Design the best strategy for your next global product rollout

When launching a new product, should you go ahead with a global rollout, or is it better to take a more measured, step-by-step approach? The costs of failure are higher if you go the all-in route, but if you go slow and selective, you risk being outranked by the competition. The authors explore this tension with an analysis of over 300 deployments from two dozen mobile phone manufacturers, illustrating the importance of choosing the right strategy for your unique business, product and target market. Specifically, the authors suggest that a pioneer interested in trying a wider range of innovations should launch sequentially, starting with challenging test markets, to glean more information about consumer preferences and demand in different markets. before developing. In contrast, a late mover who has already carefully determined what kind of innovation the market seems to want will likely benefit the most from a simultaneous global rollout.

Picture this: after investing significant resources in designing, testing, and building a new product, you’ve finally cleared all the major development hurdles and are ready to launch. Will you roll out the new product slowly to select customers and see how they respond before continuing to expand? Or are you going to offer it to everyone at the same time? This is a critical decision, especially in industries where distribution costs are high and competition is fierce.

If you opt for a global launch, you risk substantial losses if the product does not meet with the success you hoped for. Imagine going through lengthy negotiations with multiple sales channels, increasing supply levels, customizing packaging for each consumer segment, and prepaying countless other setup and distribution services, only to learn that these sunk costs don’t will never be recovered.

On the other hand, if you launch slowly and selectively to hedge against the costs of failure, you risk being outpaced by industry rivals. Testing potential markets is important, but if you spend months studying customer responses, slowly dipping one toe into one small market at a time, your competitors can quickly take market share. Even if a handful of customers like your product, giving your competitors the chance to flood the market with their own offers can cost you your first-mover advantage.

Obviously, there are pros and cons to each approach – and it’s often far from obvious which one will be optimal in a given context. For example, when launching its hybrid cars, Toyota initially focused on the Japanese market, reserving the option to modify or delete the Prius before launching it overseas, while Honda launched the ‘Insight simultaneously in the United States and Japan. Honda managed to beat Toyota in the US market, but its wider distribution meant failure would be more costly. Unfortunately for Honda, the Insight did indeed prove unpopular with American drivers, giving way to the Prius later on to eventually grab a much larger segment of the global hybrid market. Did Honda make the right decision and was just unlucky? Or should the company have gone slower, as Toyota did, and risk being overtaken by a competitor?

Experiment first or go all-in?

Our recent research explores how companies can navigate this tension between launching all at once and step-by-step. We’ve documented deployments of more than 300 new mobile phone innovations through comprehensive analysis of thousands of models from more than two dozen manufacturers. This dataset was particularly instructive because mobile phones are a massive, global industry, and yet their distribution must be managed country by country, which makes the global approach particularly costly.

We consistently found that being the pioneer of a given innovation in one market did not guarantee that a company would be first in other markets: in our sample, pioneers were overtaken in two-thirds of all subsequent markets . We also found that failure was far from uncommon: 80% of innovations in our study failed, suggesting that some caution is warranted when deploying an untested product feature.

So how should companies determine which approach will be best suited for their launch? In our study, we found that global pioneers of mobile phone innovations typically launch more selectively than followers. This makes sense because with limited precedent there is more to be gained from careful testing, whereas when a market has already been validated by a competitor there is less need for experimentation. For example, Sanyo fell behind Kyocera in introducing the first-ever camera phone, so Sanyo opted to launch more broadly (including, crucially, the US market). In contrast, as a pioneer of camera phones, Kyocera was initially less concerned about the competition and more concerned about the risk of failure, and so the company launched its camera phone more cautiously, only in the market. Japanese.

Especially for rapidly advancing technologies (which is the case with many mobile phone innovations), we have found that there is a limited window in which money can be made from a given innovation. So, as more and more companies started offering the camera feature, companies became less cautious and more aggressive in their approach to their launches.

Admittedly, not all the companies in our study have successfully followed this logic. Especially for those who had recently experienced major success or failure, it could be difficult to avoid being swayed by past experience: businesses were quicker to launch if they had been overtaken by a rival in their recent past. , and slower if they had just been. burned by a big flop. For example, after competitors outpaced Kyocera’s camera phone innovation in international markets, the company took a slightly less cautious approach to rolling out its next innovation. On average, we found that companies that had recently failed to deploy a successful feature targeted an average of 137 million more consumers in their next innovation rollout than in previous ones. Conversely, we found that just one big flop in the last year led mobile phone manufacturers to target their initial rollouts to a smaller audience, averaging 220 million fewer consumers. Making adjustments like these is an understandable response to a disappointing recent experience, but it’s often not the best decision for the company. When deciding on a deployment strategy, lessons from the past are not as relevant as the characteristics of the innovation and the market in question.

Good rigs are uncomfortable

Of course, determining your deployment approach is only the first step. The next is implementation. If you go the all-in-one route, the main challenge will be coordinating a complex global launch. But if you’re aiming to test the waters first, you’ll need to figure out where to start.

It can be tempting to enter a market that you know well or in which you already have a significant market share. This maximizes your chances of immediate success, but it does little to help you learn about the broader market potential of your product. Safe markets are non-informative test beds. The response of your most loyal customers to your new product tells you nothing about its commercial viability in more challenging environments.

The ideal testbed is one where customers can choose from competing offerings. That’s why the most knowledgeable experimenters in our dataset looked for tough markets, where they could generate more informative signals of global performance, even if that meant lower short-term returns. Specifically, there were two types of signals that companies used to better understand a product’s potential:

  • Robust success metrics, which can only be gleaned from markets where it is difficult to succeed, and which help companies avoid erroneous deployment extensions
  • Robust failure metrics, which can only be gleaned from hard-to-fail markets, and help companies avoid erroneous deployment disruptions

Robust indicators of success come from markets where it would be difficult to succeed: places where competitors are already selling a version of your latest innovation. While launching into such a challenging environment might not seem to make much immediate financial sense, the insights these testbeds can provide can actually help you get the most out of your long-term innovation resources. For example, if Motorola wanted to be confident in the market potential of its camera phones, it would be better if the company launched in Japan or Korea, where it would have to out-compete local powerhouses such as Kyocera and Samsung to succeed. If Motorola’s new camera phone did well in those markets, it would probably do well anywhere.

Conversely, robust failure indicators come from markets where it would be difficult to fail. For example, a skincare company might choose Paris or Tokyo to launch a new product because customers in those cities are usually especially excited to try the latest beauty products. When P&G piloted its SK-II line of makeup products in Tokyo, you could be sure that if it failed, it wouldn’t be because local consumers weren’t used to multi-step skincare routines – if SK-II failed there, it would eventually fail elsewhere as well, and thus P&G would be able to terminate the product line with confidence.

Collecting these two types of signals helped companies in our data set to be more confident about their launch strategies, whether they decide to go all-in in a certain market or stop.


Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for planning market entry. In a previous study, we documented how early entrants in a given market typically benefit from trying many different innovations, while later entrants would be better off focusing on a narrower range of proven products or features. Our latest research builds on this finding by exploring the impact of different types of deployment strategies: an early adopter interested in trying a wider range of innovations should launch sequentially, starting with challenging test markets, to garner more information about consumer preferences and demand. in different markets before expanding. In contrast, once a latecomer has carefully determined what kind of innovation the market seems to want, it is likely to benefit the most from a simultaneous global rollout. No one can escape market uncertainty, but choosing a deployment strategy well suited to the specific characteristics of your business, your innovation, and your market can improve your chances.

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