In the knowledge economy, the smartest marketer wins. Especially as consumer patterns shift to shopping in virtual reality and paying with mobile payments through alternative currencies.

Consumers now have an enormous array of choices from one-click subscriptions to AI-powered product recommendations with to-your-door delivery in under an hour. In fact the speed of innovation – and the resulting change in consumer behavior is outpacing the marketer’s ability to adapt.

To keep pace, rapid experimentation is now a marketing mandate. Iteration is a must.

Kasey Lobaugh, chief retail innovation officer and omni-channel retail practice leader for Deloitte Consulting LLP, recently noted in an interview with Entrepreneur, that marketers need to, “recognize that those windows of opportunity open and close at a faster rate when the competitive fervor is high. So being nimble…means being able to find those [windows], take advantage of them, move out of them and move on to new ones, fast.”

This is exactly what a culture of experimentation is all about — it’s a cycle of experimentation, learning, and iterating to find untapped opportunities. Especially in the fast-paced social ad space.

Some marketers have already adopted this mindset.

Optimizely and eTail recently published “The Business-Critical Impact of Experimentation 2017” which notes that “a leading 6% of respondents attribute over 20% of their commerce growth to their experimentation programs.” And 36% of marketers are growing these budgets 20% year-over-year in top areas including customer acquisition, improving conversion rates and increasing per-customer revenue.

Marketers are faced with the paradoxical challenges of transparency and vulnerability, where a brand can be made–and brought down–in an instant.

From the fall of fashion standards like J.Crew to the rise of alternative currencies, from the decline of traditional TV within the “golden era of television” to the rise of livestreaming and location-sharing apps in the age of privacy, the contradictions are proving too much for sticking with the “tried and true” marketing strategies.

So smart marketers constantly experiment. And let’s be clear: a test is not an experiment; an experiment is not a test.

An experiment is not a test and a test is not an experiment -- even though the two are used interchangeably sometimes.Click To Tweet

While these two words are used interchangeably by marketers, their difference is more than semantics. Like a water faucet with both the “hot” and “cold” knobs turned on, marketing experiments and marketing tests can cancel each other out. And in the end, the result of the mix is lukewarm.

To achieve breakout success from experiments or tests, marketers need to understand the unique opportunities presented by both experiments and tests–and put them both to use!

A marketing experiment is an investigation into a marketing hypothesis, without expectation of a specific outcome. An experiment is an inquiry, a discovery completed to create new knowledge. It’s open-ended. An experiment answers questions that begin with “what if. . . ?

A marketing experiment is a smaller investment in something dangerous, with huge opportunities for a break-out success–or the opposite.

A marketing test is a validation of a strategy or tactic. A test seeks to prove that best practices can also work for your brand or your objective. A marketing test is typically a medium-size investment where you know there will be at least one winner. Optimization is often is comprised of a series of ongoing tests with winners and losers.

Digital marketers want to get credit for experimentation (especially in social media marketing efforts), but they’re held accountable to the funnel and KPIs (impressions, traffic, leads, purchases, revenue), so testing and experimentation become like reading and regular exercise: things we say we do–knowing that we should do more to warrant the claim.

For social media marketing, 88% of marketers want to determine how to use social media ads according to the May 2017 “Social Media Marketing Industry Report” by Michael Stelzner and Social Media Examiner.

The Social Media Examiner data shows that marketers plan on increasing their use of ads across Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn. Experiments includes learning more about visuals, blogging, video, live video and podcasting.

In retail and ecommerce businesses, both testing and experimentation can be seen as luxurious, and practices to be implemented when you have extra: extra time, money, resources, energy. But instead, ecommerce and retailers should prioritize testing and experimentation as regular practices to keep up with the pace.

As marketers in retail, we struggle with patience.

We want to skip the iterative steps. We want the winner, the silver bullet. So we wait for best practices or mimic competitors to get ahead. But to discover the game-changers, we have to own up to investing in growth. Here are a few ways your can begin to invest in experimentation and build a culture of innovation through experimentation in your organization:

Establish an experimentation budget. This budget can be any amount (start with 5% of the digital budget), but it’s reserved for trying the new things.

Appoint an experimentation czar. This person is responsible for creating, tracking and celebrating experiments across the company, and infusing discovery into every department’s regular cadence.

Make learning an MBO for everyone in marketing, then tie incentives or bonuses to those that are meeting and/or exceeding those goals.

Celebrate successes and failures of both experiments and tests. Try awarding a trophy for innovation, success and failure alike.

Share your learnings! Blog about your tests and experiments, your discipline, share them internally and externally (as you can) and don’t be afraid to say “sorry” where a mistake is made.

Remember: the smartest marketer wins. Experiment, test, optimize — and then repeat. As fast as you can.

About the Author: R. J. is the CEO and founder of Quantifi, a marketing R&D platform for digital ads. He has 15 years of SaaS experience, formerly working for ExactTarget, Salesforce, and Geofeedia. He thrives on new technologies and innovations.

 

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