The New New: How Beauty Brands Are Modifying Product Launches During The Pandemic

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 24 brand founders and executives: How have you changed course on a product launch as a result of COVID-19?

Michelle Ranavat Founder, Ranavat

I was about to launch a new product, but, with COVID, my supply shifted once India went into a lockdown. Of course, nothing can replace the momentum of a new product launch. I immediately started to dig into how I could serve people at this time. I found ways people could use products they already have to create a spa-like experience and ways to keep their skin looking fresh even at home. At this point, my focus is mainly serving my community and creating a respite versus a focus on sales.

Brian Oh CEO and Co-Founder, Venn Skincare

We decided to delay the launch of our new products to first understand how COVID-19 is affecting the beauty industry, our retail partners and, ultimately, our business in the U.S., Europe and Asia and, then, strategically decide which new products to launch when and in which markets first. With the Asian markets recovering and opening up sooner than the U.S. and European markets, we decided to introduce our new products in Asia first, followed by the U.S. and Europe.

We also decided to push up the production and launch of our new products that we considered essential daily products for cleansing—shampoo and body wash—because those products felt more needed by consumers given the current landscape.

Sharon Pak Co-Founder, Insert Name Here

When COVID-19 first hit, we decided to postpone our upcoming launches. During these uncertain times, we wanted to be sure that we were being sensitive to our customers and understanding what were stressors, and what were soothers. 

After holding out for a few weeks, we received a lot of feedback from our existing customers saying they were loving our more experimental products like Fairy Flossour colorful synthetic braiding hair, because they were playing around with new unique hairstyles and learning new skills at home. We also received messages from a lot of new customers who really expressed gratitude for how easy and DIY our products are. From that feedback, we decided to go ahead with our scheduled new launches. Some of them had been slated for festival season, but, given the fact that they are really fun items, we think our customers will be excited to play around with them at home. We are hoping they can bring some additional cheer.

We did change up the marketing strategy to be more “Couchella” vibes versus the festival content we had originally slated, so it was a bit more relevant to current times. Otherwise, our general marketing plan stayed largely the same. One of our main strategies is engaging and interacting directly with our audience. I think that, during times like this, it’s especially appreciated because involving our followers and customers in the process has given them something to look forward to and participate in that is out of the norm of their typical day-to-day.

Katie Wells Co-Founder and CEO, Wellnesse

Before COVID-19 hit, we had plans to launch dry shampoo to our community to complete our haircare line up. We also expedited production on a run of hand sanitizer, so we could get this to our community and to workers who need it. The hand sanitizer launches this week. Supply chain issues aside, we felt it was the right thing to do to bump up the launch of our hand sanitizer, which was originally slated for fall of 2020. We are super grateful for our supply chain partners, warehouse and manufacturers who choose to partner with us. It’s more important than ever to make everyone you work with feel valued.

My advice to others: Invest in your relationships and your partnerships. Suppliers, warehouses and manufacturers are working in dangerous conditions to keep your business alive, and they need your care and understanding at this moment. Ensure you have supply chain redundancy to protect against fallout. Invest in community building, creating great content, and opening up yourself to your customers. These are great free ways to build loyalty, retention and, ultimately, sustained long-term growth.

Ju Rhyu CEO and Co-Founder, Hero Cosmetics

We were planning on launching our Rescue Balm product in March when COVID-19 caused the U.S. to start closing businesses and mandating shelter in place in certain cities. We decided to postpone the launch for a few reasons: A) mentally and emotionally, there was a lot of fear and concern, and I don't think anyone cared about a brand launching a new product at that time. B) There was uncertainty about which businesses would be considered "essential" versus "non-essential," so we wanted to ensure our business could continue to operate. C) People were transitioning to a work-from-home situation and, similar to the first point, it just wasn't the right time to launch marketing around a new product. 

We pushed out our product launch by about three weeks. The bet was that, while there was a lot of fear in the beginning, staying home and a closed economy would become the new normal, at which point we felt that people would be more receptive to a new product. In fact, we thought they might welcome it as a distraction from everything going on as well as a way to maintain some normalcy in their lives. We ended up launching with a healthcare provider giveaway campaign where we gave one of our Mighty Patches and a Rescue Balm to healthcare professionals on the front lines. 

The lessons from this for me are that you need to be nimble and quick—always a good thing, but especially in times of crises—and you need to pay attention to the moment and be sensitive to what's going on and how people are feeling. You don't want to launch good products at bad moments. I've seen a lot of brands get slammed on social media for a lack of sensitivity during this time. Listen and take in what's going on, and be attuned to your customers and how they may be feeling. Lastly, if your company is in a position to do so, do a give-back campaign related to your new product launch in a non-commercial way. People love brands with heart and, for those who are in a position to do so, it's the right thing to do.

Triniti Gawthrop Founder, Ami Wellness

We have four product launches that are affected by COVID, and all in different ways. Our Seasons' launch for PMS and Menopause products will launch with smaller initial inventory numbers to test the waters. We know women are experiencing these symptoms regardless of COVID, but we don’t know if they will invest in a solution for them right now, so reducing the initial orders seemed like a safe way to test the response.

Our Immunity Rescue product was not supposed to launch until September, but it is very focused on upper respiratory immunity because those tend to be the bugs kids bring home in the fall and that we fight early winter. But, with all the uncertainty and the concern about going back out into the world, we are moving that launch up and trying to build inventory so we can offer the product ASAP. How we market it comes with a whole set of emotional land mines that we need to navigate. We want to be sure that we market the product only on its benefits, and that we exclude any messaging that builds fear.

Our summer launches will be delayed and will also launch in phases. One product we already have ready will launch in June as planned is called Summer of Love, but we have additional products that were going to fall into that line that were in R&D and have been delayed due to COVID. Our planned September launches are completely upended. That part of the innovation pipeline will be pushed back due to us releasing the Immunity Rescue early and, then, our other fall products [are] barely even making it into R&D during COVID.

My overall advice right now would be to stay flexible, listen to your customers and adjust your innovation pipeline to meet their needs, not your ideas or schedules. My other piece of advice is to listen to your gut. If you have a product that you are concerned the messaging might fall flat due to COVID and the current emotional climate, then hold it. You only get to launch once. If you aren’t sure if it’s the right time, and you're not a gut person, then run small tests via social media. Ask trusted influencer partners for their opinion, poll friends and family. Test on your network first and, then, use that data to continue to build or to pause.

Cherie Hoeger CEO and Co-Founder, Saalt

We had planned to launch a new color of our Saalt Soft Cup right as COVID-19 started to hit hardest in New York. Initially, the plan was to have concurrent availability in select retail stores and online. However, our retail partner wasn't able to introduce new items because of the challenges associated with other COVID-19 supply chain constraints. At first, we considered just delaying the launch altogether, but, at the same time, our impact team was working to see how we could live up to our mission as a certified B Corp and use our business as a force for good during a difficult time. 

We asked ourselves, "What can Saalt do to help support those struggling in the fight against this pandemic?" For those brave people working long shifts with very little time to think of their own needs, especially their periods, what better support could we provide than a menstrual cup that can be worn for up to 12 hours to allow them to only worry about saving lives? So, for the launch of our new Desert Blush color, we decided to support health care workers by donating a menstrual cup to anyone working on the front lines, including custodians, technicians, security guards and hospital staff, for every cup we sold during our launch.

Grace O’Sullivan Co-Founder, Avoila

We just launched our first product in February and, while we haven’t altered our business plan, our timeline has definitely been extended and our expectations have had to change. We were looking forward to growing our business in spring and summer to be able to launch two additional products by year two. That may still happen, but we’ve loosened our timeline a bit as we reconsider our communications. 

Our business plan was always to be online only in year one, so that part hasn’t been impacted. We do plan to extend to retail and/or e-tail in year two and, considering everything the brick-and-mortar stores are having to deal with right now, it’s safe to say that we’re remained focused on online only for now.

Mona Dan Founder, Vie Healing

We have two aspects to our brand. We have our physical spas and our products. As far as the spas go, we had just launched our membership, which was gaining traction. Unfortunately, at the beginning of March, we saw a halt in new members because of COVID-19. We took a few weeks to figure out the best solution to offer healing, and we launched our telemedicine platform and our at-home wellness kits, which include press needles, our 24k gold ear seeds, and body magnets, moxibustion, herbs, pain patches and more. These sessions would be guided through Zoom health with one of our physicians. Patients meet weekly or twice weekly to resume their sessions. 

As for the products, we are still launching our incredible Moxibustion Kits before summer, and it is going to be a game changer in the wellness industry. Moxibustion is a heat therapy that boosts blood flow to ease pain, nourishes the body and boosts immunity. 

What Vie Healing offers is an elevated at-home care opportunity for people who truly believe in the benefits of prevention and wellness. These kits can be used not only by individuals, but by practitioners in many fields. Now more than ever, the questions we must ask and action we must take need to be: How do we better our immunity and build resilience to strengthen our immune systems and organ systems?

Eugene He Founder, Ceramiracle

My team was geared up and ready for the launch of our biggest collection to date and, then, COVID-19 hit. We were fortunate enough to avoid supply chain disruptions, but our marketing plan had to change. We could have delayed it, but decided to go ahead with the launch as both the team and our customers deserved to see the hard work behind this line come to fruition. So, last week, we launched our new O'Cali Nature collection of beauty and wellness supplements. Since offline events and desksides were cancelled, we launched the collection on a livestream, which was a success with both the media and our customers joining our “launch party.”

Melissa Boerema VP of Operations, InstaNatural

We were planning to launch three new products in March when COVID-19 hit, and we had to make some pivots with the plan. We decided to continue with the launches, but did dramatically adjust our public relations strategy, taking our editor deskside meetings virtual and cancelling all scheduled in-person press events. We recognize that media interest in new product launches may have softened, but, overall, we found during these virtual desksides that editors were highly engaged and connected with our brand.

As an e-commerce-driven company, we were already well positioned digitally to promote our products, so the marketing plan remained intact. We did increase our paid media budget to take advantage of the increasing number of people shopping from home for natural skincare. Overall, we feel very fortunate to be a natively digital natural skincare brand as demand for our products has actually increased.

Greta Fitz Founder, Ascention

We had a soft launch in October 2019, where we launched our Fragrance Flight sampling kits, and we were in full swing to launch the ritual bottles—the large-sized sprays with fair trade crystals—on March 15. Lots of hard work, focus and dedication went into planning this launch and, just like that, everything stopped. We couldn’t receive our components, factories shut down and, to protect everyone involved, we decided it was best to postpone our product launch. 

Instead, we dialed up the human side of the brand. The effects of COVID-19 made us realize how important ritual was as our key brand value, since ritual is what started the brand in the first place. We ramped up our messaging to guided rituals, IGTV and IG Lives with key partners that were rooted in self-care and holistic healing. We positioned ourselves as a go-to sacred space to find support, love, encouragement and perspective with tools to help others navigate through this unprecedented time. Although it's at an all-time high, stress is always present in our daily lives and, once we get through this, we can get through anything since now we have the tools to cope with uncertainty, stress or to keep a high vibe. For us, that is through scent and ritual.

Jean Baik Founder and Creative Chief Officer, Miss A

At Miss A, we do weekly new product launches. Right when COVID-19 started, we stopped for a few weeks because we wanted to make sure our fulfillment facility was going to be able to adapt to the changes smoothly and also wanted to give our customers a break with all this happening.

Starting last week, we have started new product launches again because I think our customers are looking forward to some small joys while being at home and, since our products are so affordable, customers are still comfortable with making small purchases.

Joe Freeman CEO, Zone NaturalsMedZone and SweatZone

We were ready to have a full launch of our Zone Naturals skincare collection with multiple products to be ready for the summer peak season. One of our products, ChubRub All Natural Anti Chafing Stick, was heading into Walmart in the beauty skincare section, and we were working on earned media, paid media and influencers.  

As the chaos of COVID-19 unfolded, we were forced to pull back on our influencer efforts because many were staying at home. We are continuing to work on media outreach in the hopes that reporters are looking for content about other topics than COVID-19.  Zone Naturals is in this for the long run, and we realize that this is a marathon and not a sprint, so we will continue to find unique ways to market our products. Our primary priority right now is making sure our teams and our customers are safe.

Jordan Schindler Founder, Nufabrx

We were in the midst of launching an arnica-infused line of pain relief garments. We put that project on a temporary hold to focus on the current need for PPE and face masks. We felt uniquely qualified based on our experience in smart fabrics, location in the heart of the North Carolina textile manufacturing, and partnership with a trusted third-party lab, Manufacturing Solutions Center, to have an impact. While this crisis has had so many tragedies, amidst the pandemic, there are incredible stories of a battered textile industry banding together and rising to the challenge of a nation.

Emilie Hoyt CEO and Founder, Lather

We were working on two new products prior to the COVID crisis, and we made a quick decision to pause and develop our Lather hand sanitizer gel. Because our business also focuses on hospitality, we saw early signs of the disruption. We began working on the hand sanitizer in January/early February, so we were able to quickly green light the production as soon as it became clear that this is an important product to not only support the medical community, but for our customers as well. We are a wellness-based company, and we want to do everything we can to support the health and well-being of our customers.

Emma Spivey Founder, Her Royal Hempress

I was planning to launch a new face serum with glycolic acid, but decided to just focus on my current collection. Right now, it's important to slow down, take a moment to regroup and rethink priorities. I'm going to hold off on launching the new product, but continue to work on R&D behind the scenes. That way, when the timing is right, we will be ready to hit the ground running.

Anne Cheatham Co-Founder and CFO, Nuele

We continued to move forward with our launch. We launched Nuele Hair Serum on March 3, days before the news of COVID-19 broke in the U.S. This launch took almost a year of planning and, needless to say, we did not foresee what challenges COVID-19 would present. 

Adjusting our strategy and goals was a bit of a challenge at first as many of our partners were also dealing with adjusting to COVID-19. Fortunately, we've always had an e-commerce-first strategy, but this did hinder retail distribution opportunities. Plans to release a second product have been postponed, and our singular focus remains on successfully launching our hair serum.

Amy Zunzunegui CEO and Founder, Wldkat

The original launch date for Wldkat was scheduled for early March. Due to a few non COVID-19 factors that arose in December, we made the decision to move the launch to April and determined 4/20 was the perfect date. We were initially going to launch with six products on 4/20. However, two of them had components made in China, and they were unfortunately delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Because of this, we are launching with four products, and the two that were delayed because of COVID-19 will launch in May.

Felicia Rintanen Co-Founder, Nomad Cosmetics

COVID-19 has had an impact to our overall launch calendar for 2020 in three main areas: designing, business planning and messaging.  

Designing: We are a brand that designs and shoots on location. Part of our research and development process is to be in the location about eight months prior to a launch. This allows us to absorb the story, create the color palette, and determine the special ingredient for the new destination. Given we have been unable to travel, our launches for next year will need to be designed much faster than we usually do assuming we can start traveling by summer. And it is still TBD if our summer launch will have product shots in situation if we cannot travel. 

Business: As a small business that is owner-operated and run with just us the owners, our biggest business expense is inventory.  When the virus hit, we scaled back on our launches to conserve cash. Given the uncertainty of the economy and how [or] if people will be purchasing products, we determined we need about 12 to 18 months worth of cash to support the business. This is a fine balance to walk as cosmetics is driven by news, so you don’t want to cut so many launches that you lose momentum.  

Messaging: We were fortunate in that our February and April launch inventory all arrived safely before 2020 began. The February launch messaging stayed the same and did not change. For April, though, we discussed at length if we should continue with the launch. The destination is NYC and the launch date April 21. As we all know, NYC is the hardest hit area in the U.S. and our friends, relatives and loved ones were all battling this virus. We didn’t want to be insensitive. Instead of changing the launch date, April 21, we decided to add a positive element to the launch, which is a donation campaign of 20% of sales from our new NYC collection going to The Mount Sinai Hospital to buy PPE for nurses and doctors. This program is especially close to my heart as my mother was a nurse in NYC for about 30 years before she retired.  

Olga Parno Founder and CEO, Masktini

We were in the process of launching six new products before COVID-19 interceded. Production chains and new product releases are very complex. Although we are shipping existing products to our wholesale customers and direct to consumers without any interruption, we know some of our partners are working at 50% capacity or lower. Masktini is manufactured in California, [and] we expect our product fill will be delayed due to COVID-19.  

That said, our team has not stopped any process prior to fill, that includes design, regulatory/compliance, packaging design and manufacturing, additional copy and website upgrades. All these processes are separate, yet parallel in the big picture. Our team is pushing forward knowing that the situation will get better, and we want to be 100% ready to launch new formulas and wow our customers.

Regis Haberkorn President, Priori

Before the pandemic happened, we had five new products lined up. Most of the R&D and design investments had been made already, and we had started our PR outreach in February. So, we looked as the production costs, component and raw material availability, and worked with our manufacturing partners on lowering batch size whenever it was possible so that we could limit the financial impact of our launches. We will end up launching only two products for now with lower quantities, focusing on our online business first. Then, we will scale to international and brick-and-mortar later. Think soft, organic launch versus full-blown launch. We are pushing these launches on our social media, but also have organized a series of virtual desksides with the press, where we focus primarily on skincare education.

The other products will be launched as soon as the situation normalizes over the summer. As a science-based skincare company, we can't wait to bring innovation to the market!

Sara Saidy Founder, Legendary Apothecary

We were going to launch a new product this summer but we’ve decided to push it off to the holidays or even next year due to COVID-19. Being a small brand means that we have limited resources so launching a new product didn’t seem like the right thing to do for financial reasons. We’d rather spend our resources on taking care of our team than to spend it on production and marketing of a new product. It’s just what makes sense right now. 

Additionally, we need to rethink the type of products that will be in higher demand during and after the pandemic and maybe launch something that will be needed rather than a product that is a luxury and not a necessity. A lot of brands big and small have pivoted to making hand sanitizers and even masks, but there are going to be a lot of other needs in the beauty space. We are diligently studying the new trends to see if we can develop new products that can be useful during these times that we live in.

SELMIN KARATAS Co-Founder and CEO, Kazani

We launched a product at Christmas and we started selling in brick and mortars in New York City up until the middle of March until the government shutdown nonessential businesses. We were also supposed to launch another product in 2020 as we are still working on the formula with a chemist, but we decided to hold off until the pandemic is over. At this moment, we are selling what we have in stock with our product we launched at Christmas.

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