Google Glass

Everyone knows that in order to make an omelet, you have to crack a few eggs. Apparently that old adage is core to Google’s development strategy, according to a company representative speaking about Google Glass at SXSW.

According to Mashable, Astro Teller, head of the Google X division from whence Glass came, told the crowd “if you want to make a ton of progress, you have to make a ton of mistakes.” He was referring, of course, to the somewhat bumpy ride that Google Glass has had since its introduction.

He admitted that they made one major mistake with the intentionally-public beta testing phase: going a little TOO public.

What Happened?

See, because Glass is what’s referred to in the tech world as a ‘disruptive’ technology, Google needed to get a great deal of public feedback early on in order to make the final product (whatever that may turn out to be) the best it can be. With that in mind, they launched the Google Explorers program where early adopters could integrate Glass into their lives and give feedback. They took it a step further though, with various publicity stunts like having models sport the tech at New York Fashion Week.

Astro Teller is still certain that Google Explorers was the right approach for the launch:

“We learned a lot of things about the tech, like the battery. It was also valuable for social testing, and I’m really grateful for all of the fearless pioneers who went on that adventure with us.” (Mashable)

Where Teller admits that Google went wrong was by drumming up far too much publicity around the initial rollout. He doesn’t go into specifics about WHY he thinks this was problematic, but here’s my best guess:

While it was useful to have dedicated members of the public test the early product, drawing so much attention to Glass early on invited scrutiny and criticism from people who were not on board with the concept of the technology yet. That “social testing” that Teller refers to resulted in a lot of cultural backlash and really damaged the Glass brand when it was still in its infancy – before it had brand advocates to come its defense.

What Can You Learn?

While your business is most likely much smaller than Google, there are still some lessons that you can take away from these insights about the Glass rollout:

  1. Test publicly, but keep it private.
    If you are considering introducing a new concept – be it a new product, service, or system – it’s a good idea to get initial feedback while you still have time to make changes based on what you learn. Identify a number of clients who you think represent your audience and who will give you honest and constructive feedback. Give them access, but keep it quiet beyond that.
  1. Before creating controversy, create loyalty.
    If you’re considering making a controversial move of any kind, think long and hard about whether or not your brand can survive the possible backlash. Because Google at large has such a valuable brand and such loyal advocates, the tiny splash that was created by the Glass controversy was not enough to turn the ship. However, if your brand is still a little boat, a polarizing move might have greater effects. If you have no choice, or are determined to proceed, do your best to create or identify brand advocates who are active on social media and will speak out on your behalf if the conversation takes a turn.
  1. In the end, stand by your choices.
    Whether or not you agree with Astro Teller that a public release of an early product prototype was a wise move, you have to respect his conviction. People love to play armchair quarterback, and will be quick to criticize big brands’ actions. But when the brand’s representative comes out and agrees with the critics (i.e., yes, we went too public too fast) it really helps take the wind out of the naysayers’ sails. If you can own up to the consequences while still standing by your decision, you’re in a strong position to survive a controversy.

Have you ever made a controversial decision for your brand? What was your approach to handling the outcome? Tell us about it in the comments below!

About the Author: Sarah Matista is the Content Marketing Manager at Webs, where she also manages marketing for Pagemodo – a suite of social media tools. Loves marketing, small businesses, and whales. Get more from Sarah on the Webs Blog, Twitter, and Google+.

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