Keys to successful marketing experimentation

Embracing failures when things don’t go as planned is critical for marketing innovation.

It’s not uncommon for marketers to claim “consistency is key.” Still, experimentation is becoming more important than ever. With third-party cookies phasing out of key browsers, marketers are shifting targeting strategies to adopt new ways to drive performance.

Digital marketing has opened the door to vast amounts of data. Access to martech platforms, such as the Google Marketing Platform and Adobe Analytics, enable marketers to analyze campaign performance, convert audiences, take risks and measure growth driven by strategy.

This digital revolution has allowed experimentation to thrive as a cultural, tactical and iterative process that proves incremental ROI and drives iterative performance. But where do marketers get the right momentum to start?  

Experimentation starts with the right people and culture

A successful organization knows that its people will drive experimentation to prosper. That means brands need to consciously hire talent that recognizes the shifting dynamics of the marketing industry. Forward-thinking recruitment and experimentation go hand in hand. By recruiting creative problem solvers hungry to address marketing challenges, brands can ensure their teams are enthusiastic and flexible enough to pivot when experiments don’t go as planned.

Interviewing with intention is crucial for finding talent that fits the dynamic needs of brands’ marketing teams. Craft questions that get to the heart of what candidates bring to the table. For instance, asking a candidate to share a time when they were part of a complex work challenge or a situation where there were many ways of solving the problem can give insight into the candidate’s actions and the process they used to solve the challenge. Candidate stories that connect to learning, teaching, collaborating and trying different solutions demonstrate a stronger match and cultural fit.

In addition to an inquisitive recruitment process, leaders need to practice and preach experimentation from the top down to foster a culture that embraces learning and innovation. Experimentation is a team sport, and cohesive governance and project management are critical. Knowledge sharing across teams empowers employees with the goal of learning, teaching and creating a feedback loop to continue evolving ongoing experimentation. 

Experimentation is not a one-stop-shop

Experimentation looks different for many teams. There are many powerful types of experiments brands can run to assess targeting effectiveness, such as testing placements, creative types and ad sizes, and messaging, to name a few. 

The biggest trend to watch for is testing data sources. For nearly a decade, many marketers have leveraged data management platforms (DMPs) for collecting and managing data. However, as customer data platforms (CDPs) have emerged, it’s become increasingly easier to build in-depth, accurate customer profiles by leveraging first-party data. Experimentation is welcome in this space because enriching first-party data through testing can prove early ROI and inform where to spend the next dollar.  

By using a CDP to combine data sets at the user level, teams can apply predictive models to test for optimal creative elements within personalized messaging. For example, in a direct-to-consumer environment, machine learning models can be applied to historical transactions and pageview data to anticipate the product a customer is most likely to purchase next. This product can be presented via dynamic creative fields in the brand’s messaging. In scenarios like this, solid test preparation is vital to success because a strong framework always makes it easier to iterate based on learning from the previous tests. This is why it is important to always be testing. If there’s uncertainty about how some change or new tactic may impact the business, run a test.

Experimentation comes with a lot of variables, including privacy. At the onset of any project, especially when working with customer data, privacy is one of the most critical factors. New tactics or regulations can greatly impact success as the industry faces shifting consumer dynamics and evolving data privacy regulations. Testing will help ensure marketers are making sound decisions.

Experimentation embraces failure to drive success

Experiments go awry. Outside of the technical glitches that can occur, sometimes the winner of an experiment is what no one expected. For instance, maybe the winner is the control. Some will see this as a failure of the experiment. However, if you learned something you didn’t know before, embracing the new learning point and incorporating it moving forward turns the experiment into a positive. 

Teams must understand failure isn’t the opposite of success. It’s part of success. When unexpected outcomes occur, it’s important to avoid viewing the experiment in a negative light. Instead, broadcast the results across teams. Employees across the board can use “failure” as a learning experience. And, when a culture of experimentation has been established, strong talent is there to fill in the blanks between a testing framework and spotty results. Teams with a scalable blend of expertise, market understanding, and relational strategy know how to incorporate the result and use it. 

One of the common failure points, especially with early experimentation programs, is when teams run too many experiments simultaneously. This often causes confusion by stirring up issues when multiple experiments end around the same time and post-experiment analyses cross wires. For example, a brand ran a landing page test and a test on the navigation banner of their website. Because the landing page test measured the performance of a specific CTA on the landing page, the navigation banner did not get much attention making it seem as if the experiment was unsuccessful.

Staying customer-centric

When marketers strive for a culture that embraces curiosity and learning, experimentation will naturally flow. In an uncertain, evolving industry, experimentation will continue to yield positive outcomes for those who seek it out.

It is important to consider the end consumer who will be presented with the experiments, as they are the people they ultimately need to resonate with.

Marketers who diligently use data to understand and connect with the consumer will see the most success.

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About The Author

Jack Pace is a senior manager on 55’s Expertise & Innovation Team in the U.S., with just under 10 years of experience in the marketing technology space. His focus is around web analytics with a wider lens of creating interconnected solutions to help businesses leverage their first-party data from various sources to derive insights for measurement and activation.