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How to Launch Your Product During a Crisis

Launching a new product has never been simple, but product marketers today face an unprecedented set of challenges. From shifting consumer sentiments to supply chain disruptions, any number of factors could derail your plans, and many of them can’t be predicted, let alone controlled. To give your product launch the best possible chance for success, it’s time to rethink when and how you launch.

First, ask yourself: Should we launch right now?

It sounds like an obvious question. After all, under normal circumstances when your product is ready go, the sooner you get it on the market, the sooner you can start to turn a profit. But during times of crisis, the rules are different. Launching a product that’s perceived as insensitive or out-of-touch can be detrimental not only to the product’s success, but to the long-term reputation of the brand behind it. However, the reality is that businesses also take a hit when product launches are delayed, and there’s no way to predict when, if ever, the market will return to state of normalcy.

If your product meets a need that was created or enhanced by the COVID-19 crisis, naturally you’ll want to make it available to customers as quickly as possible. For instance, if you’re gearing up to release a line of home fitness products, then gym closures and the rapid shift towards working from home make this an ideal time for your launch.

For most businesses though, the answer is less clear cut. Products that fall into the grey area between “necessity” and “ethical liability” have to tread carefully so as not to appear indifferent to the situation at hand. Most products can still find a place in the market, but acting as though products like restaurant supplies or formalwear are still as popular as ever will make your brand appear, at best, oblivious.

Consider the potential downsides to delaying your launch before you make a decision. If you can afford to delay, how long are you willing to wait? What criteria need to be met first? Will your product become less appealing over time as trends and technology evolve? Depending on the particulars of your situation, a conditional delay might allow your product to have a bigger impact. Alternatively, you can still proceed with caution and be ready to recalibrate (or reschedule) if the situation changes.

A small fraction of products are simply incompatible with the COVID-19 crisis, due to legal restrictions or the ethical implications of selling them. If your product is unsafe to use or promotes unsafe behavior, then you probably already know better than to move ahead. As painful as it is to delay launching a product you worked hard to develop, it’s better than risking long-term damage to your business.

Recalibrate your pre-COVID strategy

For many people, the past several months introduced an unprecedented level of change and uncertainty to their daily lives. With no particular end in sight, the pandemic has pushed consumers to reevaluate how and why they spend money, with a harsher light than ever being thrown on marketing and brand outreach that comes across as opportunistic, unscrupulous, or uncaring. And while a product launch is, by nature, an exercise in self-promotion, that doesn’t mean it has to be self-involved.

Use your launch as an opportunity to connect with customers, first and foremost. Start by catching up with your current customers—send out a short message that outlines your company’s response to the crisis over the past few months, your current situation, and any future plans you’re working on. Make it clear that you understand the challenges they’re facing, and try to frame your product as a potential tool to help them. Explain how your product relates to some aspect of the “new normal” people are experiencing (working from home, social distancing, homeschooling, etc.), and avoid overly enthusiastic language and aggressive sales tactics. Chances are your customers aren’t in the mood to feel “sold to” and showing your eagerness to move product will only backfire.

If you’re worried about the lack of in-person events this year preventing you from promoting your launch, look for online alternatives—or create your own. Hosting a live webinar or a less formal video chat event is a great way to get the word out and foster engagement with potential customers.

Finally, consider other external factors that might affect your launch, or your ability to support and promote your new product in the coming months. Due to the rapidly changing nature of the pandemic, local, state, and federal regulations are being updated daily. It’s almost impossible to predict what the business climate will be like for any particular area tomorrow, let alone next month.

While you can’t plan for all possibilities, consider making contingency plans for scenarios that would have the biggest affect on your launch plan. For example, if you’re selling a product that does well at brick-and-mortal locations, that might mean planning for another full retail shutdown at a state or regional level. Evaluate how resilient your supply chain is, and whether you can (or should) keep producing if key partners are unable to fulfill their obligations. Stockpiling critical components can save you a lot of trouble down the road, but only if it’s done strategically, with a plan in place to dispose of excess supply.

Also consider you human resources, both in terms of how they can support the new product and how you can support them. Launching a product requires a lot from your employees, whether they’re responsible for making last minute tweaks, orchestrating your marketing plan, or managing the support chat. If you have employees working from home, make sure they have the technical set-up necessary to meet your launch-related demands before you go live. If you’re back to doing business in person, clearly communicate in advance any health and safety measures you’ll be enacting and how they might affect the product release process. Be responsive to their feedback and open to making adjustments, so that your team can concentrate on promoting the product without distraction.