Even Though This Year Is Overwhelming, Don’t Cancel Your 2020 Product Launch

You'll need to evolve your marketing strategy with the times

A good product launch hooks in the consumer and sets up the brand for long-term success. Getty Images
Headshot of Dani Fankhauser

Thus far in 2020, brands such as Peloton and Zoom have seen a boost due to quarantine, but many are devastated, shutting down completely or filing for bankruptcy. It begs the question: Should you even launch a product in 2020? 

Big budget bets on marketing during a recession are scarce. This period has been marked by improvisation and clever tactical feats that come out of working with limited resources, like moving budgets to digital and making other changes in order to build a platform for success. 

The following product launch tips are time-tested by scrappy marketers in seasons past and will become only more valuable in the downturn. 

Marketing equals product

Good marketing won’t save a bad product. Marketers looking to make an impact must choose brands to work with as if they’re evaluating an investment—an investment of their time. While a lot has been written about product-market fit, a marketer’s first job on a launch plan is to make sure it’s been achieved. If it hasn’t, the marketer becomes a product manager and delivers consumer insights back to the research and development team. A good marketer knows they can’t put lipstick on a pig and dare to cross functional boundaries. 

Avoid the leaky bucket 

Look to activation before the acquisition. For example, if your product is a photosharing application and users are creating a profile and sharing photos but never come back after day three and invite friends, then it’s not likely they’ll upgrade to a paid plan. Before optimizing ad spend or experimenting with new channels, interview users about why the experience is falling short. 

Generate feedback loops with real users. What you’re selling is not the app or physical product but the utility it provides a person. The feedback people give should influence your roadmap of improvements as soon as you can get it. Products that fail don’t get this loop spinning fast enough. The right tools and talent are needed so users can seamlessly provide feedback and product managers can act on it and get changes released. When you launch for growth, your product at launch is just the beginning. 

Core product as a hook

You’ve heard of MasterClass. Before offering more than 85 classes across nine categories on a subscription model, MasterClass sold three classes at $90 each from celebrities actor Dustin Hoffman, athlete Serena Williams and author James Patterson. 

The most well-known brands today launched with an initial product that hooked customers into a long-term relationship. When Amazon launched, it only sold books. When Netflix launched, it provided rental DVDs of films and TV shows by mail, a fraction of its current product suite. 

Whether it’s a one-time purchase or a subscription, the core product is itself an ad for everything that’s launched later. This underscores why customer feedback and customer service are important; it’s the start of a relationship. 

Similar to how the first job of a marketer is product, the initial product that goes out the door is actually marketing for the eventual vision. This initial product must appeal to the right demographic, communicate the values of the brand and have a name that’s easy to remember. 

Message marketing fit 

The 2020 launch of Quibi, a short-form mobile video streaming service, would seem perfect for quarantine. But by most accounts its launch, garnering 310,000 installs on launch day after raising nearly $2 billion, was a failure. Quibi’s short-form, high-production value content is a novelty and needed an explanation. Consumers don’t act on something unless they know what it is, which needs to be abundantly clear in 10 seconds.

In comparison, Disney+ benefitted from earlier streaming services such as the Star Wars franchise most already know and love. Quibi created shows with celebrities we’re familiar with, but those are new shows and it was unclear if the short format was still meant for binge-watching or to fill breaks in the day. 

As soon as quarantine hit, Quibi needed to refresh ad copy to specifically speak to the experience people were having at home, even if it wasn’t their intended use case. When the world shifts people’s lifestyles, your messaging needs to change, too. 

A good product launch is a hook that sets up a brand for long-term success. It can be done in a pandemic and a recession with limited budgets, as long as marketers are able to get scrappy, customer-focused and evolve. Whatever else 2020 has in store, it should change but not cancel your product launch.


Join Adweek for Purpose-Driven Marketing, a live virtual event on Sept. 29, to discuss authentic brand purpose and hear insights from top marketers on navigating these uncertain times. Register now


@danifankhauser Dani Fankhauser is co-founder and CMO of XO.