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Secret Formula To Turn Beta Testing Into A Viral Success For Startups

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Much to my surprise, there is an error a lot of startups are making these days. They seem to be in denial about the potential hype they can get by marketing their beta products or services. Beta tests can be one of the most important VIRAL MARKETING TOOL for marketers.

In this blog post, find out how we at Cloudways used a beta product to generate interest of our target market and what are some amazing tools you too can use to turn your product’s beta testing into a viral marketing campaign

Beta product tests are not for project managers, anymore!

The sooner we accept this reality, the better we will be at getting successful. Gone are the days when developers or project managers used to release the product in beta for bug fixing and testing. Instead, products now require nurturing from the community. In short, they have become “community driven”.

The time is here when a product’s beta testing should go hand-in-hand with “marketing beta” testing. Yes, now we need to test digital marketing strategies, buyer personas, and unique selling points at the same time. This is what I call “marketing beta”.

Product Beta + Marketing Beta = Successful Beta

The formula is simple. Beta product testing should be used as a communication tool in order to further develop or refine a product. Here, I will not go into details of product beta, but, you can learn more here.

Beta Testing For Startups
1. Creating the landing page

We designed a dedicated landing page to invite users to the private beta. Designing a custom landing page was very critical for us as we wanted to give the proof of concept of what is about to come and what are the features it will include.

cloudways lead drop

Beta testing page of Cloudways in 2014

Unless you are Hipster or featured on TechCrunch, it is very difficult for a startup to get desired number of beta signups through a simple LaunchRock opt-in page.

 

Hence, we decided to give teasers of our platform. It worked really well and we got 500+ beta opt-ins in less than a month from a niche market.

Build a referral engine for “Viral Beta”

Your work is not over by getting a landing page designed and uploaded. It is extremely important to make it socially viral and easy for initial beta opt-ins to share it with ‘think-alike’ friends. Saad Khan wrote an excellent post explaining how startups can build referral programs for viral growth.

From the very same blog, look at this excellent example by Trevolta. They are encouraging their beta opt-ins to socially share for early access to the beta.

trevolta

Referral Marketing Example of Trevolta

Cool Tools: Launchrock, Launch Effect for WordPress, and KickoffLabs help you setup very cool beta opt-ins pages within minutes. However, if you have time, get one designed like we got one designed for our platform beta.

2. Attract the target buyers

When product beta is “developer driven”, startups mostly fail. Beta gives an excellent opportunity to validate your assumptions about the targeted buyers. Therefore, marketers should closely work with beta testers and seek the answers to following three important questions:

  1. What is that one word that comes to buyer’s mind after looking at our product?
  2. How different is our product from that of the competitors?
  3. What should we do to win you (buyer) over from our competitors?

Now the question is: How do you get the target buyers interested in your beta?

At Cloudways, since we had an existing premium quality hosting platform running for digital agencies and business, we asked our other customers to test our platform. In addition, we invited following groups to our beta:

  1. We invited lost customers and leads to beta test our new platform.
  2. We searched for some dissatisfied customers of our competitors and invited them over to try our platform.
  3. We hosted a beta opt-in page on our website and linked it to the entire website to get the traffic. Fortunately, our website was already attracting a daily targeted traffic of more than 400 visitors from search engines, referrals, and social channels.

Blogging helps your beta

Start your blog at least 3 months before the product launch.

A blog before the actual beta launch helps in generating leads, interest and sometimes, conversations. It gets you necessary seed traffic for beta and public launch of the product. It may provide you an edge over your competitors. Link your blog posts with the beta invites to your product. It helps you in building lists of people who are interested in trying your product.

Email the word out

Another interesting way to get your targeted buyers to test your beta releases is to build a list of ‘early adopters’. Include an option to opt-in for your beta testing program where they will be sent early exclusive access to the latest releases in the form where you ask them to subscribe to newsletters or promotional emails.

Cool Tools: These are some cool tools to get beta testers for your Android and iOS apps. Michal Ugor of Boomlink has shared an excellent list of 35+ resources to attract beta testers on Quora.

Startup growth

3. Attract influencers to get an ‘extra’ edge

Next step in “marketing beta” is to attract the industry influencers to try your product. Remember, beta testing is not a process to invite people to find bugs in your product. Instead, beta testing is a process to gather feedback and to align your product to the targeted buyer.

At Cloudways, we went one step ahead and invited more than 70 industry influencers to try our new platform in beta. Getting the product in front of influencers in the beta stage will help you in following four ways:

  1. It will help you in gaining the confidence of industry influencers from the start.
  2. It will get you noticed in the top league from the start.
  3. It will get you ‘thought leadership level’ feedback.
  4. Provided you succeed in impressing them, you are in for some free publicity. 😉

Locating influencers

We are in managed WordPress, Magento, and Drupal hosting industry. Here is how we searched the industry influencers (and I feel the same strategy will apply in almost all industries):

  1. We used tools like Twtrland.com and Topsy to find most influential people on Twitter.
  2. We searched for bloggers and industry experts who have at least once reviewed our competitors.
  3. We searched for the top blogs and bloggers in the industry who regularly write on WordPress, Magento, and Drupal.

Once we had them, we created a spreadsheet with all the important information about the influencers, like contacts, reference blogs and all the social profiles. We then prepared a standard pitch email and personalized the emails in accordance with the information available to us on our spreadsheet.

EXAMPLE OF CLOUDWAYS CLICK&GO EMAIL TO BETA TESTERS

Dear John Doe,

I am Wajdan Gul, Vice President for Sales and Marketing at Cloudways.

For the last few months, we have been very busy in building a “multi-app managed cloud hosting platform focused on high performance”. We have named it Click&Go and now it is ready for thorough testing and scrutiny. We are searching for honest, sharp opinions from knowledgeable people like you in order to tell us what we are doing wrong and, hopefully, what we are doing right.

————————————————————————————————–

Below are your credentials to try our Click&Go in Private Beta.

————————————————————————————————–

We want to build something that real people will love to use as much as we are enjoying in building it, as simple as that!.

I hope you will start testing Click&Go as soon as possible. We will be eagerly waiting for your feedback.

Thanks,

Wajdan Gul

Notice we mentioned that influencers would be included on a permanent page on our website featuring “Board of Contributors”. This is our way of acknowledging the efforts of these influencers who helped us in building managed hosting platform with their valued contribution.

Cool Tip: Though influencers are kind enough to beta test products just out of curiosity, giving proper credit not only helps you get influencer’s attention but customer trust as well.

4. Incentivize your beta program

One can argue that you can’t get genuine beta testers by offering incentives but everyone loves freebies, swags, and free services. At Cloudways, since we had two separate types of audience for our beta launch, the buyers and the influencers, we have kept separate incentives for both.

For buyers, we offered them 15 days (360 hours) of free cloud hosting worth $35.

For influencers, we offered them 15 days (360 hours) of free cloud hosting and, something that goes with their reputation, their name in our “Board of Contributors” list. As earlier mentioned, this list will be a permanent part of our website.

Cool Tip: Don’t market your beta program on incentives or swags you are offering. Market your product beta on the basis of product features. Incentives are just a small way to thank people for taking out their time to review your product.

5. Personalize your communication

Traditional beta approach tells us to send an email blast with an access to the beta product to the users by using automated email delivery tools. However, ‘marketing beta’ approach tells us to personalize our message for each and every member of beta invite list.

Cool Tips: Following are few important things to personalize in pitch emails:

  1. Greet them by name and mention your name and position.
  2. If beta user opted-in earlier, remind them when, why, and where did they opt.
  3. If you found them through social media websites, search engines, or any other channels, tell them why are they on the list and why is their opinion important for your product’s future.
  4. If it is an influencer or a reviewer, reference the last review you found useful.
  5. Include beta product access details.
  6. Give beta users the URL or email address to submit feedback or review.
  7. Tell beta users about the benefits they can avail in this beta program.

6. Go mainstream and approach the Press

If you have are friends with writers on popular blogs like TechCrunch, you can skip this section. For everyone else—well, most of us that is, approaching the mainstream technology and startup blogs to help you in telling your story to everyone else out there is a wise choice. approach the mainstream technology and startup blogs to help you tell your story to everyone else out there.

6 things to do before you approach the Press

However, you cannot just start contracting the press without any preparation. Consider the following checklist before you make this move:

  1. Make sure you have a bug free product.
  2. Make sure you have a dedicated landing page explaining your product.
  3. Make sure you have a video explaining your product.
  4. Link similar stories published by smaller or industry blogs.
  5. Include reviews of your product by industry influencers.
  6. Give them the approximate size of your market using Google Keywords Tool and Trends.

Cool Tips: Here is the list of top 15 tech blogs with the email addresses of their writers and contributors published by Link-Assistant. On Quora, Mircea Goia also shared a comprehensive list of tech and start up blogs that might be interested in your story. You can take some inspiration from this fabulous launch story and methodology of Udemy.

7. Gather feedback

Since the majority of the beta programs still follow traditional beta approach, I have seen a lot of beta programs end without getting actual customer feedback because product owners think they have enough data after ‘machine studying’ tester’s usage behavior.

In fact, this actually kills the very purpose of ‘marketing beta’. It is very important to gather objective and open-ended feedback using tools like Surveymonkey.com (only if you are not using a beta management platform). It is also important that your feedback method encourages fruitful discussions with your respondents.

Cool Tips

  1. Keep feedback questionnaire objective and only give open-ended fields where you need new ideas.
  2. Mention future development plans and feature additions, so that you don’t get ideas for the features already under development.
  3. Divide the survey into different parts on the basic functionality, use cases, tools, or features.

7 Key Takeaways

I will conclude my blog post by summarizing the whole process in 8 simple points:

  1. Beta product tests are not for project managers anymore. Marketing Beta should go hand in hand.
  2. Don’t end pages with “Thank you for subscribing”. Put end to these pages with a viral referral marketing look like Trevolta.
  3. Start your blog at least 3 months for the beta to attract visitors from the start and link your content with beta invites.
  4. Get industry influencers to review your product in beta and encourage them to write about your product and their experience. Remember, incentives are only a way to thank and not to bribe. 😉
  5. Keep your communication with beta testers on a personal level rather than through automated emails for invites and feedback.
  6. Approach the mainstream press only when your product is bug-free and you are capable of handling the rush.
  7. Gather personalized feedback through surveys and build a relationship with each reviewer to turn them into ambassadors.

Concluding Message

The process that I have explained here is not the final word. Perhaps, many of you might have better things to share. It would be awesome if you could suggest your ways of doing a “marketing beta”.

Perhaps, you might want to become a part of your marketing beta. If you are interested to see how we are running the show at Cloudways for yourselves, try enrolling for our Click&Go beta by clicking the button below.

Update: Just now we are launching Cloudways Startup Program in BETA. Follow the launch to see how Cloudways practices the concept of ‘marketing beta’.


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Wajdan Gul

Wajdan Gul is Vice President for Sales and Marketing at Cloudways. He keeps a keen eye on marketing practices inside as well as outside the cloud industry. You can follow him on Twitter: @wajdangul

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