Launching a Product in (or Immediately After) a Crisis: 5 Things You Must Do

I recently re-watched the Ted Talk by Bill Gates from 2015 in which he predicted a flu-like pandemic that would cross continents carried by pre-symptomatic travelers—wiping out millions of people and laying waste to the economy.

Somehow, even coming from one of the largest, most credible voices on our planet, the warning wasn’t enough.

And in shorter-term hindsight, most of us could see this coming months ago (the WHO definitely could), yet we simply sat back and hoped something miraculous would happen to save us from it. 

Now we’re living in a world where Jimmy Fallon broadcasts the Tonight Show from his home, interviewing celebrity guests via Zoom while being photo-bombed by his two young daughters—and Neil Diamond serenades us about “washing hands” from his fireplace to the tune of Sweet Caroline. Today I had video calls with colleagues and clients in Italy, New Zealand and both US coasts, all working from home with children passing through as we talked business.

It’s a bizarre new normal, as we settle into a level of global self-isolation we couldn’t have imagined a few weeks ago. We’re making it happen, strange or not.

That’s because we’re the very lucky ones. The safe and healthy ones. Day by day, the numbers of infected and dead track close to—often more severe than—the worst-case modeling. While people, some leaders even, refuse to accept what is clearly the right course of action.

What worries me most is the impacts on people. Those who are about to lose loved ones, and the many who will themselves die before their time. The emotional toll of all this stress on front-line workers forced to play God. And on everyone.

Then the economic impacts. So many job losses already, with families uncertain how they will put food on the table. The many business owners seeing their cash flow freeze while bills continue to arrive, with no meaningful relief in sight. The long-term cost of paying for all of this, to nations, municipalities, individuals and businesses already drowning in debt.

As a veteran entrepreneur—I’ve been running Graphos Product for over 27 years—I have witnessed my share of crises and recessions. Nothing like this of course: no one has experienced an impact this vast and terrible since World War II.

While nearly all businesses will struggle in the coming months and a great many will fail, some will find ways to grow and emerge stronger than ever. Those unicorns will not have overcome and thrived by pure dumb luck. They will have done some very important things differently from most:

  1. They will focus intensely on the customer. Rather than panic selling, losing sleep and burning energy stressing in a circular fashion about their own problems and the endless bad news, they will look to how they can respond to customer needs in new ways. This crisis will bring many new needs and transform previous ones. See them, and find ways to help, even if they are not directly related to your product. Karma and Eureka moments are close friends.
  2. They will advertise more. Most digital ad platforms, including Google and Facebook, sell ads in an auction format. As fearful advertisers slash budgets, the overall bids decrease—so the cost goes down. That means the same advertising budget yields more conversions—with greatly reduced visibility to your competition. Companies that grow during a crisis are the ones that stay prominent and communicate in ways that resonate with the market’s altered perspective. The normally twice-weekly community newspaper where I live has dropped to once a week because of the drop in advertising revenue—yet readership is way up with people craving local news. Smell a bargain much?
  3. They will get super creative. The brands that rise up in crisis situations are not opportunistic and will not take advantage of people, but instead see new opportunities to make a positive impact. Think of the grocery stores offering dedicated hours for seniors and people with compromised immunity. Labatt distilling its unsold Corona beer into hand sanitizer. Automakers VW and Ford and vacuum-maker Dyson repurposing their production and commercial 3D printing resources to manufacture ventilators. Those businesses will attract customers who will remember the courtesy and innovative support long after the crisis is over.
  4. They will recalibrate their strategy. If you’ve been working on a product launch plan for several months, it may no longer work as it stands. Too much has changed in your audience’s psyche, in the economy—and in the global landscape. You may need a change in positioning, a different value proposition, or to target an alternate audience in order to create necessary wins. Be prepared to tear up your old strategy, and at least re-evaluate it in the new context. That’s what I’m doing now with a number of clients, and the process has revealed a surprising number of new opportunities. Fears and needs—drivers of buying decisions—are different now. So much will be different now.
  5. They will continue to radiate optimism. We’re all inundated with negative and fearful noise right now. The crisis is not merely leading the daily news: it IS the news. Here is an opportunity to shine a light on the positive and give hope to employees, customers and everyone within your reach. It’s so easy to get pulled into a rabbit-hole of negative talk, but that’s not what resilient leaders do. They create optimistic vision, and lead with courage.

We’re all seeing a lot of things that make us anxious lately, and yet the positive actions and opportunities to be proactive are also present. They just aren’t enough of a focal point, until you make them be.

One more thing: let’s all do everything we can to enjoy this extra time with our families. Check the news a few times a day, but don’t let it be the dominant input in your day—nobody can have peace, much less grow like that.

And do not feel guilty for creating growth out of opportunities and innovations that help people. At times like these (whatever that even means), product brands that find ways to focus on customers and ethically grow their businesses will become role models and superstars to everyone else. And if people have stopped buying what you sell, you need to offer them something more valuable.

I’d love to hear your input, and how your business is moving proactively forward through the COVID-19 crisis. 

And I’d be delighted to provide a free 30-minute video meeting with you to brainstorm opportunities for your product or business. You can set up a meeting with me online here

The only rule is we won’t try to sell to one another!

Be well, and please—keep your people safe.