In our world, where app marketing gets more and more pocket-hitting and user acquisition costs keep growing, marketing campaign pre-launch tests and app viability assessment become top-of-mind concerns. One of the ways to test an app or game and study all the specifics of marketing a certain software product without spending much, is a soft launch.
Marketing is always costly. And we don’t mean only money you actually invest: costs are also about effort and time you devote to creating promos, managing ASO, establishing community, communicating with media, influence marketing, and other initiatives. All these endeavors require a great deal of time and energy. But an unthinking approach could cost you money and labor resources.
Research can help you gather early app performance insights, identify bottlenecks (that could be dead ends in user experience), forecast LTV and CPI, outline a promotion strategy, formulate and substantiate target audience theories.
A soft launch is a process where a software product — a game or app — is released and tested in a limited market or audience.
Essentially, a soft launch is when you test your product in field conditions to measure its performance; during a soft launch, you can forecast your app’s future based on the experience of a small focus group. You don’t have the second chance for the first impression, and a soft launch can be your app’s boot camp, allowing you to polish everything before the global release.
In general practice, products are soft-launched in a region similar to the target market, but a smaller one and cheaper in user acquisition. For instance, Finland is a popular choice among developers targeting Europe; Asia is well represented by Thailand or Vietnam; lastly, Australia and Canada can be kind of models of the US. It’s not necessary to take a whole country; you can limit your soft launch to a specific state or even province.
Make sure the focus group is relevant to your major target audience: this is the most important thing. Here’s an example: You announce your game on the developer portal and secure a group of several thousand users. This cohort will be sufficient for your soft launch in number — but not in relevance, if your game is created for teens.
A hard launch assumes that you are not testing the launch on a limited audience, but immediately include all marketing activities on the specified date. Usually a hard launch is preceded by a powerful PR campaign, which should end with the presentation of the finished product. In this case, you need to be prepared that the application will be used by people from all over the world. Usually the PR component is the main advantage of the approach. Unlike a soft launch, the application can thus achieve a large audience coverage and play on the wow-effect of getting acquainted with a new product.
You must have your own goals of such in-field testing, but here’s a common checklist you should go over before releasing your product globally:
● Do impressions drive eager clicks?
● Which creatives perform better?
● Is it easy to sell your product?
● In which demographic groups does your app elicit the best response?
● What apps does your audience use and could you steal leadership from your rivals?
● At what scale will your app remain profitable?
● How large and profitable can your app be?
● Is your product viral?
● Do users share information about your product?
When researching, make sure your metrics are credible, substantial, and relevant to your app’s real quality. At the end of your soft launch, you need to collect enough data on the target audience’s behavior, churn, and marketing KPIs. These insights will support your product hypotheses and help make urgent and essential changes to the product before the official release.
Down the road, you will answer to yourself whether your product is ready for coming to the big world; whether you believe in its commercial potential and perspectives.
No two soft launches are alike. But there are still a bunch of common guidelines:
● Define the main goals (KPIs) before you initiate your test. Your soft launch is an iterative learning process, so equip yourself with a set of questions you need to answer.
● Don’t pursue large scales. It’s safer—and no less meaningful—to test your product on smaller focus groups.
● Your product doesn’t have to be 100-percent ready. Just make sure it comes with the main functions (e.g. 20-25% of all levels of the game).
● Objectively assess the focus group’s relevance to the target audience.
● Ensure backend reliability: if your game runs with glitches and lags, it may disrupt the data captured and conceal internal errors.
● Start with broader targeting and narrow it down, gradually.
● Be ready for ad-hoc hypothesis generation, testing, and deployment.
● Last but not least, be ready that a soft launch may suggest your product is not ready for the deep waters.
Like any other part of the marketing plan, a soft launch requires special approaches, skills, and knowledge. It may even reveal that your product is unviable. Or, it may tell you that what you’re developing is hugely demanded. Having not launched a trial, you will never know it for sure; and a smaller-scale test drive can save you funds allocated to the global release.
If you need to soft-launch your product, we in Appbooster are ready to help you set out the goals and measure app performance at minimum cost. Just reach us via online advisor or submit a request on the homepage.
We wish you accurate hypotheses!
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