Industry vet creates marketing firm to help companies launch products

April 17, 2002

Razzo targets firms large and smallProduct launches can get rocky fast. Even the largest, most experienced companies can glaze over critical details, fail to ask the right questions, or just go to the wrong people for evaluations.

Razzo targets firms large and small

Product launches can get rocky fast. Even the largest, most experienced companies can glaze over critical details, fail to ask the right questions, or just go to the wrong people for evaluations. Small companies, populated by engineers schooled in product design rather than marketing, are even more susceptible to pitfalls on the road to market. A boutique consulting firm in Santa Barbara, CA, would like to help.

Razzo, Italian for rocket, specializes in finding information that might elude others. At the helm of the firm is marketing guru Anita Chambers, the veteran director of several high-profile product launches, including Acuson's flagship Sequoia ultrasound scanner.

"You hear this your whole life‹that you only get one chance to make a good first impression. But you'd be amazed how many people don't take that into account when planning their product launch," she said.

Razzo focuses on high-cost, high-tech products targeted at a specific customer base. Imaging products fit all three criteria, Chambers said. Even though she launched the venture just a few months ago, Razzo already has several clients and prospects. They include a venture capital firm specializing in medical devices and a development-stage company with a prototype MR scanner. Because product launches are a year or more away, Razzo clients are shy of the media. Chambers noted, however, that the MR product is unique‹it would be dedicated to imaging the extremities, would deliver high-resolution images, and, with a weight of less than 200 pounds, would be sold for use in physician offices.

For these, as for any client, Razzo gets involved long before commercialization, accumulating and analyzing data in stages. The first step, the discovery phase, addresses customer preference testing. Whereas many vendors routinely go to luminaries when beta testing new equipment, Chambers recommends "preference testing" by users representative of the broader customer base. Documenting the customer's reaction to the product is more important to marketing a device than determining whether it meets specifications, which is commonly the prime concern of beta tests run by vendors. Razzo assesses the product's strengths and weaknesses, compares it with the current and expected competition, and determines customers' perceptions of the vendor, as well as its competitors.

Razzo translates information gathered during the discovery phase into situational issues, which provide the basis for a plan that exploits the strengths of the product and de-emphasizes its weaknesses, Chambers said. This second phase is followed by implementation of the plan for launching the product.

The level of involvement by Razzo depends on the size of the client, she said. A large company may use Razzo to validate its own plan, or it may ask the consulting firm to come up with an independent plan, which could then be combined with ideas generated internally. Small companies would make the most use of Razzo, as they tend to rely more on outside help.

"They don't have the resources," Chambers said. "They might not even have a marketing department, especially if they are like a lot of the recent start-ups that come out with high-tech products, but literally every person in the company is an engineer."

Chambers has spent much of the last decade refining the launch process for new products, distilling knowledge from past experiences and fine-tuning the steps along the way. She has the added advantage of having run into and solved problems under fire that might have slowed or even halted the launch and ultimate success of a product.

"There is definitely a need for a firm specializing in medical product launches," she said. "It's just a matter of getting the word out there."