The Hard Soft Launch
Confused? So am I.
Ask any startup if they’d love some PR buzz for soft launch and the answer is a resounding YES.
Who wouldn’t? Sounds great, in theory.
But in truth, ‘buzz’ and ‘soft launch’ is contradictory, in a very big way.
A soft launch introduces your product ‘quietly’ to a limited audience, yes? The idea is to give yourself room to iterate, get to know your target market, establish your positioning and message before you take it to the masses. A lot of startups I’ve met are taking their time to slowly build momentum at this stage and that’s great.
A hard launch goes out with a BANG to get as many customers as possible through a large-scale event, PR or social media campaign. A hard launch is ideal for startups with a close to kink-free product: fast, dependable and scalable. They have a marketing budget (and know how to spend it), a website (a good one), a solid grasp on customer segments (with some idea of messaging), and a sales function to handle an influx of customers. A lot of startups I have met want to be at this stage, yet few are anywhere close.
Wanting media attention prematurely can distract you from the very goal of soft launch: attracting a limited number of highly targeted customers to give you the best feedback possible while you confirm exactly who and where to target.
My advice for self-funded, first-time soft launchers? Forget about PR entirely and stay focused on your customers. Here’s why:
PR does not equal customers
Not the ones you want anyway. You might want 1000 customers that make you feel great at launch, but what you actually need is 100 qualified customers who find your product useful and will help you build a product they’ll love and pay for. PR can’t do that for you. You don’t get these first 100 customers from a magazine article; you get them from old-fashioned, face-to-face unscalable sales. Get in on it. If you can’t sell your own product to begin with, it doesn’t matter what else you do.
Getting to know your customer
Before you can market anything to anyone you need to know your audience. That means spending time in the trenches, learning everything there is to know about them so that you can a) improve the customer experience and achieve product/ market fit and b) learn how and who to sell your product to. Drill down a day in their life: what they do, what they read, what makes them tick, their motivations, their goals – professionally and personally. Once you get your head around each of your customer segments, you’ll instinctively know (roughly) what you want to say and when you want to say it (believe it or not, withoutthe help of a marketing person). This forms the foundation of your sales and marketing strategy, and the tactics you choose from here on.
PR is a process
Marketing, like all business functions, is a process that starts from the start. I cannot stress this enough and nothing shocks me more than a product going to market without some basic foundations in place. As one of the many functions of marketing, sure, PR might come a little later in the game but don’t wait on the media to start telling your story. Build your audience, connect with influencers and get to know media before you need them. Lay some groundwork – digital and social media channels has never made it easier.
Just like marketing to your customers, PR is about delivering the right information (story) to the right person (reporter) at the right time. Taking these small steps from the start gets you thinking about ‘your story’. And when you’re ready for prime time? It will be for all the right reasons – not just because you want to see your name in print (or worse, relying on it to get you customers).