A pre-order strategy is when a company takes orders from customers for products before the official product release. It is a tactic used in the build-up to a new product launch to rally hype and excitement.
Pre-orders are attractive to the consumer because it means they can bag the product before it’s available for public purchase. This is especially true if the product is a high-demand item that’s likely to sell out quickly, such as the Playstation 5 games console, or the latest iPhone.
When executed well, a pre-order strategy can have a profound effect on customer response, as it builds excitement and a sense of exclusivity.
The benefits of a pre-order strategy
Pre-order strategies aren’t just about getting the customer excited, they’re also super useful for internal teams too. They can help businesses understand the level of demand among their target market, as well as securing sales before the product even hits the shelves. These sales can be pivotal in funding the production of the product itself and marketing campaigns for promotion and follow-up projects.
For example, pre-orders for the video Game Cyberpunk 2077 hit more than 8 million, with the sales from these customers alone covering the costs of the game's nearly decade-long development in a single day.
Need we say more? 🤷♂️ (We’re going to anyway!)
When should a pre-order strategy be used?
A pre-order strategy is used by many companies, but it’s important to be selective about when and how often you use this method.
You need to weigh up each launch or product update and see if it warrants a pre-order strategy.
Here’s what we mean:
Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V is another example of a video game that’s reaped the benefits of a successful pre-order strategy, with global purchases hitting 7 million prior to release. Given the popularity of the franchise and the inevitable demand stockists would face upon its release, it was clear the pre-order format would pay dividends.
Since the launch, Rockstar has released additional add-ons and bundles for the game, and despite the mammoth success and positive reception upon its release, pre-orders weren’t needed for the bolt-on features, this was set aside for the release of the main title.
Plenty of effort goes into creating and executing an effective pre-order strategy. Therefore, it’s not advisable to sink your resources into taking pre-orders for small products and updates, particularly if you’re a small business. After all, there are no guarantees your personas will be in a hurry to snap up your offering, and before you know it, you could lose money.
With this in mind, keep your powder dry, and turn to pre-orders for major company events or product launches, such as:
- SMBs launching a new business into the market
- A new flagship product in your range
- Limited edition or special edition items
- If you’re launching a big promotion or discounts on an existing product
How to build and execute a pre-order strategy
Meticulous planning and market research are key to the success of any pre-order strategy. You will need to take into account the product itself, as well as accompanying marketing campaigns for pre-launch, launch, and post-launch. It’s also important to consider the order and inventory management that follows to ensure every pre-order can be fulfilled.
Consider the following when building and executing your pre-order strategy:
Build a collaborative team
The most successful pre-order strategies don’t just happen; they’re the product of hard work and dedication from every member of the team.
It’s critical to ensure each member of the team is aligned, in terms of expectations and targets. If some are aspiring for one end goal, while others have their eyes set on another target, inevitably, you won’t get the results you’re looking for.
You need to communicate internally with every team, including sales, marketing, IT, and customer service; don’t fall into the trap of thinking your product marketing team has the answers to everything. Hold meetings, discuss developments with your colleagues, and involve them in the process itself.
Build your pre-order strategy around lifecycles
What a company does in the weeks and months building up to a product launch matters far more than the launch day itself.
Hone your efforts on producing a strong plan and timeline that begins before your actual launch date, and is focused on generating as much awareness and excitement as possible to boost the number of pre-orders you get.
Research has shown over one-quarter (28%) of pre-orders are placed on the day they are made available to the market; this is usually in the region of 4-6 months before the product is released. In the next 7-10 day period that follows, customer interest tends to decrease, after the initial hype surrounding the product has died down.
But don’t worry, the pre-orders don’t stop there.
There are often spikes in further pre-orders which fall in line with ongoing marketing and PR activities. The week or so before a product is released can be quiet, as loyal fans have already made their pre-orders, while prospective customers are happy to bide their time and wait until the official launch.
Based on this lifecycle, plan your pre-launch campaign calendar by taking the following into account:
Consider your pre-order announcement
It’s considered good practice to begin taking pre-orders 4-6 months before your product is released. That said, you need to do what’s right for you and your company by making sure you’re not biting off more than you can chew.
After all, you don’t want to find yourself in a predicament similar to Sony, who was forced to apologize on social media when demand outstripped supply, and many were left empty-handed on launch day. 👇
How to reach the maximum number of customers and build hype
Consumers are a sucker for hype; it’s the fuel that feeds any pre-order campaign worth its salt.
You need to send ripples among your target market. Some release a teaser and press release detailing the products USPs, while others prefer to send an email to their customer database with a direct link to pre-order. Some will go all out and do both. Either way, effective messaging is needed to help you get people talking about your product.
You know what they say: word of mouth is the best form of marketing.
Outline your marketing and PR
Whether it’s a social media influencer showing off your product on Instagram, monthly previews to whet the appetite of your customer, or targeted email marketing campaigns, you need to have a marketing and PR plan in place to animate the pre-order spikes in the months leading up to the campaign.
Navigate ‘dead zones’
Every pre-order campaign enters the ‘dead zone’ at some stage. This is the time in which orders can be comparatively lower to other stages in the pre-order lifecycle. It’s important not to sit still and do nothing during these instances; use this time to create more content geared towards a) generating more hype for your product, and b) helping your SEO rankings. It’s also recommended to contact bloggers and influencers to preview your product ahead of the big release.
Unleash the power of FOMO
When customers pre-order your product, they’re looking for added value they wouldn’t otherwise get if they were to wait until launch day.
Let’s take another example from the gaming industry. When EA Sports began taking pre-orders for FIFA 21, gamers ordering in advance secured bonus features exclusive to pre-orders, as well as access to the content 3-days early.
To generate a bigger buzz (and more orders), companies sometimes impose a ‘first-come-first-served’ model, limiting offers to X amount of customers. This incentivizes the customer to pre-order, rather than wait until later.
How to build an enticing marketing campaign
Promoting a product no-one knows anything about is pointless. So, you’ve got to spend time fine-tuning an effective marketing campaign to solidify your pre-order strategy.
Don't skimp on advertising
Good advertising is often deemed too expensive but this isn’t always necessarily the case. Far from it, in fact.
Digital advertising can be used to increase product and brand awareness in the weeks leading up to your product launch, with popular platforms like Google Ads, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram all offering teams the chance to cut through the noise and reach their specific audiences via targeted messaging.
Use a CRM
We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: selling to an existing customer is much easier than selling to a newbie.
Use the contacts in your CRM system to send email messages to your existing customers, informing them of your latest release and when they can pre-order. Schedule additional emails of the product in action, with a further CTA for them to pre-order.
Set the PR wheels moving
You need to set tongues wagging about your new product, and what better way to do it than launching your product to the media?
Press releases and influencer marketing can play a key role in helping you pique the interest of your customers and generate buzz around your new release.
When you launch your pre-order campaign, write a press release and distribute it to media outlets to spread the word far and wide.
It’s a cliche, but we’re gonna use it anyway: content is (still) King.
When your pre-order campaign is underway, you need to keep the market excited, and if there’s one thing content can do, it’s generate a buzz - by the bucket load.
Build a content plan including sneak previews of your product, interviews with the product creators, and celebrities who may have tested your product. This will give your customer even more reasons to get excited about the launch and convince more people to put their hand in their pocket and grab a piece of the action.
Promote using social media channels
Brace yourself, we’ve a helluva statistic coming your way: 71% of customers are more likely to purchase a product based on social media recommendations.
Almost three-quarters of the market - pretty crazy, right?
If you know where practically all of your target audience is looking, it’s a no-brainer to use this knowledge to your advantage and be strategic. Send a freebie to celebs who are popular among your personas, ask those who have pre-ordered to share on social media for a small prize, or post feedback from customers who’ve reserved a product already.
Prepare for high-demand
A pre-order campaign that’s been well received will see a lot of interest in your product when launch day finally arrives, and it’s easy to underestimate how high-demand can see all your planning go to waste.
Ticket sites are the perfect example of when high demand can cause chaos; we’ve all been primed with our mouse at the ready, only to see the dreaded ‘No tickets available’ message10 seconds after the tickets go on sale.
Why? Because the demand among fans outnumbers the tickets available. Or even worse, the ticket site crashes as you’re entering your card details as it isn’t equipped to cope with the traffic.
You need to prepare for every eventuality to be sure your launch goes smoothly.
- Have you checked the bandwidth of your website? Can it handle a spike in visitors?
- Have you got a specialist launch team to assist with customer enquiries or orders?
- Has your sales team had sufficient sales enablement training? Do they have enough sales enablement tools at their disposal?
- Have you sent follow-up emails to those customers who pre-ordered asking for customer and market feedback to make the next launch even better?
There’s no doubting the power a pre-order strategy can have in helping you smash your product launch out the park - but don’t cut corners.
Skipping steps can be the difference between the sublime and sub-standard, and customer churn becomes a distinct possibility if things go wrong. Sure, you can reactivate churned customers, but it’s much better to invest time, energy, and money to achieve your desired results and improve your customer retention from the beginning.