Reevaluating Product Launches Under Covid

By DirectorCorps

May 11, 2020 All Industries Corporate Governance

One of the biggest consumer releases of every year comes when Apple launches the latest iteration of the iPhone.

The release has become an event that is not to be missed, drawing crowds, long lines and enthusiastic buyers. With the rise of Covid-19, however, Apple took the extraordinary step of delaying production of some versions of its flagship product, according to reports. It’s still unclear how many models could face delay.

While many organizations may want to jump back to full operations as they restart, customers may not afford the same perks they once had, or the supply chain may not function as smoothly. This changes the calculus behind new products, a reality boards and management must face. For many non-essentials, it could mean delaying launches until the economy has recovered.

Apple isn’t the only company potentially postponing large product launches. It’s the second-most common strategic move businesses have used due to Covid. The decision to delay launches, used by 22% of firms surveyed by S&P Global Market Intelligence, only lagged hiring new employees among respondents.

Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Hackett informed investors that some key launches for 2020 and 2021 would be pushed out, including a redesign of its key pickup truck, the F-150. Movie studios have already delayed large blockbusters, pushing release dates back until late summer or even winter. Meanwhile, many new food offerings have had to delay launches indefinitely until the surge on essentials wanes.

To gauge whether a product launch should be delayed, it’s important to talk with your management team about how sentiment stands within the industry you operate in. Close listening and assessment, particularly when operating in a consumer-focused space, could be the difference between success and failure.

“Manage your promises,” writes Laura Starita for Gartner. “Set realistic expectations about service levels, product launch dates, product availability, and so on.” Digital products should take precedence right now, Starita adds.

While the day-to-day aspects of Starita’s advice falls on the chief marketing officer (CMO), the guidance is true for the board as well. They should work with the CMO and CEO to create realistic expectations for products released post-Covid, and determine whether they should alter the launch. The board should be familiar enough to offer explanations in anticipation of investor questions.

The delay isn’t just a demand issue. The product’s viability may have changed, if the supply chain remains impacted. Set realistic expectations with management when planning a new product, based on the realities — and potential delays — within the supply chain.

And if the outbreak has completely altered your organization or sector’s reality, the product may need to go back to the drawing board.