This is the second in our series of interviews about how to successfully launch new products (here was the first). Stay tuned for more launch-focused articles in the coming weeks.
Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about the types of products you create.
I’m an architecture student from the Netherlands, so as you can imagine, architectural visualizations is where my journey with Blender began. I think most people working with Blender strive for photorealistic renders—I know I do—but, in my experience, achieving this can be quite a struggle. That’s why I started creating tools to get easier, faster, and better photorealistic results.
I quickly found out that these tools take a very long time to make, especially if you are looking for the best results. To justify spending a ton of times on these tools, I made them in such a way that they’d be useful for a lot more than just my kind of projects, so others would be interested in them as well. First I made a water shader, then I started learning Python to make tools that could save even more time, culminating in my first add-on ‘Nature Clicker’.
Smudgr Pro (back then called Smudgr & Scratchr) was my first big add-on and my latest addition is the InstaMat add-on. Both of these add-ons were specifically designed to be useful for as many people as possible.
What does it mean to you to have a “successful” product launch?
Okay, so in my experience, the key to having a successful launch is to have something BIG. In order to apply the steps I explain below, it has to be something that others will be glad to put some time into promoting. If you release a new 3D model every week, you can’t use any of these methods. But if you gather these 3D models and release them in one big pack, then we have a good start for a successful launch.
So, for me, a launch is successful if I ask a YouTuber if they want to become an affiliate of this product and they reply enthusiastically. This is a good sign for how the rest of the launch will go. If you make something that your affiliates get excited about, it means a lot of people will get excited about it.
The second part of a successful launch is that you don’t get any messages from customers that they are not satisfied with what they got. You can make marketing that makes your product look better than it is, that hides its flaws, but I think this will only give you short-lived success. When people are truly happy with your product, it makes you feel like you really earned it when stuff really gets going.
Once you’ve finished crafting your product, how much time do you generally expect to spend on preparing your product launches?
I typically spend around one to three days on a product launch, usually not the whole day though. Most of the time goes into the promotional video. It used to also depend on when I could schedule the product launch. For InstaMat, I worked on the promotional video while the add-on was being reviewed by the BlenderMarket.
Keep in mind that, for me, the real launch of the product happens days after it’s been released on BlenderMarket. You might get some sales from the ‘new’ or ‘staff picks’ section, but the launch really begins when you start promoting.
What sorts of things are on your “launch checklist” that you want to be sure are in place before your new product publishes?
The most important thing for me is the promotional video. I think this is what makes people actually say ‘Okay, this is awesome, I’ll buy it’. That’s why I always include images on the store page that point to the video, so people are reminded to watch it. Based on YouTube analytics, people don’t stick around very long. That’s why I try to make the promotional video around one minute long and show something cool and attention-grabbing in the first 10 seconds. My strategy is just to show as many things as possible in this short time, even if people might get overwhelmed. Better to have people think ‘This does a lot of stuff, but I didn’t understand all of what was shown’’ than ‘This is going to slow, I’m out of here’.
For the store page, I am sure to make plenty of images that show end results of what the product can do along with some text that explains the relevant feature. GIFs work great here, too, if you need to show some motion, but the low amount of colors in GIFs can make these animations not that attractive. I used to include a GIF thumbnail, but this can load really slowly if you have slow internet, resulting in people not seeing the thumbnail at all.
If the product has too much functionality to explain it all in the images, you can also make a video tutorial. I have no idea if people watch this beforehand to decide if they want to buy the product or only after already having bought it, but tutorials can be very useful in showing how the things in the promotional video were actually made. These videos also prevent you from getting a lot of questions in your inbox about the features of your product.
Then, for me, I think it’s important to make all these things mentioned above in the same Graphic Design style. Use a font that is distinctive, but not too outlandish. Of course, make sure the license of the font you are using allows digital advertising—you don’t want to get sued. Create a color scheme for your product, and use it in all your thumbnails. If your presentation looks slick and well designed, I think people will be more convinced that your product is also well designed.
What channels do you use to get the word out about your new product? Have you found that some are more effective than others?
The first thing I always do when I release a product is to make a news post on BlenderNation. This is free to do, although I do make it a habit to support BlenderNation on Patreon and give them an affiliate link. In my experience, this is a great way to give your launch some momentum; the YouTube views of the promotional video go through the roof after this news post is released. In contrast to prepaid advertisements on the sidebar of sites, the visitors of the BlenderNation site are actually there to see this kind of new stuff and will watch your video with interest.
After that, you can start contacting affiliates. I offer them a free copy of the product and a generous affiliate percentage. I think of it this way: if this brings in more than that percentage of extra people that otherwise wouldn’t have found your product, it’s worth it. If you have already finished your video tutorial, send it to them. Because affiliates sometimes have limited time, they won’t always spend a lot of time getting to know your product. So to prevent them showing only a small part of what it can do or stating things that it can’t, in fact, do, make sure to make it easy for them to learn the product. What is shown in these videos/articles is really important for the success of your launch. If it doesn’t seem awesome in the affiliate’s video, people will click away. You can talk about this with your affiliate partner—they have as much motivation to make people buy the product as you do, especially if you give them a large percentage.
Is the hard work done once the product has been published?
That depends on how well you’ve tested your product before the launch and, in the case of add-ons, how good your code is. The worst thing for your product launch is if you get reports from people that the product isn’t working in the middle of your marketing peak. You’ll have to fix these issues immediately, especially if they have a very negative impact on the usability of your product. Bad reviews just after launch are devastating to the success of your product.
Then, there is the long-term customer support. This is crucial for your customer satisfaction and, indirectly, for your reviews. I have email notifications turned on, and most of the time I see the notification right away on my phone and try to answer immediately. This results in most of my support tickets being answered and sometimes even solved within an hour. More than half of the reviews on my product are from people I helped with customer support. If you can fix a small bug immediately, do it, and you’ll usually be rewarded. I also try to never promise any features etc. that I can’t deliver within 1-2 weeks.
On average I spent around 20-40 minutes a week on customer support. This does not include time for bug fixing.
How do you keep the momentum going and maintain customer awareness of and interest in your product after the initial sales and reviews are in?
First, let me mention something about consistent sales: this is where YouTube is your best friend. By following the previous steps, your promotional video has gotten quite some attention after the launch of your product. In contrast to news posts, shoutouts, and some types of affiliates, the video will keep getting consistent attention due to the YouTube algorithm. For example, the Smudgr Pro video is still getting 22 views per day, even though I haven’t promoted this product in quite a while. With an average of more than 1 sale per 10 views, it’s still selling consistently.
Then there are some great ways to boost your sales for a short while. The best way is to make a really big update to your product and re-promote it on all the channels that you employed at the release of your product. If you had set the product’s price on the low side at the time of the original release, this big update is ample reason for you to increase the price of the product to compensate for the time that you spent on these new features. This combines very well with a promotion; people can now still buy it for the old price, before the price goes up forever.
My own philosophy here is not to make this big update specifically for the sale unless your add-on needs a total makeover (like Smudgr did). I always include a Google Form for users to fill in their suggestions for future features. Then, throughout the next weeks and months, I make these features one by one, immediately releasing them when they are done, but not promoting them yet. This is a win-win for both you and your customers. They get the features as soon as possible and you get both feedback and bug reports about your new features without the stress of making a huge update.
What do you know now about preparing new products for sale that you wish you had known when you first started selling products on Blender Market?
That products don’t sell themselves if you don’t generate any momentum. You can make something very awesome, but if you don’t market it or if it’s not marketable, it will slowly disappear. Showing up in the new section of Blender Market might get you a few sales, maybe even some more if you get ‘staff pick’, but most people don’t look on Blender Market that often. The biggest challenge of your launch is getting the word out there that your product exists and that it’s awesome.
Big thanks to Oliver for sharing his approach to launching new products with us! What's an essential part of your product launches?