In product development, you can adopt two different approaches when it finally comes to taking a product to market: soft launch or hard launch. Soft launch is when you take a limited approach to your launch. This could be limited by geography, by technical specification or, most likely, by the selection of customers (which is generally limited to very good, highly trusted beta testers). A hard launch is when a product is released to all customers in all geographies with full functionality on Day 1.
Advantages / disadvantages of soft launch
This has always been my preferred way of launching technology. It's so much better (in my mind) because it allows more control and an ability to test and refine on the go. It's less of a 'big bang' so to speak.
- Geographic control: soft launch means that you can pick and choose the places where you start to sell first of all. There may be very good reasons for this - perhaps you have differences in how loyal your customers are (if you started off in one particular country then you might well have a loyal base there that will appreciate access to a new product early)
- Limited technology: if you're relaunching a complete product line then you might want to pick and choose which products you release first. Typically, you would release the most basic version first of all and then release more sophisticated versions at a later date. This would give you greatest market penetration fast. Alternatively, you can reverse this and maximise profitability by not allowing down-trading
- Targeted customers: targeting a soft-launch towards your best customers and letting them beta-test products in the field for you is a relatively standard product development strategy. It allows you to understand good and bad points in a relatively controlled environment. It also gives the customers to benefit from the new product before the rest of the market
- Legal reasons: there is a cost to making products compliant with market rules. This can be an expensive overhead. However, if you do this on a rolling basis, then you will have some turnover coming in and this can be used to pay for the legal compliance burden for other countries
Advantages / disadvantages of hard launch
Hard launch of everything, everywhere simultaneously. It is hard and expensive but it does give some distinct advantages, especially if you are a mature company in a competitive industry.
- Marketing campaign: you will make the maximum impact with a supporting marketing campaign if you are co-promoting across all geographies simultaneously. With new products you have to think about both demand generation and awareness. This will also allow you to integrate various marketing disciplines together into a stronger, more impactful campaign which, if the product delivers what you've promised, will be commercially more successful
- Competitive advantage: there can be considerable leaking of commercially sensitive information so it can be difficult to get complete surprise. Many competitors adopt a 'me too' product development strategy. By hard launching you make it as difficult as possible for competitors to replicate your product. It gives you the maximum amount of time without a true competitor
- Costs: you’re going to have a larger total cost but you are going to have benefits of scale. Sound a bit Irish? You will be able to do all your legal, compliance and distribution deals at one time and, possibly with a limited number of suppliers. You'll get bulk discounts and the total price will be smaller. If this sounds a bit vague and unrealisable, trust me it is possible - I've done it
- Control: Launching a new product is a great way to generate reams of paperwork and hours of planning. You can reduce that and make the launch much easier to control with a single launch date
Most important - make a decision and stick to it
This might be a quick run through of the main differences for hard launch against a soft launch and I hope it gives some interesting points to consider. Only you will know how much confidence you have in your new product (less confidence suggests soft launch) and how competitive your market is (more competitive suggests hard launch).
Get this right and you will have a larger chance of commercial success.