Netflix in June made a calculated decision to release the entire third season of Orange Is the New Black early. Not only did this thrill the OITNB fan base and generate a ton of press coverage on the new season, but it also sent a powerful message: Netflix aims to please.
Entrepreneurs can enjoy these same advantages by making strategic decisions to announce or release products before the originally promised dates. Vital “go live” dates, including new website releases, product updates and even a company’s initial release are all prime opportunities for startups to excite customers, grab press attention and earn valuable feedback.
The trick is to release early, but wisely.
Netflix faces disadvantages in trying to reach large markets of potential viewers. So similar to a startup, it’s always searching for new ways to find the target audience.
By releasing the newest season early, Netflix advertised the show while reminding people that the company has a history of doing things differently, proving to customers that it doesn’t blindly follow tradition. Netflix gives fans the power to watch when and how they wish, which builds goodwill and makes customers feel special.
In the same vein, startups can grant certain customers early access to products. The opportunity to see what a company is working on behind the scenes builds excitement and is often perceived as a reward.
In the public-relations game, the brand that comes out first often makes the biggest splash, but how can a startup carry that momentum forward? To make the most of an early release, follow these four tips:
1. Target the right customers.
Always keep the type of customer you want to attract in mind. Customers may view early-release products as half-baked, so it’s a good idea to target a specific audience with the highest potential for conversion. If conversion doesn’t occur, a strategy shift has to follow quickly.
A clear focus is critical. Who do you want to give this to, and what kind of feedback do you want from them?
2. Request feedback.
Let people in early to play around through a direct invitation. Reach out to certain individuals, and tell them, “You’ve been invited to join our VIP beta-testing group prior to the official launch.”
Also consider creating a waitlist or another way for people to sign up. Engaging early adopters offers significant benefits because these test customers using the product in the real world can provide priceless feedback. Even when a firm is more interested in testing server load time than receiving feedback, asking for it every step of the way makes participants feel valued.
3. Don’t fight expert opinion.
If people feel like they’re part of the platform, they’ll be more forgiving of its flaws and will put more effort into improving it. Don’t fight their opinions. Practice strategic vulnerability. Even if the experts are wrong, simply thank them. This will build trust with early customers and can enhance potential press.
4. Connect with the media.
Attracting press isn’t always the goal of an early release, but it’s a good way to get the media interested in the platform sooner. Don’t try to emulate successful early releases launched by other companies such as Mint or Mailbox -- a newsworthy early release must be unique.
Of course, an early release isn’t appropriate in some situations. Physical products that require testing should be released to the press first to ensure adequate coverage. If the product is new and innovative, it’s counterproductive to alert competitors. And finally, an early release is too risky for any project with uncertain development timelines.
For the right product or announcement, however, a strategic early release can work wonders.
If the success of the OITNB release has proven anything, it’s that startups don’t have to cling to traditional release structures. In fact, breaking those norms can result in more press, buzz, feedback and, most important, happy customers.