Soft Launch vs. Hard Launch in Marketing

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Are you trying to go quietly or make a big splash? In this lesson, you'll figure out which is which in the soft launch versus hard launch debate. We'll explore the strategy and benefits behind each concept.

Easing into It

Tom is all set to open his new restaurant. The building has been renovated, the menu has been set, the food has been ordered and the employees have been hired and trained. Tom throws open his doors and is overwhelmed with the response. The only problem is, Tom's staff is unable to keep up with the opening night demands of a crowded restaurant: food is taking forever to arrive from the kitchen and the layout of the restaurant isn't working in a way that keeps things flowing. Tom is questioning whether this was a good idea or not!

Now, consider this other version of Tom. He's still ready to open his restaurant: menus, decor and employees are all ready to go. But, instead of throwing open his doors to the general public, he opts for a soft launch, serving a limited number of invited guests only from an abbreviated menu. The night goes more smoothly; everything isn't perfect, but Tom knows what he needs to fix before his grand opening.

The idea of a soft launch, frequently called a soft opening in the restaurant industry, is like a dress rehearsal before a play's big opening night. Its more aggressive older brother, the hard launch, offers a different type of marketing purpose. Let's examine both in this lesson.

Killing Me Softly

Think of a soft launch like slowly walking into a swimming pool from its most shallow point. The water is cold and you're trying to get adjusted. A soft launch is executed to bring a new product or service to the marketplace in a cautious and limited way. Frequently, soft launches are used to test how a product is going to be received, to continue developing certain components of it, to solicit feedback or to figure out price points.

When you decide on a soft launch, you are testing the waters with a select portion of your target audience, and you make adjustments before releasing the product to your entire target audience and the general population. Soft launches typically don't take quite as long to prepare for because you're not making a big splash with your marketing efforts; rather, you are simply getting ready for the big day.

Advantages

A soft launch can be beneficial in a number of ways, with the most important being the feedback you receive that can help make some aspect of your product better. Here are some other benefits to the soft launch method:

  • It's the less expensive launch.
  • You can handpick your participants.
  • It provides an opportunity for customer feedback.
  • It allows you to test the market.
  • You have more control over location, audience and other components.
  • It can be launched more quickly.

Hard as Nails

So, if a soft launch is like stepping gingerly into the shallow end of a swimming pool, a hard launch is like doing a cannonball in the deep end. It's the big splash to the soft launch's tiny ripple. A hard launch is a much more aggressive strategy, typically used because of that ''big splash'' that draws attention and creates buzz around your product or service.

When you decide on a hard launch, you're approaching the marketplace confident of all aspects of your product, from price and design to packaging and marketing. You know you can deliver the goods and you're ready to turn the general population loose on your big idea.

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