How marketing teams can look to replace ‘best practice’ with experimentation

Becki Hemming is insights manager at Freestyle.

The pace of change continues to accelerate, meaning marketers can no longer rely on best practice, previous results or assumptions. After all, 2019 will be anything but comparable to 2020…and 2021 will no doubt bring a new set of circumstances. This means experimentation and proposition development are more important than ever before. The question is no longer ‘should we change something?’ but ‘how big a change do we need to make?’

Whilst it’s prudent not to reinvent every wheel that’s turning, becoming too reliant on past processes to make decisions can be equally detrimental.

The importance of customer insight and testing

Testing and experimentation are key to finding out what will work and what won’t, whether that’s a digital product, marketing campaign or customer service. Marketers need to be comfortable working with some unknowns, bold enough to follow what works and brave enough to ditch what doesn’t.

In the past, best practice may have dictated that user testing takes place in the final stages of development to check the usability of a product or service. So often, businesses will design an output to completion, or near-final prototype, before seeking customer input. The primary value of usability testing at this stage is in understanding the customer’s capability of navigating from point A to point B. However, a great deal of decisions have been made by this point meaning many possibilities have already been ruled out.

The earlier that customer insight can be brought into the process, the more their feedback can be used to experiment and inform the end product.

Testing at the right time, in the right way

The most common purposes for user testing are:

  • Validation – prove or disprove a belief or concept
  • Usability – see if people can get from point A to point B
  • Memorability – explore how a complete experience is recalled

When testing an idea or a message, it’s important not to lead answers or ask people to predict their future behaviour, as this won’t be accurate. Instead, provide just enough necessary context and ask people to either retell what they’ve done in the past, or explain what their peers will do or think. For example, you’ll get a far more realistic answer if you ask “Have you recommended us?”, instead of, “Would you recommend us?”.

Sometimes budgets and time will dictate that you cannot speak to your customers, but this doesn’t mean user testing is off the cards. See if you can identify a group of people within the business who fit the customer demographic and who haven’t been involved in the development of the project. This allows for validation and user testing to take place, without insider knowledge skewing your results.

Three experimentation cues from agile working principles

At their core, agile principles encourage high speed and adaptable response to change. So it’s only natural that marketers take cues from these to move away from best practice reliance where it no longer serves, towards greater experimentation and flexibility.

Collaborative decision making: It’s important to remember that your audience doesn’t experience your industry, your service, or Covid-19 in the same way. The best way to meet this is with a marketing function that includes diversity of thought, knowledge and background. So bring a diverse team to the table. Not for passive involvement, but for committed, collaborative decision making. This will naturally lead to more people in the room asking ‘why’ and turning to best practice fewer times, because not everyone is already conditioned to the same processes. Team diversity will lead to diversity in opinions and ideas.

Listen to your customers: For all stages of feedback and testing, remember that customers are experts in their problems, not the solutions to them. That’s where your expertise comes in. Allow their input to guide your exploration of solutions, which you can then test.

Iteration, iteration, iteration: Big bang launches are often costly and require a lot of planning and commitment ahead of time. It’s beneficial to move away from the idea that each department should fulfil their input, before handing over to the next, all the way up until launch. If linear steps through different disciplines to deliver work sounds all too familiar, then it’s time to re-imagine what iterative collaboration, informed by customer insight, can look like. Think incremental iterations. It’s far easier to experiment or pivot an idea following weeks of resources spent and lessons learned, instead of months – not to mention far wiser financially.

2021 and beyond

Moving forwards, it’s more important than ever to challenge presumptions, processes and how both came to be. In a time of constant adaptation, taking cues from agile working principles and experimentation informed by customer insight can take marketers much further than ‘best practice’.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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