RTR: When Marketing and Product Fit Should Occur at the Same Time

by Kara Yu

As discussed during the Rent the Runway case, when should you execute a product launch simultaneously with a marketing launch? Are there heuristics that would lead you to choose one path or the other?

In the Rent The Runway case, I believe that the class as a whole was a little too harsh on the entrepreneurs. It is always easy to pick out little details that entrepreneurs missed out. However, in the case of Rent The Runway, I don’t think the large marketing launch they did was a mistake or in violation of the lean startup methodology at all.

Let’s take one step back and look at the value proposition of RTR. The key thing to realize is that they are not exchanging a dress for your money. They are giving you the ability to have a really special Holidazzle, or feel like the prettiest girl in the room. They are selling you an experience, a feeling, something that is a lot more valuable (you might even say priceless) than a physical dress.

I don’t believe that RTR would have been able to test the value of their main purpose without creating a brand name first. While earlier trials can be done to ascertain logistical questions like whether girls will be responsible enough to return the dresses, the ultimate feeling they are trying to inspire in girls cannot be done without a RTR dress being special in some way. If RTR had just sold dresses out of a vending machine near a girls’ dorm, the response from the girls would be more around the convenience created. In RTR’s actual implementation, the girls loved them because they allowed them to feel special and inspire a feeling of confidence they never had.

I think put more generally, the question of whether it is a good idea to do a marketing launch before completing the product depends on the nature of the company. I believe here are some metrics to look at when deciding:

  1. Does the brand image influence the value delivered to early adopters?
    1. Dropbox obviously did not need a brand first. Regardless of what they were called, they allowed their users to get their files easier and faster
    2. RTR’s main value proposition is around the “Cinderella moment”. If RTR did not have a good image around it, the behavior of renting could be viewed as trashy or cheap

  2. What would happen if the first product that launched was bad?
    1. In Dropbox’s case, this would have been disastrous, early adopters would have turned on Dropbox for losing all their files and trust would have been really hard to regain
    2. RTR launched with a terrible website that was barely usable. And yet, their early adopters took the pains to navigate through it to use the product. It is important to note that RTR’s product is more than a website; it’s also the stylists and the service provided. RTR always made sure that their customer had something to wear for the special day even if things went wrong. In this way, their initial product was relatively reliable even though there were some kinks.

I think Jenn and Jenny definitely did the right thing by going for the marketing launch. They needed validation and they wouldn’t have gotten it without the marketing launch. While it would have been safer to wait until the product is ready, first mover advantage is crucial in an industry like theirs with little barrier to entry (apart from the ability to create a brand name).

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