Experiment, within reason

By Paul Grant

A lot of modern activity around online marketing and communications has become far too experimental – with no particular reason applied. Although in itself experimenting is not at all a bad thing, unless you have an appropriate methodology to accurately interpret the final data output and analysis, there is not really any clear means of maximising the bottom line through continuous improvement. This is the one of the keys to successful digital engagement.

In any case, a good experiment always starts with a question, followed by careful and controlled experimentation – within a framework of reason. Wikipedia’s entry on the ‘Scientific Method‘ explains:

“To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.[1] A scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.[2]

Hit and miss engagement strategy

The reality of communicating and engaging online is that no great body of knowledge exists to accurately inform an organisation’s strategy. Many brands are literally writing the rules as they go, discovering insights from their target audience which they could never have predicted. Whilst some fortunately stumble onto success, others can in a single instant undo decades of positive brand-building by simply underestimating an aspect of their audience’s behavioural characteristics.

Unsurprisingly, the whole ‘Web 2.0’ (and now ‘Web 3.0’) thing is very hit and miss. Hundreds of new companies are spawned every year that profess to hold the holy grail of online communication technology. Yet so much of their ability to penetrate the marketplace is as experimental as when VHS competed with BETA. Although equally notable solutions, ultimately it is the people that decide.

Like an uncontrolled chemical reaction, the many variables of online human interaction can trigger unpredictable results – leading to new discoveries, or potentially disastrous side effects. Many of these disasters could be avoided, if marketing departments and agencies took a more considered approach.

Firstly, do you have a question or hypotheses that you a seeking an answer for? Or are you simply throwing all different types of engagement solution together to “see what happens”? Are you trying something different just because your competitor is? Is there reason to your actions?

A ‘scientific method’ for online communication

In this digital age, there are some companies that certainly do take a more strategic approach to online engagement. As with the scientific method, it starts with a question or hypotheses.

  • “Which type of image on our website homepage will lead to the most enquiries?”
  • “What tone of voice is most engaging to the customers that actually buy from us?”
  • “How can I increase online enquiries by 30%?”
  • “I believe that the colour blue could be more reassuring than red for our brand”
  • “My target market has no use for Twitter”

Right or wrong, these statements and questions form the basis of some safe and methodical testing and continuous improvement.

The 7D continuous improvement methodology represents the cycle of an online experiment from definition of a question or success indicator, to development and deployment of the experiment, to discovery of the results. In turn, the outcome should feed back into a refined question or success indicator, and repeat.

Whilst this methodology may in some cases apply to large enterprise roll-out projects such as a website re-build, or a multi-format integrated marketing campaign, the model just as easily applies to small initiatives and components of an overarching marketing or communications plan.

Indeed the distinct advantage of applying this methodology to small projects is that the feedback mechanism is much quicker, enabling faster updates to the strategy to further improve results. This also affords a streamlined cost-benefit analysis, providing instantaneous insight into whether a return is likely through further initiatives.

Online experiments – quick tips

Here are some quick tips for executives looking to experiment with various digital engagement strategies:

  1. Define the strategic objective, the question or a hypotheses
  2. Develop the experiment, with suitable measurement indicators in place
  3. Analyse the resulting data, and refine the experiment

If you would like to strategically experiment and learn quantifiably about your online presence, contact us and speak to one of our consultants.

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Meet the Author

Paul Grant