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Checklist: How to Launch a Software App

Use this handy checklist to help organize your next app launch.
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If you're in technology, launching a new application or a set of features is both exciting and excruciating. Software development is a tricky thing, with so many variables that you're almost guaranteed to never get it right out of the gate. But there are things you can control, and that's how you get the word out and when.

At my email marketing company, VerticalResponse, we've tried just about everything you can imagine and after 13 years we keep trying new things! We've learned some valuable lessons from our launches that just might help with yours. I've created a handy launch checklist and list of questions to ask yourself that might serve as a useful guide. You can change or customize it to suit your needs.

General Launch

You need to think about the best timing to launch your app. Here are a few questions to get you thinking:

  • Do you want to do a soft launch where you launch it on Thursday or Friday, but don't announce it until the following Monday to allow time to work out any kinks you might encounter? Will there be support crew on hand to help your users if you launch around a weekend?
  • Do you want to make a big splash because you've already got a ton of beta users using your app? If so, a Monday or Tuesday might be the best day to go live with everything.
  • Is there a holiday around your launch that might impede the outcome you desire?
  • Are you dependent on a third party to help launch your app?

We use Google Docs for our Launch Checklist, but you might want to use your own project management software--like Pivotal, Basecamp or 5pm - to track all of these items.

Weekly App Updates

Weekly app updates should begin with a product manager talking about where you are on the build and documenting them in this section. Start having these updates at least two months prior to launch.

Include all of the features and benefits of the app. If there are specific benefits for different targets or personas, include those, too. Use-case scenarios are also beneficial for each persona.

  • Target Audience: Include a list of who will benefit from this release. This may include partners, general customers, specific verticals and/or large customers.
  • Personas: Include a list of "who" within the target audience will use your app.
  • Competitive Grid: Organize by competitor list features. How much do they cost? What do they offer? This should be a live document since it may change daily.

Now the group can refer to this section of the checklist if they have questions about what's going on with the app.

Website

Your website is your window to the world, so make sure you tell visitors about your new features.

Include specific page URLs in this section of the checklist for any changes or additions that need to be made. Include items such as new screenshots, new graphics (home page items or icons) and new copy--with names and dates of who is responsible for the item. When the copy is written, include the copy so that people know to come to this section to get it.

If a new page is needed, outline the new page URL along with proposed navigation changes.

Suggested timeline:

  • Six weeks prior: Copy written and approved.
  • Two weeks prior (if possible): Screenshots dependent on stage of the app.
  • Two weeks prior: Pages complete for launch. 

Inside the App

When people log in to your app, tell them about the new features with "new" icons or pages throughout the app experience.

Suggested timeline:

  • Three weeks prior: Login page (if there is one) --Tease the new features.
  • Three weeks prior: Log-out page--Advertisement for new features.
  • Two weeks prior: Splash pages in the app (if applicable).

Blog

Your blog is a great place to tell your readers about the progress you're making on the new features since a change is coming.

Suggested timeline:

  • Three, two and one month prior: "Coming soon" posts with progress reports.
  • One week prior: Coming soon post.
  • Release day: Announcement post with link to the website.

Social Media

Just like your blog, your social media channels are a great place to tout the new features. Social media works well with blog posts since it requires short messaging, and you can link them off to your blog posts.

Suggested timeline:

  • Three, two and one month prior: "Coming soon" posts with progress and link to blog for more details.
  • One week prior: Coming soon post with link to blog for details.
  • Release day: Announcement post with link to the website.

This should all happen with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+ and any other social media platforms you're active on.

E-mail Marketing

If you're sending regular e-mail newsletters to your users, this is a great place to start getting your users excited about your launch.

Suggested timeline for e-mail newsletters:

  • Three, two and one month prior: "Coming soon" posts with progress and link to blog for more details.
  • One week prior: Coming soon post with link to blog for details.
  • Release day: Announcement post with link to the website.

Suggested timeline for single item e-mails (we call these solos):

  • Two weeks prior: Pre-announce to all of your VIPs (large customers, partners, advocates, etc.) that the release is coming.
  • Release day: E-mail all current users (customers and non-customers) to let them know it's live!

Pricing 

If you're going to change pricing, you've already created your pricing structure in your app by this point.

Suggested timeline:

  • Eight weeks prior: Approved changes or additions in pricing.
  • Two weeks prior: Pricing pages changed/created.

Help Site

Your help site is very important since you want your users to be able to find the answers to their questions in a timely manner without having to call or chat. Short two-minute how-to videos can be helpful, too.

Suggested timeline:

  • Two to four weeks prior: Complete app videos if final screenshots are available.
  • Two weeks prior: FAQs/knowledge base updated.

Outbound Customer Acquisition Marketing

If you're spending money to acquire customers you'll want to make sure that the appropriate channels you're advertising in are messaged to include new features.

Suggested timeline:

  • Six weeks prior: Complete keyword strategy, if needed.
  • Four weeks prior: Complete outbound email solo changes, if needed.
  • Four weeks prior: Complete any changes to landing pages.
  • Four weeks prior: Complete any changes to the affiliate pages.
  • Four weeks prior: Trade show banners completed if there is a pending trade show.
  • Four weeks prior: Show materials (handouts, etc.) copy completed.
  • Four weeks prior: Screenshots completed.

Press

If you've been lucky enough to be picked up by the press then you'll want to make sure you get the word out to them about your new app or features.

  • Six weeks prior: Start warming up friendly press by telling them about your new features.
  • Four weeks prior: Complete writing of press release.
  • Two weeks prior: Start pitching to press and setting up meetings.
  • Two weeks prior: If there have been beta users, you will want to get a quote from them for the release and have them on standby for questions from the press.
  • Release day: Press release out at 6 am.

Internal Training

You always want to make sure that your internal people know what's going on and can talk about any new feature you may have.

  • One month, then one week prior: Send internal e-mail to company about release.
  • Four weeks prior: Complete any internal training material changes.
  • Two weeks, then one week prior: Schedule two (or more if needed) support/sales/marketing trainings.

Post-Launch Webinars

If your release is big or you're launching your app for the first time, you might want to consider a series of live webinars out the gate.

Place your webinar schedule in this section of the checklist.

This checklist should get you started on the right path toward a successful app launch. Let me know how it goes in the comments!

Did you enjoy this post? If so, sign up for the free VR Buzz and check out the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog.

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Mar 20, 2014

JANINE POPICK

Janine Popick is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse (a Deluxe company), a leading provider of self-service email and social media marketing tools for small businesses. The company was ranked No. 4,882 on the 2013 Inc. 5000. @janinepopick




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