Google's Use of Beta Has to Stop

Last Updated May 30, 2011 11:49 PM EDT



Google founders must think they are much smarter than everyone else. In many areas, I am sure they are. But in others, such as marketing, perhaps they could learn a few things.

Let's take their use of what some analysts call "perpetual beta." As Knowledge@Wharton notes in a recent post, Google often keeps products in this trial state of beta for long periods -- gmail was in beta for five years.

This probably accomplishes two things: the "techies" think the products are cool and cutting edge, and the greater public has lowered expectations. When the products crash, the company also has a great excuse. What do you expect, it is a beta test version? When the product works, expectations are exceeded and everyone lives happily ever after.

Consumers, though, are more than happy to live with the charade as long as the products are free. But what about when customers have to pay for products that they rely upon?

Google recently has entered different arenas - consumer electronics and cloud computing - where the target audience segments (or "locks") have higher expectations. To satisfy the needs of this audience, the "beta test" positioning, or product image, is not the right "key." Why? Consumers that pay for, and rely on, their smart phones and tablet computers, will not be happy if they are unreliable. Similarly, to get enterprises to switch from Microsoft Office to Google's cloud computing and electronic mail products, enterprises cannot tolerate the risk associated with beta test versions.

Lack of platform control means there will be problems


The fact that Google's software runs on hardware from different manufacturers complicates the problem. Who is responsible if the user experiences problems? Errors can be from hardware, software, the mobile phone service, or operator error. Who should the customer call to solve the problem? Google? Verizon? Motorola? If Google wants to be successful competing in the consumer electronics and enterprise spaces, they need to resolve these issues. Customers need to make one call, or stop, to get resolution.

Google's needs to 'grow up'


Google has entered a new market, and they have not yet proven that they are ready to support the customers in this market. The problems with Motorola Xoom, Google TV, and some Android phones cannot be swept under the rug as beta versions. The products have to deliver on the promise of the positioning. In spite of their market capitalization and great success with search, Google needs to grow up and learn how to make the changes necessary to enter new markets or turn the responsibility for Google-platform products to someone else that will take the responsibility to support them.


Entering a new market

As the marketplace changes and you pursue different market segments, you need to do the following:

  1. Create new positioning strategies, or product images (keys), to fit the needs of these segments (locks).
  2. Insure that the products deliver on the promise of these images.
  3. If different parties provide different components of the product (hardware, operating system, apps, and wireless service), someone has to take responsibility for the problem, or all involved will lose business.
  4. Hiding behind "perpetual beta" works when the product is free, but doesn't work when customers pay or the business stakes are high.
Is there anything you would add to this list?

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  • Ira Kalb

    Ira Kalb is president of Kalb & Associates, an international consulting and training firm, and professor of marketing at the Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California. He has won numerous awards for marketing and teaching, authored ten books and created marketing inventions that have made clients and students more successful. He is frequently interviewed by various media for his expertise in branding, crisis management and strategic marketing. Follow him on Twitter at @irakalb