they had an advantage to begin with, building on the legacy of the original PlayStation. But PS2 wasn't necessarily a nepo baby since, as John David Washington and Dakota Johnson would know, with great power comes great responsibility.

    PS2 was in a position where it had to live up to the legacy of the PlayStation.

    And it did.

    ➡️ One, PS2's pre-launch marketing plan started off strong with a teaser announcement during a pre-E3 - one of the most important gaming events - press conference starting to create a buzz in the right place, at the right time.

    ➡️ Two, contrary to Google Glass' marketing plan, the PS2 product launch strategy did focus on making the product as desirable as possible with demands considered from the existing user base and active users.

    The technical features were noteworthy; the game library was vast, and backward compatibility alone was a good enough reason to buy for the competitive price of $299.

    ➡️ And three, Sony made the decision for a global rollout strategy that gave local distributors the chance to come up with a marketing plan of their own, which led to the PS2 having the DVD Player built-in in the US, which virtually doubled the number of customers expected to buy.

    Key Takeaway

    A product launch plan should be shaped around the qualities of your product, but a product marketing plan should be shaped around what your existing user base has to say and customer feedback.

    Sony's success with the PlayStation 2 really just boils down to that.

    Sony did receive criticism for PlayStation and PlayStation 2, but they wasted no time optimizing the product before the launch event and even the launch stage.

    Remember that a successful launch can be a few critical decisions away and that it is always a good practice to tune in with your audience and be in tune with your customers.

    4- Microsoft Zune: Missing the iPod Wave

    I had an iPod. I never knew anyone who had a Microsoft Zune. I did hear of it vaguely, but it was never the competition between iPhone and Android.‎

    The slogan did nothing for the brand, in all honesty 😬

    ‎And, folks, that's really all there is to it.

    Introduced by Microsoft in 2006, the Zune was designed to compete with Apple's iPod.

    And if I'm being honest, in hindsight, it could.

    It had a larger screen, wireless file sharing, and integration with the Zune Marketplace (the iTunes counterpart) for music and videos. Microsoft had even gone into partnerships, including exclusive packs for car, home AV, and travel use.

    Despite being on par with the iPod on so many levels —even exceeding it at times —and partnerships of all kinds, Zune was discontinued not too long after.

    Why it failed

    Here's the thing: Zune was a great product.

    In fact, there are fans of Microsoft Zune even today, still using the device after MS' decision to stop supporting it.

    ‎But it will never change the fact that Zune was doomed to fail its product launch, entering a market completely dominated by Apple's iPod, which had such a brilliant marketing strategy. This strategy is still being taught in schools while also having one or two differentiators from its competitor and at the exact same price.

    $249, to be exact.

    And you simply cannot go against a global cultural shift of a product at the same price.

    Key Takeaway

    All markets have competitors that widely dominate. Still, Samsung entered the cellphone market against the iPhone and did have a successful launch.

    We will never know what would have happened if Zune had been positioned differently in the market, but even a non-marketer could tell you that the main problem was not the product launch event or the product features.

    It was the product marketing.

    Had the pre-launch strategy for Zune been different and had the marketing efforts been directed toward drawing Zune as a similar product that's superior to the iPod in, say, price, Zune would be part of the market today.

    The lesson to be learned here is that, firstly, even big ballers like Microsoft flop.

    And secondly, a great product does not automatically equal a great product launch stage. You cannot win if follow the trends set by the trendsetters.

    You have to set your own trends and win your share of the market.

    5- Apple Watch: Redefining Smartwatches

    When it comes to running a successful post-launch campaign, I turn straight to Apple.

    Launched in 2015, the Apple Watch marked Apple's entry into the wearable technology market. It combined fitness tracking, health-oriented capabilities, and integration with iOS to offer a comprehensive smartwatch experience.

    The now-beloved device was officially unveiled during a special event in September 2014 and was famously introduced by Tim Cook with one of his "One More Thing" reveals.

    Check out Apple September Event 2014 and jump to 55:44 to see the impact this phrase had on the Apple fans 👀

    It was the same launch day iPhone 6 was revealed so you know it was a huge deal for Apple.

    But it didn't just piggyback on the success of the iPhone 6.

    It was, dare I say, the main event after a few too many years since Steve Jobs' passing without big innovations, and Apple was finally revealing it.

    But it wasn't only this hype in the product launch event that made Apple Watch a good product launch example on the list today.

    It was Apple's post-launch stage marketing and communication strategy.

    Why it was a success

    Now, let's not get it twisted: Apple Watch didn't come without flaws. It sure had a value proposition, but apart from being a groundbreaking innovation, it really didn't change lives.

    Until Apple made sure it did.

    The Apple Watch's success in the post-launch stage is largely due to Apple's commitment to quickly addressing initial criticisms.

    They already highlighted the Health and Fitness features in the launch along with others, and seeing that the product's value in the public eye boiled down to a fitness companion, they doubled down on that post-launch to deliver the product right.

    Seeing that this had a direct impact on sales, they went on to collab with Nike and launched a fitness app compatible with Apple Watch along with Nike bands for Apple Watch.

    Then, to avoid a positioning mistake that would place Apple Watch in the fitness gear market and shrink their target audience, Apple worked toward a different messaging with Hermès bands to position the Apple Watch as a product transcending stereotypes and becoming a staple name for smartwatches.

    Key Takeaway

    The Apple Watch success was always going to happen with Apple users being as loyal as they are.

    The pre-orders had reached several millions before the product hit the shelves.

    But when the hype died down, even the Apple users would have been ready to abandon the Apple Watch for the next big thing. That's why the post-launch phase of this campaign was a sink-or-swim situation.

    What Apple did was that they created a product that would continuously get better with new updates.  Features like the App Store on the watch, sleep tracking, and new watch faces have kept existing users engaged and attracted new ones.

    During the COVID-19 pandemic they even launched a handwashing timer and managed to stay relevant years after the original Apple Watch's launch.

    Could they have done that depending completely on the brand identity of Apple?

    Apple's brand identity might be strong but not as strong as to bear the consequences of marketing away a half-baked product they can't improve.

    So they didn't take that risk with Apple Watch's product launch either.

    Apple taught us again with Apple Watch that even though their loyal customers might appear to the world as if they would buy anything, Apple itself cannot assume that and has to work toward actually great products.

    And when they do, it is such a big success both in the marketing sense and in the sales that people are left assuming people just buy any Apple product when in reality, the products are that good.

    6- Windows 8: A Rough Transition

    Talking about innovation and big names, we would all remember the Windows 8 launch in 2012.


    Maybe because it was a flop.

    Windows 8, released by Microsoft in 2012, introduced a radical redesign of its operating system with a focus on touchscreen capability. They even came up with Windows Phone and threw themselves in the very middle of the Apple-Samsung-dominated smartphone market.

    The point was to bring mobile devices and PCs closer and close a gap there.

    And if you want my honest opinion that was a genius idea  from a UX philanthropist POV. If only Apple wasn't doing that pretty successfully already.

    Then boom, everybody hates it.

    ‎And the Windows Phone didn't survive either.

    I don't know what took them so long; by 2019 there were probably only a handful of Windows Phone users left 🤯

    ‎They did roll out Windows 8.1 right after, but even that wasn't enough to atone for the sin of trying to close the gap between PC and mobile.

    Why it failed

    The truth of the matter is that the Windows interface was outdated and boring, so they took the chance to take this small project of better UI design and inflated it until it was too big for them to manage.

    The UI looked nice but it wasn't intuitive like it was marketed to be, especially on desktop.

    In fact, the biggest critics were the PC users who felt left out after this major and, might I personally add, presumptuous attempt to save PCs at the dawn of mobile dominance.

    We can't say Windows didn't do much to atone, in fact, they rolled out Windows 8.1 pretty fast.

    But the straight opposite of Apple Watch was the case here.

    The product itself was not liked or seen as innovative, let alone enough to satisfy consumers.

    So, however fast Windows 8.1 rolled out, it wasn't of any importance. Windows had gone through the same thing with the Vista product launch, with Windows 7 users refusing to move on, and they knew any drastic change wouldn't end well.

    And it didn't end well.

    Key Takeaway

    The lesson to be learned here is that innovation cannot overpower customer needs.

    Windows users found themselves in the middle of a strange operating system with no user onboarding process. And Windows 8.1 really didn't make much difference to the UI.

    The move was too far, with too many people impacted.

    If I could go back to 2012, you could find me shouting through the security at the Windows HQ these 2 words:

    "More testing."

    And I would still hope they gave me a Windows Phone pre-launch because I'm not going to lie, the design was kinda cute 🫣

    Wrapping Up

    That's all the iconic and shocking product launch examples we have for today. I hope they inspire you to launch your own and avoid all the pitfalls others feel.

    Remember, though, we are talking big big companies and millions of dollars worth of products, and yet some of it still failed. So don't go too hard on yourself.

    As long as you know that customer feedback is bible and that a half-baked product should never leave the pre-launch stage, you'll be fine.

    Check out our product failures article here if you need some more cautionary tales, and...

    Good luck in advance 🍀

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