We discuss central questions in weak, first-order structural transitions by means of a magnetic analog model. A theory including fluctuation effects is developed for the model, showing a dynamical response with softening, fading modes and a growing central peak. The model is also analyzed by a two-dimensional Monte Carlo simulation, showing clear precursor phenomena near the first-order transition and spontaneous nucleation. The kinetics of the domain growth is studied and found to be exceedingly slow. The results are applicable for martensitic transformations and structural surface-reconstructive transitions.