If you’re planning a market launch strategy for your new startup, should you organize a soft launch plan or a hard launch plan? Join us as we look at both launch strategies in detail and determine which is the best option for your business.
When you’re getting ready to launch your startup, there are a lot of questions you need to answer.
For example, how much budget do you have? How will you market your product or service? Who is your target audience?
There’s also another critical question you need to consider: will you go with a hard or soft startup launch strategy?
If you’re not sure what the difference between these two launch strategies is, we’ve put together this guide to help. We’ll look at the advantages and disadvantages of hard and soft launches, and which option is the right choice for your startup.
And remember, if you need any extra help launching your startup, whether you go for a hard launch plan or soft launch plan, our team of experts is here to support you.
Table of contents
- What is a hard launch plan?
- What is a soft launch plan?
- Which startup launch strategy is right for my business?
- Can you use both launch strategies together?
- Frequently Asked Questions
What is a hard launch plan?
A hard launch plan is when you release your product or service to the general public with a formal launch on a set date. Think of it as a ‘grand opening’ of your startup idea!
Hard launches take advantage of extensive marketing to raise brand awareness and generate popularity. The marketing is entirely up to you; it could be PPC advertising, influencer marketing, social media promotion… whatever suits your startup idea best.
For an example of a hard launch in action, take Apple’s unveilings of their products. These launch events build intrigue and tell a story, making people want to get their hands on the latest iPhone! Plus, the events get significant coverage in the global press, resulting in lots of publicity for the tech giant.
The advantages of a hard launch plan
The main benefit of a hard launch plan is that you’re cementing your spot in the marketplace. By launching on a specific date and using marketing to publicize your startup idea, you’re making yourself known as a serious threat to your competitors.
Plus, members of the public are likely to pay attention to a hard launch which can lead to extra publicity for your brand. So unless they have a specific interest in your product or service, a soft launch may pass them by.
The disadvantages of a hard launch plan
The issue with a hard launch plan is that you have to spend time ensuring your product or service is perfect before you launch; otherwise, you could experience a lot of negative publicity.
Take for example Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, which recently had a hard launch in November 2022. The game was so buggy that some players demanded a refund. While Nintendo quickly delivered a patch to fix the bugs, the damage was already done.
Even Apple, which we mentioned above, can fall victim to hard launch events not completely going to plan. In 2017 Senior Vice President of software engineering Craig Federighi tried to use the iPhone 10’s Face ID feature to unlock the brand-new phone, but it didn’t recognize him.
It’s also worth considering that if your hard launch plan takes too long to implement, you may lose momentum and lose out to your competitors in the market. In line with lean startup methodology, it’s imperative to get to market as soon as you can in order to see success.
What is a soft launch plan?
A soft launch is when you quietly launch your product or service, making improvements to it as you go along.
A soft launch is usually reliant on a minimal viable product, or MVP. An MVP is a simple version of your product with basic features. You can use your MVP to launch quickly and get customer feedback that you can use to refine your startup idea.
Soft launch strategies are extremely popular in the software industry as they give startups the opportunity to ‘road test’ their product or service before rolling it out on a larger scale. As the launch is quiet and only targeted at a limited number of people, it doesn’t matter too much if the product or service isn’t 100% perfect.
(Remember that you should still research and test your idea before you soft launch it!)
Buffer, which we’ve talked about a lot on this blog, originally planned a hard launch. However, it pivoted to a soft launch when it found that journalists and trade magazines weren’t interested in covering their social media scheduling software.
Instead, the company focuses on its blog to create value and find out more about what its target audience, social media managers, wanted. It was then in a stronger position to launch later on.
Soft launch plans are also good if you don’t have a physical product to sell just yet. You can promote your brand identity and see what prospective customers like and dislike before you commit money to create products.
Soft launch plan templates: what to consider
Preparation is essential when it comes to a soft launch plan. You need to ask the following questions:
- How long will the launch last? Your soft launch can last as long as you like, although we recommend having an end date in place to keep things tight. If you’re launching a mobile app, SaaS software, or marketplace, two to three months is a good starting point
- Who should we target? To get to market quickly, it’s best to launch in a particular country rather than to everyone in your target market. For example, Pokémon Go soft launched in Australia and New Zealand in 2016 before being rolled out to the rest of the world
- What features should be included in the launch? It’s essential to carry out extensive research when determining which features to include in your MVP. We recommend working out your product-market fit first, and this will give you a solid indication of what your target audience wants to see
- What platform shall we target? If you’re creating a mobile app, you can launch more quickly if you choose iOS or Android rather than both. Consider which one your target audience is most likely to use
- How much can you afford to spend? You don’t want your budget to run out partway through your soft launch strategy, so crunch the numbers and see how much money you have
- How will you see if your soft launch is a success? It’s essential to have KPIs in place so you can see if your launch has worked as it should. For example, if you’re launching a mobile app, monitoring user retention levels to make sure users keep coming back over time
The advantages of a soft launch plan
The key advantage of a soft launch plan is that you get good feedback that will help your startup in the long term. By listening to early adopters and making changes accordingly, your product or service becomes more reliable and valuable as your market base grows.
A soft launch plan is usually (but not always) more cost-effective than a hard launch. This is because there are fewer marketing costs, and you can spread your budget around a lot more.
You can also keep your target audience interested in your product or service by releasing new features. Remember that it can cost five times as much to find a new customer than it does to retain an existing one, so it pays off to keep your users loyal to your startup.
Finally, a soft launch plan is less stressful. You don’t have to organize a launch event, hire a PR team, or worry about marketing plans. Instead, just launch your product or service and wait for the feedback to come in.
The disadvantages of a soft launch plan
The main disadvantage of a soft launch plan is that you’re launching it under the radar and not doing a lot of marketing for it, which can mean you don’t get much publicity or brand awareness. So if you’re dreaming of a star-studded launch event, a soft launch is probably not the right choice for you!
Another risk is that competitors may identify your unique selling point while your soft launch. There’s nothing to stop them from using this against you and hard launching a very similar product or service.
Which startup launch strategy is right for my business?
There isn’t a simple answer to this question. It depends on a number of factors including:
- What your startup does?
- How ‘new’ or ‘established’ your product or service is?
- Where you’re launching?
- How established your client base is
- How much time do you have to get to the market?
- How competitive the market is?
- How big your marketing budget is?
Let’s look at an example of this in action and say that two mobile apps are launching.
One is an experimental AR app, and market research has shown that it doesn’t have a lot of competition in the marketplace. The other is a food delivery app that developers have thoroughly tested; however, market research has shown that other similar apps will be launching in the near future.
We’d recommend a soft launch for the AR app. This will give you time to gather feedback from users to see how you can refine it in the future. On the other hand, we’d recommend a hard launch for the food delivery app. This will let you launch quickly and get the publicity you need to drive away the competition.
It might be that a hard launch strategy is better if you’re updating your product or rolling out a new feature rather than launching a completely new one. This gives you more confidence that the testing has been done and there will be no issues.
Can you use both launch strategies together?
Yes! There’s nothing to stop you from using both a soft launch plan and a hard launch plan for your startup. For example, you can start by soft launching your MVP and getting feedback, and then plan an official launch when you’re confident that your product or service is ready for the larger market.
This is what Google did with Gmail. The email messaging software was soft-launched as a beta test in 2005 and hard-launched to the general public a year later.
Whichever startup launch strategy you choose, it’s important to monitor customer feedback and monitor metrics like customer churn rate to check that you’re on the right track. This will help ensure that your launch is a success, whether you choose the soft or hard route.
We hope you found this guide to startup launch strategies helpful and that it’s given you something to think about when it comes to soft launches and hard launches.
Want to know more about startup launch strategies? Here are some additional articles you might find useful:
- 200 startup resources to use after you launch
- Business model canvas or lean canvas?
- How much does it cost to launch a startup?
- How to build a marketplace startup
- How to market a mobile app
- IoT application development launch guide
- Startup monetization guide
- The lean startup: what time and materials do you need?
Frequently Asked Questions
A hard launch plan involves releasing a product or service to the general public with a formal launch on a specific date. It often includes extensive marketing efforts to raise brand awareness and generate popularity.
The main advantage is establishing a strong presence in the marketplace and signaling seriousness to competitors. Hard launches attract public attention, leading to increased brand visibility.
The main disadvantage is the need to ensure the product or service is near-perfect before launch, as any issues can lead to negative publicity. Delays in implementing a hard launch plan can also result in lost momentum.
A soft launch plan involves quietly releasing a product or service with ongoing improvements. It often relies on a minimal viable product (MVP) and is used to gather customer feedback for refinement.
The key advantage is obtaining valuable feedback for long-term improvement. Soft launches are generally more cost-effective, allow for gradual feature releases, and can help retain loyal customers.
The main disadvantage is limited initial publicity and brand awareness. Competitors may identify your unique selling points during a soft launch, and there is a risk of not capturing a broad audience.
The choice depends on factors such as the nature of your startup, market competition, product maturity, target audience, available time, and marketing budget. Consider your unique circumstances to decide between a hard or soft launch.
Yes, it is possible to combine both strategies. Start with a soft launch to gather feedback and refine your product, then plan an official hard launch when you’re confident in its readiness for a larger market. Google’s launch of Gmail is an example of using both strategies.
Yes, when planning a soft launch, consider factors like the launch duration, target audience, included features in the MVP, choice of platform, budget allocation, and key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure success.