Beta. As an industry, we seem to love that word. It conjures up ideas of excitement. Things that are in beta aren’t fully baked. They’re rough around the edges. They have cracks. Beta means, it’s not perfect. When technology and software companies would offer a beta preview of their latest creation, geeks like me, would get giddy. Getting access to something beta wasn’t something everyone received. We were part of an exclusive club by getting to experience something in beta. We were all a little cooler…in our own minds.
Somewhere along the way, as social platforms and behaviors grew, we created this belief that if something is in beta, people and companies were some how courageous for sharing it with you and the world. Our comfort with letting you look at, play with and experience something in beta is supposed to mean we’re heroic.
I’ll raise my hand and call myself out. Guilty. Yep, I’m guilty of perpetuating that concept. After all, to live your life in beta is to acknowledge we are, in fact, not perfect. Fail fast, right? Launch something, “throw it out there” and let’s “listen” to feedback in “real time” is better than testing something behind closed doors, right? Have we become a voyeur society? Perhaps. At least, that excuse, would help explain our love affair with beta.
Betas has some how grown from a purely technical term to define the current evolution of a product to the word that gives license to be mediocre. Calling something beta has now become the way to absolve ourselves for creating things aren’t very good. I mean, how can you call something bad, if it’s in beta? If it’s in beta, we’re still refining it and frankly you should just be thankful for the privilege of seeing this half baked idea, product, experience before it’s out of beta.
This has been going on for quite some time now. So what’s got me blogging about it, you ask? We’ll get there. Let’s start with a few quotes:
Being the first to do something new and complex is usually hard and expensive. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not the future.
For now, brands have to start somewhere.
Nobody tries. Nobody fails. Nobody wins.
And trying will only make it better.
If the marketing “community” is successful at tearing itself down in the pursuit of building up the profiles of individuals too fickle to be bothered, then we all lose.
At the heart of it, these are nearly all excuses for why something isn’t good. Because, it’s in the “early days”…because we all need to “start somewhere”…because if you don’t try, you’ll never “win.” At this point, let’s just quote the entire line of Successories, starting with “You can’t steal 2nd base and keep your foot on 1st.”
- You can’t judge or critique it
- You should accept and excuse mediocrity, in the name of progress
When did it come to this? Really? I’m sorry, but when I think about my role at the Campbell Soup Co., I know I have a real responsibility to do no harm to a beloved, cherished, admired and respected brand. It’s a responsibility I take seriously.
Delivering mediocrity under the guise of “beta”, won’t advance our thinking or our execution. Accepting mediocrity doesn’t create future leaders. Embracing mediocrity doesn’t make us better. Is everything we do, perfect? No. But, do we accept it something that’s not perfect, shrug our shoulders and say, “well, it’s in beta.” No. That’s just not our culture. We have higher expectations for ourselves.
I think Google really nails the use of the label, “beta” Beta, for Google, doesn’t not mean a buggy, unusable, mediocre product. Those types of products and ideas are housed under their “Labs” group. Beta for Google means significant changes may be made to the product. Gmail spent 5 years in beta and Google News spent 4 years in beta. They were not mediocre. Google didn’t say, “hey, we’re trying here, please overlook how bad this is right now…because technology will change, making it better…and if we aren’t trying and failing, then we aren’t focusing on the future.” They have a higher standard to bear for their consumers.
The marketing and advertising industry is in a significant state of flux. As we all look to make sense of the ever changing landscape, we’re trying to navigate, don’t be mediocre. Don’t offer excuses. Don’t become a “me too” in search of catching lightening in a bottle. Be better than that. Be much better than that.
We should never trade the promise of a short term gain at the expense of long term pain. I learned that in 1998, from Kevin Flatt, when I was working at Fallon. Brands are built over years. They’re built by having purposeful positioning, insights driven strategy and roadmaps that ensure they’re able to remain culturally relevant. These principles haven’t changed, just because we now have social media, big data and a sharing economy.
Think before you tweet. Don’t be a gimmick. Know your brand, it’s heritage and where it’s going.
Oh, also, please don’t judge this blog post. It’s in beta.