Product Beta Testing & Market Testing
When a company sets out to design and develop a new product, a step by step process is usually followed. A vital part of this process is the product beta test and at times, a product market test. Through these two methods, a company can get an understanding of the product’s real world usage and use feedback to work out any problems of usage difficulties. The beta test can help validate the product itself through a control group. In addition, a market test can validate the product as well as the marketing and distribution plans, the product support, and technical assistance if applicable through a control market launch.
In this article we will look at 1) product beta testing, and 2) market testing.
PRODUCT BETA TESTING
Beta Testing is the test of a product by actual users in real life situations. The testing can last for an extended period and participating users may include customers, partners or other stakeholders who will have feedback but no direct link with the company. At this point, the product will have all the specifications of the actual launch model, and will closely resemble it in all other aspects, ideally including packaging. Beta testing is usually conducted for three basic reasons.
- It is the most accurate way to understand how interested users are in the actual product and its features. Not all features may be desirable to the consumer. In addition, it is vital to use this information to understand whether the user will actually be willing to purchase the product.
- Once the first reason is met, the next step is to observe how the product is used and how durable it is under normal situations of use. There may be some situations or conditions where the product may not perform at its optimal.
- And most importantly, the information received in this test will need to be recorded and reviewed to identify all major or minor changes that are necessary or desirable to further increase the worth of the product. The features that cause the most excitement in users may also be used to design and direct the marketing and sales campaigns and strategies.
Objectives of Beta Testing
- Product Management
- Deliver promised user experience: Through a beta test, it is possible to ensure that all product components such as quality, features, installation, support and delivery perform as they should in order to provide the promised user experience.
- Achieve User Acceptance: In new products or products with new functionalities, the beta tests helps achieve true user acceptance and ensures that the product meets the user requirements.
- Assess Competition: By including a competing product into the beta test, the team can often determine customer reactions to the quality, features and functionality of their closest competition.
- Identify Possible Issues: Beta testing allows a real world usage situation within a wider variety of environments and situations that is not possible for an internal quality assurance team to simulate. This means that often undetected issues can be addressed in a timely manner.
- Evaluate Real World Performance: A product may perform excellently in a controlled environment but fail in the real world. Through beta testing, a predictive benchmark of actual performance can be gained.
- Retesting Solved Issues: Often, beta tests may be conducted to ensure that any issues that were fixed remain functioning properly and that they have been fixed to the users’ specifications and requirements.
- Enhance User Experience: Beta tests can be used to gather insight into actual usage patterns for the product. Detailed feedback is gathered from users and any usability issues encountered are noted. These can then either be redesigned or customer service staff prepared to help users manage these issues.
- Ease New User Experience: Beta tests can help create a more seamless introduction to a new product for a new user.
- Streamline Support Process: Once user issues are identified and addressed, these can then feed into a strong product support system.
- Create Support Documentation: Issues that users face during the beta testing process can be used to develop and edit customer support documentation.
- Mock reviews: Another part of the beta test process can be the collection of mock reviews. By asking testers to articulate their experience in words, the team can get a realistic picture of how the product will fare in real life online reviews.
- Testimonials and References: Since beta users are the first real customers of a product, their testimonials can be used as references for future marketing and PR campaigns. In some cases, they can also be used as references for new clients.
- Gain Loyal Early Adopters: If early access is provided to the right group of enthusiastic users, they can prove invaluable to the strength of the product. Early adopters often act as positive public relations channels for a product and encourage others to purchase.
- Pre-Launch Awareness: In certain types of products, a beta test can help create a positive buzz and a viral awareness among the target audience. This buzz can be translated into high initial sales.
Benefits of Beta Testing
By applying to achive its objectives, beta testing can help a company achieve an accurate measure of customer validation and a resulting higher quality product. These then lead to:
- A reduction in production costs
- An increase in sales
- A decrease in returns
- An increased level of customer satisfaction
- An improvement in the product planning process
Successful Beta Testing
Steps in Beta Testing
Beta tests can be managed through a number of processes or stages. One common factor to any process should be attention to detail. The higher the degree of attentiveness that goes into each step, the more likely the possibility of meeting any expectations one has from the process. One basic 6 step process to run a beta test is:
Before setting out to run a beta test, it is pertinent that the team define what they aim to achieve at the end. A proper set of expectations and objectives can help ensure a successful test process. Clearly defined objectives can help ensure that the test audience is relevant and the right number of people are selected. It can also help determine the amount of time needed for a thorough test phases and that everyone understands what the end goal is. It may also be relevant to decide on deadlines or a timeline, a complete record of the products current features and situation, and a definition of the target market selected.
2. Engage Participants
Once a plan of action is decided and set into place, it is now time to select the right test group. The selected candidates should be a good mix of the intended target market. They should also not have any previous positive or negative bias towards the company or its products. The size of the group will depend on the nature and complexity of the product, the available time, the goals to be achieved, and the nature of the industry.
3. Distribute Product
With the audience identified and prepared, the product to be tested is now made available to them. The most effective user experience can be recorded when almost all details of the product are as close to the original intended one. This means the packing and any supporting materials should also be provided.
4. Collect Feedback
Feedback starts coming in once the beta testers start using the product. This may be in the form of comments, quotes, surveys, testimonials or interviews. There should be a system in place to accurately record this information as this is the basis of re-designs, new designs, and marketing and PR communications and may need to be revisited repeatedly.
5. Evaluate Feedback
The data collected till now is extremely valuable for the product and the company’s future plans. The system in place mentioned in the last step should allow the data to be accessed and organized. This data then needs to be reviewed critically and relevant results incorporated into the product design and support.
With the relevant feedback recorded, analyzed and utilized, it is now time to conclude the project. The participants should be given feedback about the project and the product they should be thanked or rewarded for their time and effort. A good reward plan may help cement their place as product champions going forward.
100 Tips for Better Beta Tests
Product Market Test
The market test is not always conducted by a product design team. It may be prohibitively expensive, or a small launch may allow a competitor the time to catch up to the new product. Whether or not to employ this process will depend on a product’s category, the company’s operational flexibility and strategy. If there is enough confidence in the product’s performance potential, the marketing and launch strategy and planning and an accurate estimation of potential sales, then the market test may be skipped. But if there is any doubt or need to further refine the plan, then either of two market test options may be employed:
1. The Simulated Market test
As the name indicates, this is a detailed simulation where a specialized market research firm might create a scenario close to an original situation. The consumer will then be given access to the product and mathematical models and assumptions may be used to get an idea of sales or market share potential.
2. Trial Selling
In this situation, a small market will be identified as a trial area. This could be either a specific channel, a specific geographic location or a certain demographic. Though small is scope, the marketing and launch plan will be identical to the full scale scenario that has been mapped out
Objectives of Market Testing
Through market testing, a company can attain the following objectives like:
- Understanding the demand and acceptance for a product
- Achieving greater accuracy in full scale launch
- Streamlining production, distribution and product support systems
- Mitigating risk to investment
- Making relevant changes and adjustments to the product itself and the marketing plan if needed
Gaining Objective Insight
One vital aspect of running a market test is objective feedback on the product. Usually, the product development team is too deeply invested to see all sides of the product and potential flaws or glitches. Even a separate quality assurance team may not be able to replicate situations that an entire selected segment of the target audience can. There can be a tendency to treat the product as perfect with no major changes needed. But often, with critical and objective feedback from the target audience, the team may find themselves taking away an innovative stage.
Key Questions before Starting Market Testing
Before setting out to launch a test case in the market, it is important for the team and the organization to ask and answer the following questions:
1. When to Launch?
The nature of the product and the industry dynamics may determine the answer to this question. If these do not help decide, then the company needs to see what the best time is to minimize risk and maximize gains.
2. Where to Launch?
The ideal test case would be a segment of the market that represents the whole as accurately as possible. One hundred percent replicability is not possible, but the closer it is, the more relevant the data gathered will be. The segment needs to be one where monitoring and feedback is possible.
3. What Information is needed?
Clear goals should be set in place before setting out to test. The information collected will then be evaluated and analyzed against these preset goals.
4. How Long Should it be?
An ideal time period should be clearly identified for the test market run. This will depend on the company’s strategy and plan for the product as well as the competitive environment. A test market case can run anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 years depending on the specific industry conditions.
Possible Issues with Market Testing
Test markets are a valuable means of gathering additional data before a large scale launch and may end up ensuring a successful full scale roll out. Despite the advantages, there are some disadvantages to keep in mind. These include
- Replicability – Best efforts may be made to ensure that the most representative market or area is chosen for the market test. But none will be an exact representation of the larger market that has to be targeted. All test market results need to be evaluated keeping potential distortions in mind.
- Effectiveness – By the time a company is ready to test its product, major investments have already been made in planning and designing the product. The benefits from a test market scenario may therefore be limited. On the other hand, a test phase may give the competitor a warning and allow them to prepare for retaliation, and in the process take away any lead time in which to engage customers and increase sales.
- Costs – The aim of a market test is to decrease risk for investment. But a controlled test may still incur significant costs of its own and may not end up being a feasible solution.
The development and deployment of any new service or product is rife with risk and the potential of failure. Any steps that can be taken to mitigate this risk may end up making the difference between success and failure. This is why a beta or a market test are a vitally important part of any product development plan and need to be given due importance and attention.