The concept of soft launching a product or service has been around for many years. It became particularly useful when software developers found they could use soft launches to beta-test versions of new software prior to larger public release. Marketing borrowed the idea as the advertising business shifted increasingly toward digital channels. Now this useful tactic is employed for interactive campaigns, identity rebrands, and new brand or product launches.
All well and good, you say. But what are the steps to execute a soft launch? Here are some guidelines.
Steps in a Soft Launch
Decide what elements will be “turned on” first (website, mobile apps, letterhead, signage, search ads, email branding, social images/branding, etc.)
Use Google Adwords to check on search terms you may want to buy or track. Remember to cross-check competitor search terms.
Prepare content related to the launch; optimize it for search!
Identify media contacts to include in soft or hard launch press releases or beta-testing.
Email early adopters, loyal followers and loyal customers to share advance details, links to active rebranded pages, and request feedback.
Track and respond to social response, website traffic, search traffic, etc. Set up search alerts to watch for press references during the soft launch.
Share ongoing updates via email and social.
Expand the launch with additional elements.
Do a countdown to the “official” or hard launch date.
Invite your community to share launch details with crafted messages, slogans, hashtags and share buttons—be visual!
The Hard Launch
When the official launch date arrives, issue the big announcement press release with links to media features, quotes, and related content. Promote the launch and press coverage using company social pages, a website news page, the company blog, and any other channels that seem useful. When possible, try to gain feature coverage with local newspapers and regional magazines. Send follow-up press releases and reach out to media contacts to stretch launch publicity even further.
The soft launch is a great way to launch digital properties and rebranding projects. It gives you a sense of how the launch is being received, and helps you prepare press releases and other communications to answer questions and concerns expressed by the community. All the same, be prepared for debate and unrequested feedback early in the launch process. Everyone today is a critic, and the internet’s relative anonymity means many self-appointed critics will feel free to pile on with negative commentary. Stick to the launch plan as much as possible, but have a response team on call to address greater-than-expected blowback from outside the company’s immediate community. Properly prepared, a soft launch will help ensure a soft landing for your clients and their brands