During the testing stage, the offering is tested, first in the lab and then with real customers. Lab testing is also called alpha testing. Alpha testing ensures that the offering works like it’s supposed to in a variety of different environments—that it meets its specifications, that is. For example, Kraft might launch a new food product that has to work in hot climates, cold climates, high humidity, dry climates, and high altitudes—all conditions that can change how well the product works.
The next step is beta testing. During beta testing, actual customers make sure the offering works under real-world conditions. Beta testing not only tests whether the offering works as advertised but also tests the offering’s delivery mechanisms, service processes, and other aspects of marketing the product. This step can be an expensive. Depending on the product, some companies might find it better to simply launch the product and let the market respond to, or test, it once it is available for purchase.
In B2B settings, beta tests are usually conducted with lead users and preferred customers. The developer of the product needs a strong relationship with these customers because the product might still have bugs that need to be ironed out. If the relationship between the parties is “iffy,” and the product or service needs a significant amount of changes, beta testing could damage the relationship between the two parties and hurt the developer of the product’s sales.
Simultaneous to testing the offering’s ability to meet its specs, the company is also developing and testing the marketing communication plan that will be used to launch the product. Many companies involve consumer panels or user communities, both for testing the offering and the communication plan. As we mentioned, JCPenney solicits the advice of a user community for its Ambrielle line of lingerie (you can listen to Laura Carros, who developed the community, in Chapter 14 "Customer Satisfaction, Loyalty, and Empowerment"). The company frequently runs concepts by the group as well as sends actual prototypes to users to try on and report back to the company. Similarly, the data warehousing company Teradata has a “partners” organization that consists of a community of users who participate in the firm’s product design and testing.