BA 850
Sustainability-Driven Innovation


Philosophies of Microtesting


The "Product Launch" Mindset

There tends to be a belief in testing, developing, and releasing new offerings that is based in the practices and norms of decades past instead of what is possible today, and I would like to delve into this a bit.

When you hear about "product launch," it tends to be framed as a time of finality, that when launch happens, that is IT. The button is pushed, the impact will happen shortly thereafter.

Think of the very linguistics of the term "product launch"... there aren't too many occasions when you get a "do over" on things which are "launched." Oddly, we, as a society and a profession, have elected to have the dominant metaphor for selling "innocuous new product #8956" to be the same term we use for missiles and rockets.

Furthermore, piggybacking on the launch metaphor is that product launch is the "big date," used to rally teams and give visibility to programs, as if the organization is launching a man into orbit. Calendars are marked, countdowns are created, lavish lunches from Chipotle are had for all supporting our product astronauts in their epic journey to market.

There's one problem with the launch mindset, and that is that it is significantly outmoded, especially when it comes to introducing new offerings into new spaces.

If you're simply adding that "innocuous new product #8956" alongside your other 8955 products, the launch mindset may work for you. But if you're releasing a sustainability-driven innovation into a new space, and a category your organization has not sold into before, the launch mindset can be exceptionally counterproductive.

As long as so much emphasis is placed on this single, terminal, end-all launch date, it means that much of the testing will have to be based on closed tests, surveys, and other hypotheticals. It makes sense why stated preference methodologies, despite significant flaws and inaccuracies, could become so popular, as 'There is no way we could possibly sell product before launch!'

Consider also that the launch mindset likely served people well in times when the dominant media were newspaper, radio, TV, catalog, and the like. When you are buying airtime and page ads weeks and months in advance, there was a need for definite dates around which to schedule media.

Today though, for all of the emphasis any organization may place on their product launch, what are the chances it means anything to customers? In all the consumeristic love of things, how many product launch dates really make it into our consciousness every year, especially after removing Apple from consideration? Three? Five?

And what are the chances your epic product launch date will have so much pre-release power to find itself launched into the stratosphere of public consciousness on Day One? Perhaps zero?

I would like us to consider, for our lean, highly iterative, highly explorative work in creating sustainability-driven offerings, a new philosophy from which to function.

Microtesting: An Approach Inspired by Biologists

Imagine a stream of consciousness connecting us all for hours a day. Our thoughts, our feelings, our needs, what we want for lunch, how we will get there, classes from our favorite University, any and every thought happening in this massive whitewater. This is the internet.

So, if we seek to learn what is happening within that torrent of information, we have the ability to do what a marine biologist would do, and that is dipping a small sampling net into different locations, at different times, and with different mesh sizes, and recording what fish happen to appear in the net.

We are not damming the river to capture and inventory every fish. We are not artificially partitioning the river to create a "simulated environment." We are not trying to blindly calculate how many fish are in this specific stretch of this river by applying some obsolete calculation or methodology.

We are simply, silently, and invisibly dipping a net into the water and seeing what actually happens. This is the philosophy of what I call microtesting.

If we are engaging in microtesting, we must set aside the single-shot Product Launch Mindset, as we will be testing propositions and conducting tests online using a variety of tactics. If you go by the strictest definition, these tactics will indeed constitute "releasing" (or more appropriately, "pre-releasing") the offering to a limited number of customers. It is designed to facilitate small, tightly designed, limited-term tests in the live market from which we can refine the offering. Importantly, it is entirely within your control to limit exactly how many people see the stimulus, exactly what stimulus they see, when you choose to pause the campaign, and even to be able to screen competitors from seeing the stimuli. Want to test around a geographic area in which you may be building a limited test market? You can do that, as well.

Microtesting embraces flexibility and what is possible with the new media, granting us unprecedented control over what we test, how we test, and ultimately, what we learn.

Importantly, if your organization still wants a big Launch for the offering, it certainly can, but you will ensure the Launch is based on live learnings, proven messages, and fact.

In the next Lesson, we will cover some of the tactics of microtesting and how they may be applied at this phase in the innovation process to provide us with live data on virtually anything we seek to learn about the offering.

Five word summary - Testing and data in real time