Soft launch strategies for success
Most mobile app developers understand that soft launches comprise a necessary step in the final stages of app development. However, many don’t fully utilize the potential of a soft launch, which can prove costly. With over seven million apps in existence and many more to come, acquiring users is a fierce battle. Hence, we’ve put together an overview of what a soft launch is, the benefits of doing one, areas of focus, and examples for mobile app developers to review before their next soft launch.
What is a soft launch?
A soft launch for a mobile app is the process of releasing an app to a limited number of users before the app’s official launch. At its core, a soft launch is a method by which app developers can see how their app performs in real life while minimizing the risk of app bugs or deficiencies affecting its success. Often the soft release of an app is limited to a specific region. For example, a company could restrict its soft launch to the U.K. before making its app available in North America and Europe.
What is a soft launch versus a hard launch?
As mentioned above, a soft launch is confined to a small number of users, and it always precedes the hard launch of the app. Due to the nature of a soft launch, it suggests that the app isn’t yet ready to go to market and requires more time to improve before doing so. In contrast, a hard launch is when the app is open to the public on app stores and typically involves a major marketing campaign to acquire many users as fast as possible.
What are the benefits of a soft launch?
The benefits of soft launching an app are multifold but can be summarized under data collection. The learnings gleaned during this process can be harnessed to highlight the things that need to change or improve before an app’s official launch. Apps do so by reviewing app performance data and opted-in user data. (Check out our article devoted to helping app developers get the opt-in early in the user journey). It is imperative to select two to three areas of focus for your soft launch strategy—from your app monetization model to the app onboarding process.
Below we’ve collected the top questions app developers and marketers seek to answer during a soft rollout of your app:
Questions a soft launch can answer
- Is the onboarding process helpful?
- Do any features require additional highlighting?/Different UX approach?
- What are the potential points of churn in the user journey?
- Are there any bugs that still need to be fixed in the app?
- Does the app meet users’ expectations?
- Will the app’s monetization model meet revenue expectations?
- Which channels drive the most downloads or lifetime value (LTV) users?
By answering several of the questions above before an app’s official launch, you can determine which changes you can make, in terms of time, budget, and investor input, before releasing your app.
In short, you’ll be able to improve the user experience by identifying any bugs or gaps in the user journey and, therefore, boost the user retention rate. By understanding which channels and creatives are bringing in higher-value users, you can optimize your go-to-market strategy to acquire more and better users. Another advantage of a soft launch is that app developers can utilize them to confirm their choice of monetization model as well as prove revenue stream to investors, thereby minimizing financial risk to make the model more cost effecitve. Lastly, a soft launch is a great way to garner reviews for your app to be used as social proof.
How do I know when my app is ready for a soft launch?
Janos Perei, Head of Growth - Live Operations at Voodoo, is a soft launch expert, having over 30+ soft launches under his belt. He states that an app is only ready for a soft launch if it has the following nine points ready.
An app ready for a soft launch should have:
- A polished state of look
- All key features ready
- Seven days’ worth of content
- The development roadmap locked for the next six months
- A test plan for verifying key marketing hypotheses
- Tested and completed basic optimized marketing
- A test plan ready for A/B tests for retention, engagement, and monetization
- All support infrastructure implemented and tested
- Passed diligent play and scalability testing (for gaming apps only)
Factors to decide while planning a soft launch
Before a launch, you will need to define:
- How many users you need to acquire to gain meaningful data
- The types of users you want to target
- The length of time to run the soft launch
- Your budget per launch and the percentage it makes up of your total acquisition marketing expenditure
These numbers will fluctuate depending on launch, but over time could be narrowed. In particular, the cost has a lot to do with the locality. However, each launch must have these forecasted to identify when it’s time to move on.
A famous example of an app’s soft launch
Of all the soft launch examples for apps, the 2016 soft launch of the 2016 smash hit Pokémon GO is likely the most notorious cautionary tale. Pokémon GO initially pursued a soft launch strategy and was first released in Australia and New Zealand. But its popularity forced a full launch within days, and Niantic, Pokémon GO’s publisher, rolled the game out to additional countries, staggering it in Germany, the UK, and across the Mediterranean. This put a tremendous load on the servers, rendering the game unplayable.
The mistake here? Niantic didn’t allow enough time between its soft and hard launches to develop the needed infrastructure to match its popularity. Fortunately, we know Pokémon GO quickly bounced back and has been successful ever since.
Measuring the success of your soft launch
It’s mission-critical to set key performance indicators (KPIs) that you will monitor throughout the soft launch. Marketers can use Adjust’s analytics platform to access accurate and real-time data and identify their highest-value users with Audience Builder.
- User acquisition
- New user acquisition cost (known as cost per install)
- Organic growth (organic install)
- User engagement
- Retention rate
- User interaction
- Sessions per user
- Time per session
- Time per user
These KPIs, along with custom event tracking, can be tracked with Adjust. If you’d like to get in touch with one of our experts to see how Adjust can help your app business, schedule a personalized demo now.
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