Science

Editor’s Note: Scott Jones is the VP of Marketing at Origami Logic. He is a regular columnist for Media Post and this article first appeared on Media Post in April 2015.

While still the steward of brands, marketers have relinquished much of the brand control to the audience they are trying to attract. As a result, experience management has become a main responsibility of the marketing team. From first impression, through bonding, and ultimately long-term loyalty, marketers are faced with an ongoing challenge of changing customer preferences, new interaction options, and an advertising environment that is ever expanding.

To cope with such a dynamic reality, and still continue to make progress, many marketers have embraced a testing model where hypotheses are defined, test plans are implemented, and positive outcomes are promoted. What this model misses, however, is an emphasis on learning. And it assumes that all tests will have a positive outcome. What marketers should focus on is transitioning from test-and-promote to experiment-and-learn. 

With tests, our mindset is often to evaluate results based on some expected outcome: “This test will be successful if it delivers two times our current customer engagement rate.” By changing our mindset to experiments, however, we move from expected outcome, where suboptimal numbers are bad, to learning, where the focus is on better understanding the customer, medium, strategy, etc. Experimenting also changes our inherent bias that every activity should have a positive result. 

Have you ever been in a marketing meeting where someone claims success: “We’ve got a winner, let’s push it into our full plan.” Does that mean we are finished learning? Have we claimed victory? The flip side is often much more drastic. If a test delivers poor results, or even negative results (ouch!), then it is often quickly killed and everyone moves on. By doing that we are missing the point. Marketing is an ongoing process of understanding and optimizing. It’s a journey, not a destination.

Take for instance, the NBA and ESPN. Over the past year, both have been early adopters, through experimentation, with Snapchat. The NBA by leveraging Snapchat Stories as part of the 2013/2014 MVP announcement and ESPN through its participation in Snapchat Discover. Word is still out on results, but regardless, the two sports institutions have embraced experimentation to learn about their customers. 

Once we embrace experimentation over testing we have a platform that allows us to evaluate all of our crazy ideas, not just those we think will be successful. Although we do our best to know our customers, their interests, influences, and preferences are evolving, so we have to continue learning. The less we “own” the website, or ad, or message, the more open we’ll be to giving things a try. As long as we learn — both what works and what doesn’t — every experiment should be considered a good experiment. 

Here is summary to help you reframe your approach:

  • Think experiment: experiments focus on learning over result.
  • Focus on ideas and data: customers are unpredictable, tangible data always trumps gut.
  • Emphasize learning over numbers: small short-term gains that drive big long-term insights are more valuable than big short-term gains that drive little long-term insights.

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