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Samsung’s release, and subsequent recall, of combustible Galaxy 7 phones showed the danger of rushing a product to market. And while not every failed release is quite so fiery, a too-early debut can really hurt your reputation.

We asked the experts how you can ensure your offering is really ready for its big debut.

Lose the shroud of secrecy

“There’s a lot of pressure within organizations to get stuff out. I’m a fan of Google’s ‘forever beta’ philosophy. It works by releasing a product as it’s developing to a steadily growing group of fans. The philosophy is that the product is forever in beta mode, and that you’re constantly accepting feedback from these users, which can then be applied to the product.

“The advantage of this approach is that it generates some word-of-mouth promotion. Ad dollars are more expensive than ever, and they don’t have the impact that they used to. If you get an early adopter, a fan, and you bring them into the project and show them what you’re working on, they’re going to be on your side more than they would be otherwise, and when you launch they’re likely to be your consumer advocates. And if something does go wrong, you’ll be better equipped to handle it, because you’ll have fans that will be willing to stand by your product.

“This approach also shows you’re listening to what your audience wants. Think of Craigslist: Someone once asked founder Craig Newmark how the site become so successful, and he said that he just kept doing what the people using it told him to do. I don’t think Samsung took that approach.”

—Bob Nunn, Co-founder & Chief Brand Mechanic, The Marketing Garage, Toronto

Test objectively, and test often

“My favourite question to ask before we start a test period for a client is ‘What’s keeping you up at night?’ That lets us understand where they are in their development cycle, and also how much—and what kind of—testing we need to do. Are they looking for early-stage quality testing? Are they geared toward customer acceptance?

“When it comes to testing the product with potential customers, finding the right participants is key. We want testers to be what we call ‘targeted enthusiastic strangers.’ ‘Targeted’ means they represent your actual audience in terms of technical and demographic segmentations; ‘enthusiastic’ means they show us that what we’re testing is something they’re really interested in; and ‘strangers’ because something many companies do, inappropriately, is bring in their staff, friends and family, who are typically biased.

“It’s also critical to communicate with the testers early on, to set expectations and really emphasize how important their feedback is and how they’re going to impact the product. Finally, it helps if at the end there’s some kind of incentive for the tester, like receiving a final version of the product once it’s released.”

—Luke Freiler, CEO, Centercode, Orange County, Calif.

Plot out worst-case scenarios

“I recommend you don’t put in self-imposed deadlines; wait until you have the testing done. But if you absolutely have to meet a deadline, then have the processes in place to be ready for a recall: What are the best channels to communicate that? How do you make sure your customers are not only aware of the problem, but also incentivized to return the product so you reduce your liability? You need to have everyone in the room talking about that ahead of time if you think there’s a significant risk—and for a technology company, there’s always a significant risk.”

Noël Fisher, Director of Creative Services & Marketing, Schneider Associates, Boston, Mass.

Don’t dawdle if things go wrong

“If you do screw up with a product launch, transparency is absolutely essential. Samsung responded very quickly, but without seeming to understand the problem. We live in a world where companies have to launch products quickly, and so mistakes will happen. But the way that companies respond is key. Speak from the top, and make sure that you have all your information before you do.”

—Lisa Shepherd, Founder, The Mezzanine Group, Toronto

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