Future outlook: Your brand in permanent beta

Recently, I attended the 2013 IABC World Conference in New York City. This annual conference attracts 1400+ communicators from all corners of the globe and features leading thinkers, business leaders and some of the most prominent brands in the world. One session I really enjoyed was the general session: Taking the pulse of the new generation: Communicating effectively with Millennials. Frankly, as someone who sometimes fits into the definition of this generation, I did not go expecting to learn much.  However, I was completely surprised by the smart, insightful and interesting discussion by panellists, including Sandra Lopez of Intel, Nick Shore of MTV and Michael Lewis of Teach for America. The panel was moderated by Jake Katz, of YPulse.

Anyway, I’m not going to go into the session in detail, instead I want to highlight one insight, which, I think as this generation grows and develops into business leaders, is something we’ll start to see more and more of in a business context. One of the panellists described how millenials “live their lives in permanent beta.” Particularly because life streaming is the way they grew up, publishing and presenting their image is not a matter of drafts, approvals, revisions then launch—it’s updated, in real-time and subject to feedback loops along the way from a much broader perspective.

In the end, the person can have a much stronger sense of his or her image and is likely better off for it. The concept of “permanent beta” is not really new. Many startup companies deliberately launch products this way. In fact, I’m sure the term actually came from a brand that truly lives this mindset--Google. Google routinely launches products pre-maturely and intentionally keeps them in the “beta” stage for long periods of time. Gmail, for example, was only moved out of beta after five years.

What if you could apply this to your branding? Since the true definition of a brand is what others perceive it to be, the notion of permanent beta means you are building in feedback loops to your process and constantly refining as you go. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have a strategy—in fact to employ permanent beta correctly you absolutely need one, and it needs to incorporate how feedback is handled. If you just take every suggestion anyone provides, you fall into the ‘decision by committee’ trap. Have a process for collecting feedback, interpreting and only changing if it’s aligned with your overall strategy and clearly represents a needed change.

Once you launch your brand you might start shifting your mindset from set in stone to one of constant improvement. Social media in particular makes it easy to ‘listen in’ on what people are saying about your brand, take that to heart and launch improvements when you can.

This is obviously a huge challenge for many companies—you have process and systems in place, stakeholders to please and you’re probably already juggling to accomplish more with fewer resources.
The good news is you can plant the seeds now to move your organization in the right direction.

Three tips to inspire the ‘permanent beta’ mindset in your organization.

  1. Ask for feedback internally, on everything. When working with your team, remember to always ask for feedback. The more you ask for feedback, the more others will feel comfortable providing it. When receiving feedback, keep your common goal in mind and what you are working towards and not to take anything personally.
  2. Use your social media channels to gather feedback. When launching a new initiative or brand, if you’ve got a well-established social media audience, ask what they think. You can do this informally or even use a free survey tool to whip up a quick survey. This activity can help you set the right mindset so in the future your colleagues can imagine baking it into your process.
  3. Acknowledge mistakes as learning opportunities. So many people are afraid to make mistakes, but they are inevitable. When you or a colleague makes a mistake, instead of getting angry or frustrated, look at what the root cause might have been (cumbersome process? Lack of direction? Misinterpretation of instruction?) and work together to extract a lesson from the mistake. Many organizational cultures evolve into a situation where employees are afraid to contribute or to be held accountable for making mistakes—and this mentality can lead to a toxic workplace.
These are three attributes that embody the “permanent beta” mentality. While it might not be feasible in your near future to roll this out across your organization, these three steps can help your team start thinking in a way that promotes constant improvement and innovation.

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