Betrayal of Hype: Playing Fast and Loose with Release Dates Breeds Consumer Mistrust

Betrayal of Hype: Playing Fast and Loose with Release Dates Breeds Consumer Mistrust

Yesterday, Google launched Allo on the very last day of summer, just narrowly squeezing into their Summer 2016 launch window. The product we got was compromised, and arguably doesn’t have a defined place in their product lineup, which raises the question of “Why was it launched now?”

If Google had been upfront with us and come out and said “Hey, Allo won’t be ready on time. We’re going to take an extra month or two to make sure that it has a smooth launch”, yes, there would have been some complaints, but people would have accepted it. It’s not like Google is in a rush to release Allo where every second counts. They’re already 5 to 11 years late to market (depending on who you ask and which platforms you compare it to), an extra couple of weeks wouldn’t hurt them that much. Absolute worst case scenario, it’s not ready in time for the upcoming Pixel phones’ consumer availability and has to be disabled server-side for the first couple weeks.

Instead, they released a rushed, or at the very least feature-incomplete product. They released it on the last day possible without changing the launch window.

It’s not like Google is in a rush to release Allo where every second counts. They’re already 5 to 11 years late to market

Ignoring the various problems associated with releasing an unfinished product (they’ve been covered pretty thoroughly in other articles), releasing it at the very end of a wide release window like that has its own issues. The hype surrounding the product and its announcement dies off, and in its place, malcontent breeds. People begin to question why it’s taking so long to release.

The begin to question what issues it has that are preventing it from launching. Why the company isn’t communicating about what’s going on. It results in consumers not trusting companies’ release windows. Not trusting what companies say. “Summer” gets interpreted as “late September” instead of as “sometime between May and September”. A release date of “end of the year” gets interpreted as “full announcement in late December with a launch in Q1 of the next year”. After a couple missed deadlines with no communication (or a couple deadlines made by the skin of their teeth), people stop trusting that company’s deadlines.

Those small little half-truths may not mean much by themselves, but they add up over time. Customers get tired of being disappointed over and over again, and it creates a negative mental image. It harms the consumer’s relationship with the company.

Yes, there is something to be said for the mentality of “release early, release often”, but people often forget the second half of Eric Raymond’s famous quote; “And listen to your customers”. The whole point of releasing early and often is that it allows you to get feedback from your customers, and quickly integrate it into your product. It allows you to avoid wasting time on development efforts that your clients aren’t interested in. For that to work, the first release still has to be solid enough to create that customer base. If the first release is too early, you won’t get anywhere, especially for something that relies on there being a critical mass of customers, like a messaging app.

This isn’t only true for product launches either. Software updates are a huge deal that many customers expect to come relatively quickly, but can be hard to gauge how long they will actually take to complete. Unfortunately unlike product launches, you can’t really keep updates out of the public eye (as people are going to be asking for new information about how the software that they are using will be improved), but you can temper people’s expectations. If you keep the channels of communication open with your customers and are realistic, you can avoid the rage that comes with missed deadlines and a lack of communication, and instead turn it into a feeling of connection for your clients with your company. But being realistic is vitally important. If you sell people on having updates within 15 days of announcement, or Vulkan support on launch day, or a specific launch day for the update, and you don’t communicate that you won’t be able to follow through until you are right up against the deadline, then people are going to be annoyed. People will remember that you didn’t follow through on your promise (and didn’t warn them in advance that you wouldn’t be able to follow through), and will be less likely to trust your next promise. It’s also fair for them to use that as an argument when communicating their judgement on your company (say, when not recommending a phone due to missed software update deadlines).

Jumbled Image of Google's Messaging AppsNow, I’m not saying not to hype a product up before launch. If you don’t build any anticipation, then you often wind up with a product like Spaces. It doesn’t matter if it’s a solid app, because if no one uses it and it isn’t advertised anywhere, then eventually its lack of a userbase will result in it being killed off (like what happened with Google Health, Google Reader, Google Wave, Google Latitude, Google Offers, etc.), and the loyal users of that service will be less likely to use other services from that company in the future, fearing a repeat of what happened with the service that they loved.

It’s about finding the right balance. About giving your developers enough time to put out a solid project, and timing your marketing to line up with when you should be launching. It’s about not starting the hype train too early (but giving yourself enough time to make sure that it does get started). And the way you achieve that is by communicating with your customers. By being realistic (or even conservative) with your release date expectations, and even product expectations. Ideally by not even announcing the product until it is already ready for launch (although that will depend on what type of product it is), and then either giving yourself a week or so to market it and build anticipation, or just following up on the announcement and launch with a marketing blitz in order to get the word out.

Being silent and hoping that your users will be your evangelists just doesn’t cut it. Yes, word of mouth is important, but you need more than that. You need communication and marketing as well. You need to drive consumer interaction, and you do that by actually interacting with consumers. Basic things like letting your customers know that a product launch needs to be delayed to work out some bugs go a long way.

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