Launch with precision to drive growth in 2021

May 20, 2021
Simon Callender
Creative Planning Director at Initials

It’s no surprise that COVID-19 has caused a reshuffling of the brand marketing landscape. Product launches, in particular, have been heavily impacted, with briefs and NPD projects stymied as businesses react to the changes afoot.

All of these factors have led to a considerable product launch backlog.

To compound matters, brands now need to contend with new consumer behaviours, attitudes and beliefs. The pandemic has had a marked impact on how, when and where we shop. McKinsey, for example, has shown that 36% of consumers are now actively trying new brands. As the channels that shoppers engage with evolve, people are starting to look outside their comfort zones and experiment with new categories and products.

For brands, this serves as both a challenge and a compelling opportunity.

With the prospect of better times ahead, there is likely to be an avalanche of new product launches in 2021 that enter the marketplace. But as competition increases, so too does the chance of failure. According to Nielsen, 76% of all FMCG brand launches fail.

How, then, can brands unleash innovation, adapt to new consumer demands and ensure that product launches are a success?

In this article, we’ll look at how some of the UK’s leading brands are tackling this issue – and reveal how companies can launch with precision to drive growth in 2021.


Adapting to changes in consumer attitudes

As brands look to reignite marketing campaigns and kick-off new product launches in 2021, there’s now a pressing need to consider how consumer attitudes have changed as a result of the pandemic.

When it comes to bringing great innovation to market, Gareth Turner, Head of Brand at Weetabix, comments on the importance of understanding your audience.

“You have to understand your consumer, the category and the market context that you’re operating in. That also means understanding the problem that you’re trying to solve and putting the consumer first in everything you do.”

In the past 12 months, consumer behaviour has changed dramatically. New research from Kantar has shown that online grocery shopping in the UK reached a record 14% of total market share in January 2021, thanks in part to increased spending by older demographics.

A whopping 6.4 million customers in the UK alone now use online shopping services, with parents increasing their grocery spend by £50 a month year-on-year as a result of school closures and remote working.

Across online and offline channels, shoppers spent £1 billion more with supermarket brands in January 2021 than they did in January 2020, with a 23% rise in the sale of vegan products among the most notable increases in purchasing behaviour.

For brands that want to unleash innovation in 2021 and bring new products to market, doing so will require a delicate balance of poise and adaptability. While spend has increased across all age categories, it’s the nuances of how, when and where that spend will go that needs to be accounted for. This means conducting in-depth research to better understand the drivers of consumer behaviour within a specific product or category.

Hayley-Jane Doyle, Head of Marketing at Seedlip, agrees with this idea, commenting, “For me it all has to start with consumer insight. This means getting really clear on the consumer need that you’re trying to address, whether it’s something another brand is trying to do that you think you can do better or whether it’s a need that hasn’t been fulfilled yet.”


Six rules for success in 2021

Customer behaviour is incredibly important to consider when planning the strategic delivery of a new product, particularly at a time of immense social and cultural change. To ensure a successful launch, however, brands need to take into account a range of different factors.

Giles Brook, former CEO at Vita Coco, comments on this idea, saying, “I’m a big believer in balancing insight with intuition. To launch with innovation, brands need to really understand the consumer need, what the occasion is and what the insight is that you’re trying to fulfil. In your pre-launch check, you need to look at your points of difference and ask – are they strong enough that the consumer is going to resonate with them? Will it motivate our target market?”

These considerations are more important than ever before in what is a critical year for brands, given increased pressure from retailers and company bottom lines to contend with.

With brands feeling the need to rebuild, innovate, launch and grow post-COVID, we’ve put together six of the most important rules that brands should follow for a successful product launch in 2021.


  1. Define your goals

When launching a new product, brands need to start by setting clearly defined goals. These brand and business objectives can serve as anchoring points from which to progress. Typically, a new product will stem from two places – an entirely new opportunity based on a specific piece of consumer insight on or an existing problem that innovation can help mitigate and solve.

As Giles says, “Either you’re solving for an unmet challenge or you’re addressing a problem in a new and different way.”

Once these ambitions are fixed, NPD can be used more effectively for long-term brand growth – because it delivers on a key opportunity or challenge.


  1. Define yourself before others do

The products and brands we consume don’t exist in isolation – they rely on cues for us to understand them, from ‘category norms’ to where they can be found in supermarkets.

Bringing an exciting new innovation to market doesn’t mean it’s destined to be a success. Rather, brands need to focus on understanding how their competitors are positioning themselves. In doing so, it becomes possible to fine tune your own positioning – whether that means analysing customer insights or determining where in-store you’ll be bought. All of this can be used and framed to your advantage – particularly from a marketability perspective.


  1. Define your drivers

 Understanding the drivers that influence your NPD is crucial to achieving lasting success. At a time when many product launches will be coming to market, it pays dividends to take a step back and revisit what triggered this NPD.

Has it come from a specific consumer insight or audience need which this innovation meets? Or has there been NPD from within the brand, which now needs to find its audience, its role within a product portfolio and justification against a business objective?

Answering these questions can help brands set clearer foundations for why their product should exist in the marketplace.


  1. Use innovation to galvanise your brand

Remember, NPD isn’t about innovation alone – it’s a unique opportunity to strengthen your brand. By keeping innovation close to the core of your business, you can reinforce the credentials which make you distinctive and loved.

“When it comes to new products, marketers get very excited. There’s sometimes a feeling that NPD can solve every business challenge, but it’s crucial that you’re clear which challenge you’re looking to address,” says Hayley-Jane.

NPD, for example, can serve as a great way to bring new customers into your brand. By offering something different – a new consumption opportunity, formulation or flavour in your innovation, you may be able to bring them into your broader brand portfolio.


  1. Launched is better than perfect

When it comes to launching, it’s better to get your product out there than try to perfect and finesse every minute detail. Delaying launches for last minute changes can often come at a great cost, with many brands losing first-mover advantage. Think about it – if your brand stumbles out of the gate, then you’ll have to face the additional cost of persuading retailers to stock your product or run extra advertising to drive consideration.

“First-mover advantage is key in category innovations. Things are moving so fast nowadays, and brands can be somewhat risk averse. Sometimes, however, you need to move quick and be the first to market,” says Giles.

It’s not about throwing money away at a rushed launch. The brands that can be successful in 2021 will be the ones that move with confidence and assurance in their product, audience and brand.


  1. Launch with immediate impact

Finally, we know that this is going to be a year of heightened competition for brands. Given the backlog of product launches, there will be mounting pressure to find shelf space, dive sales and hit the ground running.

“The challenge for any piece of innovation is to get rapid early distribution. Your visibility in-store is what’s going to drive your sales,” says Gareth.

Developing the right objectives, committing realistic levels of marketing investment with the right messages in the right channels, and adopting a progressive test, learn and adapt approach will be pivotal to success as we move into 2021 and beyond.


Clearly, this is set to be another unprecedented year for brands. At a time of increased competition, the brands that come out on top will be the ones that can leverage customer insights, define clear objectives and launch with impact.

By doing so, brands will be able to better resonate with consumers and ensure that product launches achieve lasting success.

As seen in The Grocer