It’s safe to say that these are not ordinary times and therefore logical to assume that typical strategies for new product launches may or, more likely, may not apply anymore.
For brands that had planned for new product launches either prior to or in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic, these have been particularly uncertain times. There are no playbooks for launching in a world where personal contact is taboo, stores are focusing more on certain product categories over others and tried-and-true strategies are off the table—including exhibiting at trade shows, sending out samples or doing in-store demos.
However, many brands with new products to launch have decided that the show must go on. This has led to an explosion of innovation and new approaches with regard to leveraging virtual platforms to their advantage. Here are a few of the creative ways that brands are working to get their products noticed by buyers and retailers.
Virtual sampling 101
Because sampling with retail buyers and brokers is not an option right now, virtual platforms can provide a compelling way to walk people through the tasting experience without having the actual product on hand.
This is the innovative strategy adopted by Canadian snack brand Hippie Snacks, which created a series of virtual tasting videos intended to convey the organoleptic characteristics of its new line of Almond Crisps, as well as a new vegan “cheeze” Cauliflower Crisps variety. Filmed by one-woman production team and marketing manager Lauren Archibald in her kitchen and edited on her smartphone, the videos are brilliant in their simplicity.
Archibald explains: “We made the videos in response to retailers not accepting samples of new products that we would like them to stock. We wanted to make sure that they could get a feel for the look, texture and taste of the new products as best as possible.”
“Actions like these are particularly important for brands like ours since consumers are really focusing on stocking up on basics right now, while stores are just trying to keep their employees healthy and shelves full and don’t have a lot of time for category management,” adds Hippie Snacks founder and CEO Ian Walker.
The added bonus, according to Archibald, is that although these videos were originally intended for retailers and brokers to help secure new listings, “they can also be used as consumer-facing content to replace non-existent in-store demos to get consumers excited about the product and then drive them to our retail partners for purchase.”
Virtual trade shows
Poised to launch a new line of four SKUs of plant-based “grounds” under the brand name UNCUT, Danny O’Malley, founder and president of plant-based meat company Before the Butcher, decided to replicate the same type of presentation he typically makes to potential retail buyers at trade shows, only this time in the form of a “virtual trade show tour.”
Each session, which is hosted live on Zoom, begins with O’Malley introducing the entire Uncut product line and, particularly, the new products set to roll out in grocery stores across the country. He then does a brief home cooking demonstration using one of the new products—a favorite recipe is a plant-based bolognese sauce with Uncut Italian Ground—and explains the products’ attributes (gluten free, non-GMO, 100% plant-based and lower in sodium than some competitors’ products).
Each of the presentations runs between three and five minutes and ends with a live Q and A. Targeted at small groups comprised of buyers, retailers and media, the reception thus far has been highly encouraging.
Is this the same as having in-person interaction with a client? Maybe not, but for now O’Malley is focusing on the positives: “I think people really appreciate that we’re doing something like this. It breaks up the monotony of what we’re going through today and it’s a welcome change to actually see somebody, as opposed to just communicating over email.”
He also points out that it’s much more interesting to see somebody doing something live and being able to interact (virtually) face to face, than to just send a stagnant product deck over email and be done with it. O’Malley also sees these efforts as something that could change the way people in this industry do business in a post-COVID world. “By forcing us into technology now, we’ll still have more video conference calls and those types of interactions even when we get back to trade shows and the other normal things.”
As business strategies continue to shift in response to the evolving needs of brands and other industry players, potential uses for virtual platforms are also expanding beyond innovative approaches to new product launches. Snack brand Supernola, for example, is using video conferencing platforms to take brokers and retail buyers on personalized virtual tours of their manufacturing facility, providing unique insight into the company’s products—something that buyers on the other side of the country never would have had the chance to do before this crisis.
Like many other brand leaders, Supernola founder Cindy Poiesz is seeking innovative solutions that will allow her brand to take advantage of the current and yet-to-be-exploited possibilities of virtual platforms in an effort to captivate what is in many ways, for the time being at least, a captive audience.