In business, the terms ‘soft launch’ and ‘hard launch’ refer to two different techniques for introducing a new product or service to the market. A soft launch is less aggressive, as the name indicates, where as a hard launch is louder with the goal of generating buzz.
A soft launch is a technique that introduces a product into the market quietly without drawing too much attention to it. This is a more gradual technique which is particularly good for startups releasing a beta version, minimum viable product, or are otherwise lacking features they intend to add. A soft launch refers to releasing a product/service to a closed audience as well as a public launch accompanied by little to no marketing.
A hard launch is great for creating excitement and getting your product or service into the hands of a large number of people. A hard launch builds anticipation through things such as countdowns, previews, etc. Hard launches often require a marketing budget.
There is no little to no talk of a ‘medium launch’ as this half-way approach tend to fail to achieve the goals of soft and hard launches rather than obtaining the best of both worlds.
Why do a soft launch?
Soft launches are particularly good for:
- Small teams and first-time entrepreneurs
- Testing the viability of a product
- Refining features with a small audience
- Gaining valuable feedback
- Focusing on product development
- Determine price points
- A/B testing different features
- Helps you determine how much of a marketing investment you actually need to put into future marketing.
When to do a hard launch?
A hard launch is best reserved for those who meet the following criteria:
- When you’re sure you can deliver on time and to a large audience.
- Your server is reliable.
- You’ve gotten rid of all the bugs and other problems
- You’re a big company with a bold new product/feature
- You have a marketing budget and a good idea of where and where not to spend it
- You have successfully been able to build anticipation in your target market.
A soft launch is often followed by a hard launch, as a properly executed soft launch prepares a product and team for a hard launch. A soft launch is more consistent with the concept of a lean development and has become a popular approach for release, particularly among technology startups.
Cahoots recently soft launched cahoots.com. We launched a minimum viable product, which is lacking many of the features we will be releasing over the next two months. We did a soft launch to help us learn about our product, improve it, and test it’s viability.
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Even though the actual launch of a startup website is a big moment, most of your efforts should have started long before your launch date. Here are five major steps to take before launching your new website:
1. Build Your Presence: Garnering a genuine following on Twitter or your blog does not happen overnight. Many startups are so focused on product development that they neglect engaging with the online community as a part of their strategy. Priming social media channels and blogging before a launch has several advantages:
- Anticipation: Generating a buzz creates anticipation among the online community.
- Feedback: Announcing what you are building before you have launched can help you gage the demand for your product, find out who it attracts, and develop a relationship with your early adopters.
- Time: It takes time to build relationships, and the start is always the slowest part. By getting a head start you can get over these early hurdles, refine your techniques, and have a pool of followers to launch into.
- Perception: It is a well-known fact that people perceive popular products to be more valuable than unpopular ones. When you are a brand new product or service, people are much more hesitant to sign up for it if you appear to have popped up out of nowhere. If you have some followers, some engagement, and some buzz around your new product people are more likely to trust and adopt it.
2. Find Beta Testers: This may seem obvious, but we see many start ups go live with obvious errors and blatant spelling mistakes. After you are done testing yourself or with your team, be sure to test with family and friends as well. There are many online communities of beta testers and other start ups that will happily give you feedback.
3. Save a Few Bullets: Don’t use every marketing tactic on version one of your product or service. You may want to pivot, redesign, or re-launch later. The first version of your website will be less refined than later versions. People have short attention spans and there are only so many favors you can ask of your contacts when it comes to helping you attract attention to your product. Save some ammunition for later when you’ve had the chance to refine your product based on feedback from early adopters.
4. Prepare for Big Traffic: Although most startups are not fortunate enough to get massive traffic when they first launch, be prepared for the chance that you will. Nothing is worse than having your startup garner viral attention only to become overloaded and fail.
5. Attention to Detail: Before you launch do last minute checks of all of your pages, addresses, links, and content. Be sure to check the description that appears in search results, your error pages, and have your emails set up and functioning.
If you remember to perform these five steps your launch should be smoother and less time consuming. We will be launching cahoots.com quite shortly and thought we would share our experiences while preparing for the big day!
Thanks for reading,
The terms ‘brand evangelist’ and ‘early adopter’ are often interchanged and evangelism is often confused with affiliate marketing. With our launch approaching and the quest for early adopters about to commence, we thought we’d write an article clarifying the different types of interactions that startups and brands first encounter.
Early Adopters: are people who start using a product, service, or technology as soon as it becomes available. The term comes from Everett Rogers’ theory called the ‘Diffusion of Innovations’ and follows a life cycle as seen in the diagram below:
Innovators: Contrary to popular belief, it is not the early adopters who are first according to Rogers, it is the innovators. He described innovators as young, well-off, high-class, and very social individuals who are willing to take a risk on a new product that has not yet proven itself. Early adopters are second in the adoption life cycle and exhibit more opinion leadership and discretion than innovators.
The life cycle is then followed by the early majority, late majority, and laggards (the least likely people to encounter when launching a new product or service).
Brand Evangelists: Is a term popularized by Guy Kawasaki with Apple products. These are the people who will sing praises for your brand and convince others to try or convert to your product or service. Brand evangelists do this because of a genuine belief in the product or service and are not paid for their praises. The main differences between early adopters and evangelists is that while early adopters may be the first to try your product, they are not necessarily going to become fans of your product or spread positive word-of-mouth like a brand evangelist does.
Affiliate Marketers: Are part of a reward based marketing system that provides financial incentives to affiliates to refer/convert customers for a product or service. The key difference between a brand evangelist and an affiliate marketer is that a brand evangelist’s praise is not purchased.
Innovators= First to find your product or service and use it
Early Adopters= First for critical feedback/ word-of-Mouth
Brand Evangelists= Positive customer relationships that are grown by fostering trust and faith in your brand/product. This can happen quickly or slowly.
Affiliates= Purchased word-of-mouth.
It is likely that early adopters are more thought about than innovators because they form a larger, more opinionated, and more influential segment of the market that leads over the early and late majority hump. It is the early adopters that will bring you closer to the tipping point in building critical mass.
Marketing to early adopters rather than brand evangelists is better for start-ups, for as a new fledgling company there are often little to no brand evangelists rooting for you (We’re lucky enough to have some brand evangelists. Thank You!). Early adopters are more likely to offer valuable opinions and feedback that can help you develop a stronger brand and product. For big companies, such as Apple, fostering the relationship and exclusivity of their products with Brand Evangelists has definitely been a cornerstone to their success.
Affiliate marketing can help draw people in, but may not be a sustainable method as it is expensive and all traction gained may be contingent on spending. Affiliate marketing may not be best for brand new products and start-ups for it may prevent them from obtaining valuable feedback, performing reiterations, and finding a sustainable way to scale.
Hope this cleared things up!