What are the implications of calling your product "beta"?


6

We have an excellent online application that we've launched. But because we're still fixing some issues it really is still "beta". What are the implications in terms of customer perception, willingness to try, etc?

We are racing to address remaining issues and pull the "beta" designation (that we have on our site associated with the product) but I'd like to get a sense of what our short-term impact is by still having it.

Much thanks!

Marketing Web

asked Oct 20 '09 at 22:45
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Chris
4,214 points
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11 Answers


6

I'm sure we're familiar with the rough technical definition: a beta is software that's "almost (but not quite) ready." If your software were instead "not ready", don't call it a beta -- it's an alpha or earlier and you shouldn't expose most of your target market to it yet, else the half-baked state would turn most of them off. A beta really should be "almost ready."

For a real beta, it ought to be clear that the software may still have minor issues and you're soliciting feedback. You ought to give your users a clear, easy way to provide feedback if something goes awry.

But consider: Google helped transform the term beta into more a marketing tool. Others have made reference to Gmail's beta state, but not tried to explain it. Here's my take:

Google's Gmail service was production-ready for quite a long time, but Google continued to call it "beta" and maintained an invitation-only system for adding new users long after it was necessary. I believe Google did that less for technical reasons and more for marketing reasons :

  • The beta aspect of Gmail perhaps made some users think "this is new, cutting edge stuff still under development." Many technology people like to think of themselves as innovators or early adopters, and Google made it seem easy for those who wanted to have such a spot on the technology adoption lifecycle curve.
  • The invitation-only system they initially had in place promoted scarcity over abundance and so perhaps some users thought "I'm special, I got invited, and I have the power to invite others." This invitation system / fake scarcity probably led to more people signing up faster.

It was brilliant. And so beta, today, is often used as a marketing tool, even if the software is ready.

answered Oct 21 '09 at 00:54
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Chris W. Rea
688 points
  • GREAT comment. That's why Textaurant is launching it's first (unpaid) client as an ALPHA test rather than a Beta. – Josh Sam Bob 10 years ago

5

I'm a techie, so weigh this opinion as you need to. When I see a beta flag, it tells me 4 things:

  • This company follows the release early and often mantra (a good thing in software).
  • This product is brand spanking new. I love getting in on betas so I can be "in the know" before David Pogue announces it in the New York Times.
  • My feedback has a chance to be heard and acted on.
  • If something acts wonky, its okay. Thats the price you pay for being an early adopter.

If you put the beta flag on, please please please (please) make a link to your blog/status updates page prominent so I can see when bugs have supposedly been fixed.

answered Oct 20 '09 at 23:25
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Rob Allen
631 points
  • Thanks. You're underlining the importance of keeping the target audience in mind. – Chris 10 years ago
  • #5 - it's made by Google ;) – Jeff O 9 years ago

3

I'd like to pass on some quick advice from a veteran entrepreneur on this subject. He said:

"Never put the word 'beta' on software that is targeted at the medical industry."

Subtly different from "Don't beta-test medical software."

Now, I'm sure the medical example seems like a no-brainer (you probably just now got shivers just IMAGINING your doctor trusting your life to something that's 'expected to crash'). But it's all marketing and misdirection. ALL software fails, whether the word 'beta', 'alpha', 'production' or whatever else is applied to it. Think about your marketing message, your position in the market, your sales cycle, the signals you're sending, etc.

Are you going to immediately get double the conversions when you lift the 'beta' moniker? Lift it! Are those new users going to bail forever when something 'expected to break' actually breaks on them? Leave it there until you fix it!

Beta is just an idea: your software will crash even when it's not officially in beta; your software may be genuinely valuable, even while still in beta.

answered Oct 21 '09 at 08:21
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Loren Norman
49 points

2

The target audience is probably worth considering as well. Customers in some industries are more conservative than in others. For example, I would avoid labeling your banking compliance software as "Beta."

answered Oct 24 '09 at 18:19
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Oleg Barshay
2,091 points

1

So many online applications have a "beta" label that the "it's full a bug" customer perception is mostly gone now. I mean, Google mail only came out of beta in July 09, 5 years after being launched!

I would agree that the BETA tag will help in case of bugs that you might have missed (within reason, if your application is really buggy, users will just think you are wasting their time).
If you are running a proper beta program with a restricted number of chosen users, you will of course catch most of bugs fairly quickly. In that case I would recommend doing several waves of beta programs, with a different set of beta users each time (so 3 waves of 20 users instead of one wave of 60), this will prevent the same bug being reported 60 times. Each wave of testers will then report different bugs and test the app more thoroughly.

One downside I see with the BETA term is that if your application is targeting the enterprise market: IT Managers will not like the BETA term at all, so bear this in mind depending on your market.

On a marketing side, the day you come out of BETA will be a good time for press releases, and generally creating some buzz about your product and your company.

answered Nov 23 '09 at 21:04
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Guillaume Justier
796 points

1

When I launched my first app, it was buggy, but it didn't have a "beta" tag on it anywhere, and there were only paid versions available.

I did, however, state that it was the "newest version" and I had a place to report any problems or bugs so they could be fixed right away.

Also, it should be noted that any of the bugs that could be found in my system would not have caused any serious harm to anyone nor would they result in major financial losses. I would never try a "beta" banking product that I ran across, but I would have no problem trying a new or "beta" music collection database service (for example).

answered Oct 23 '09 at 16:58
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Ben Mc
421 points

1

Gmail was in beta for 4 years, and eroded the meaning of the term, IMO. I do see two different approaches to this though:

First, the "beta badge", where a company simply tries to signal that a product is early in the development cycle, and may/may not work as advertised. I don't see much value in that anymore, because users have many options, and putting buggy software out is silly. Rather, release often with smaller scope, test it well (ideally automatically), and collect feedback on the VALUE (not the STABILITY) of your features.

Second, the "limited release" approach to beta, where access to the product is by invitation only. With this, users explicitly accept the concept that they are providing some level of "testing" (functional, experience, usability...), and only opt in if they want to engage at that level. This is very useful, and many companies launch their product privately first.

Upshot - go for the limited release beta, and forget the "beta badge" :)

answered Oct 24 '09 at 00:45
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Manuel M
263 points

1

I See beta as something that is expected to crash, thus if its not something I have to have I will leave and may come back at a later date. However I do often try them and only leave if they start to crash a lot and if they don't then I stick around.

A note: google had gmail in beta for years so I would not say its an exact yes/no answer.

answered Oct 20 '09 at 23:06
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Cory Mathews
326 points

1

GMail got people used to the state of contant beta, as I call this. They've been beta for like what, few years?

I think users would eventually stop seeing the 'beta' sign. This doesn't mean you could never ship.

answered Oct 20 '09 at 23:35
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Kender
166 points
  • In fact there is a great Google lab that allows you to turn the "Beta" back on! – Joseph Barisonzi 8 years ago

1

Well, the willingness to try decreases, obviously. However, the effects are likely to be small, if your application is new. Late adopters are unlikely to try your application, anyway.

Customers perception is likely to increase since you're honest about your product. Also, judgments are influenced by expectations, so it's a good thing you're keeping expectations low. Then, disappointments are likely to be attributed to the Beta status, while positive experiences will surprise your users and, therefore, improve their judgements. You may then benefit from positive word-of-mouth effects.

So, in general, it's a good thing to do. Of course, it also depends on how you communicate the Beta status.

The only counter argument, I can think of, is the need to grow quickly. This may be the case if the benefit of your application rests on positive network effects.

Hope that helps.

answered Oct 20 '09 at 23:44
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Claus Schwarm
1,599 points
  • Good points. Definitely we get cut slack from those having issues because they almost always attribute in their communications to us as being because 'we're in beta'. – Chris 10 years ago

0

That's a good question.

I would say, cut the features drastically to a couple that people seem to like; Test it hard; and release. Get some good press for that (or do it yourself with a press release that's placed on your site :) Then iterate, adding one or two features and manage the release to a subset of beta testers as already suggested. Linked-In did this; Twitter did this. You can too.

If it's not software, like my alt-energy product is, then a beta is really a pilot (though I only recently remembered to stop calling it beta)! Enough people know they are basically the same thing, but a pilot is a bit more, because it means "if we had to sell this, it will do something useful" - whereas beta means "this isn't the real (physical) product, no matter what we do"

Good luck with your real product - cut the "beta" from the site and gain peace of mind.

jm2c

answered Nov 24 '09 at 06:07
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Anonimouse
119 points

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