What is a Soft Launch?

Mary McMahon

A soft launch is a type of release for hardware, software, and websites where the product is released incrementally with little fanfare, initially to a limited audience. Many companies like to use this type of launch to test the viability of a product. It is also useful because it allows companies to fine tune a product before making a big marketing push. Such launches are especially common with websites, to which new features can easily be introduced.

Beta testers may test video games.
Beta testers may test video games.

When making a soft launch, a company releases a product with little or no marketing. In the case of a website launch, many companies release redesigns in a soft format. This allows them to test the response to the new site from existing customers before attempting to expand their customer base. When introducing a new website or concept, a soft launch is a popular option as well. It can be a valuable tool for a website, as a design which users dislike can be quietly retired. Changes can also be made to increase the functionality of the website and respond to user requests.

The strengths and weaknesses of new products may be tested by beta testers.
The strengths and weaknesses of new products may be tested by beta testers.

In the instance of hardware products, it is not uncommon to do a limited release soft launch to test the market prior to a wide scale release. It also means that companies can make last minute changes to the product if it is deemed necessary after the launch. In many instances, soft launches of hardware are done in major metropolitan areas, where the company has access to a wide variety of demographic groups.

Soft launches are also used for software, with a small release being made to a limited group of individuals for beta testing. Software can be extensively tested by the releasing company, but ultimately it needs to be used to determine how effective it is. Major flaws in the design may emerge during beta testing, and can be corrected before the product is released into a major market. This prevents costly and embarrassing mistakes as a result of product weakness.

Some software is soft launched on the Internet, which allows for easy software updates. Early beta testers can grow attached to the program, and will continue to download new versions as they are released. Thus, companies often build up a loyal customer base which spreads the word to other potential customers. The result is a stronger product and a better company.

A soft launch might release a product to only a small group of people until bugs are worked out.
A soft launch might release a product to only a small group of people until bugs are worked out.

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Discussion Comments


@ SkyWhisperer -- That is why open source software is such a huge success. It basically follows a similar strategy, except it launches the software to the widest possible community of developers, who take a good product and make it better. Unlike commercial software, however, open source always remains free.


@everetra – We do something similar at our company. We post pre-release versions of our software for our customers to download. These are the versions prior to the next full upgrade of the software. In a sense these are soft launches, as we often invite customers to report any bugs or other issues they have with the software. Customer feedback is always great, and it helps us to custom tailor the product to what our customers want.


@topher – Software companies like Microsoft often release soft launches of their development tools before selling the final release of the software to the public. Programmers get invited to beta test the software and provide feedback during this period. The big advantage of the soft launch vs hard launch for the programmers is that they get the software for free. For developers this can be a plus. Of course, there will be some bugs in the software, but still, it works well enough that developers can use the beta versions for their own programming projects.


What are some examples of soft launch marketing? Would it usually just be limited to websites (perhaps the company's own)?

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