Many startups will plan a hard launch for their minimum viable product. They want to invest a lot of money and time into promoting the first version of their MVP, but this doesn't always make sense. You should align your marketing plan with your product roadmap.
A minimum viable product, or MVP, is the most basic version of a product which a company wants to launch in the market. It includes the features that solve an essential problem for your users. The final and complete set of features is developed after collecting your learnings from the product's initial users.
The product, therefore, will not be fully mature upon release to market, or your initial launch. For this reason, it’s important to understand your product launch differently when releasing an MVP to the market.
Marketing a minimum viable product can be especially difficult because your tactics need to align with the value you're providing your users.
What I mean by this is that every time you’re rolling out a new version or feature update of your app, you’re providing more value. Alternatively, if your MVP pivots, and goes in a different direction, your marketing plan must also shift to accommodate the changes. Your messaging, unique value proposition and positioning will most likely change over time.
Take Instagram, for example. The company's first introduction to the market was much different than it is today. Its messaging and brand positioning has changed to coincide with the direction of the product. So the question is, how do you plan an iterative marketing strategy?
Rethink your hard launch
When I think of the term hard launch, I think of a multi-billion dollar company hosting events, securing speaking engagements and investing in commercials for the launch of their new product. This makes sense because large corporations can afford to take these risks.
Traditional hard launches require massive budgets and many resources. They usually include the following:
With this approach, you are showcasing your product and relying heavily on the first impression. In order for this to be effective, you need to provide significant value for users immediately. An MVP, however, is a product that is iteratively improved upon, and its purpose is to receive feedback from consumers which will drive the direction of the final product.
Your marketing plan should, therefore, align with the product roadmap. It wouldn’t make sense to spend the majority of your budget launching your MVP when that is the starting point of your product. Your product development is iterative which means your marketing efforts need to coincide.
For the launch or rollout of your MVP, you want to start building buzz around your brand. You want to aim to secure free placements, backlinks and other low-cost tactics. Start building a community around your brand and cultivate trust. Here are a few tactics you could use to launch your MVP:
Start a blog
Outreach to secure backlinks to build your domain authority
Build relationships with other companies, influencers and publications
Start posting valuable content on your social platforms and cross-promoting to build partnerships
Build out your website to have a press kit, impactful copy and a story behind your brand. Here's an example.
With your next iteration, you might want to invest a little more, and consider changing your messaging to showcase the value of the updated product. Once you’re ready for your app to be seen by the masses, invest in tactics that demonstrate value to leave a lasting impression. Some tactics I recommend include:
Outreach to publications to cover your app
Once you have more value, and a reason for users to continue to use your product (also known as the stickiness), these tactics will be more effective. This is because these tactics rely on that first impression to convince your user to stick with your brand. They don't have the power to build a community like a blog does. You have one chance to wow your audience with these tactics. If you blow it by not offering enough value right off the bat, you’ll waste a lot of time and money, and they might not give your brand a second chance.
Once you build a community and elicit trust and credibility around your brand, your audience is more likely to choose your brand over competitors. What’s more, is that trust and credibility breed word-of-mouth virality. If your brand resonates with your audience and appeals to their emotions, they’re more likely to become brand advocates.
Take a targeted approach and scale up
Large-scale hard launches might be the right choice for large companies such as Apple or Microsoft, who have the time, money and resources for extravagant events and impactful commercials. However, for startups with limited resources and experience, I always recommend a soft launch or a targeted approach and scaling up later.
Ultimately, an MVP is a process and not a result. The way that you approach your marketing strategy heavily depends on the stage of your product and the value it provides. You should assess each marketing initiative with the value proposition of your product. For example, if your product isn't ready to be exposed to the world, you'll want to take a lower risk, slower traction approach. This includes tactics such as blogging to build an audience and domain authority. When your product is ready to meet the world, a harder push with advertising and pitching to publications to cover a story about your product will be more effective.
The marketing landscape is always changing, and the way people consume information is a lot different than it was a few years ago. For this reason, it’s important to remember that your marketing plan is not a one and done, especially when marketing a minimum viable product. You should always be conducting research and adapting to changing market demands and user behaviors.
Iterative marketing campaigns will help you respond to feedback from your users so you can adjust your marketing strategy as necessary. Once you start to experience traction, you can take calculated risks and invest in the methods that are working.