January 31, 2019

Science 101

The scientific method is not just for scientists. Defining hypotheses, setting up experiments to test them, analyzing results—all of that Science 101 stuff can be applied to big strategic decisions. That’s right: you can test new product concepts, brand positions, a candidate’s platforms, logos, product scope ,and pricing, to name a few.

Nothing is more painful to watch than companies and individuals who spend a fortune—or sometimes even bet the company—on initiatives they haven’t tested first. IHOb? Really?

So it is more than a little gratifying to see the word spreading about testing at the level of strategy. We are grooving on this post by Seth Godin. He uses a housing developer as his protagonist in this little parable about why to test, but of course his lesson is extensible to all sorts of situations.

Some tips on testing strategy below…

Drunk Marketing

Plenty of people test before they go live. But a lot of testing falls into the category of “the drunkard’s search”—that is, looking where it’s easy rather than where you are likely to find useful answers. Sure, you can do a focus group (ifyou know what you’re doing), but if your research stops there, you probably won’t capture enough divergent perspectives to understand how your new product/brand/congressional candidate will do in the real-world. And even if perspectives are diverse, they may not be actionable, as in this little focus-group gem from SNL over the weekend.

What sort of testing falls squarely in the “sober” category? The kind that exposes your new offering to lots of different types of users or customers in a real-life setting—for example, presenting your new whatever via search advertising on Google and seeing how people respond. Fortunately, the internet makes it easy to find both. Read on.

A Toilet Brush for Your Living Room

What does it mean to test at the strategic level?
- The test takes place at the brand position level, not down in the weeds. If you are testing a new toilet brush, you’re testing “so beautifully designed you’ll want it in your living room” vs. “two kinds of bristles for effective cleaning.” You are not testing “blue” vs. “pink.”
- Testing will result in identifying scalable customer acquisition channels that will grow your business. As Andrew Chen writes, “there’s only a few ways to scale user growth, and here’s the list.”
- The test validates product-market fit. If you think product-market fit is a concept just for startups, stop by so we can straighten you out.
Exactly how do you test? We tend to use side-by-side advertising campaigns targeted at multiple discrete audiences, because it scales, but there are other options.

Changing Channels

Where to test? First of all, we believe that just about any product can benefit from some type of testing online. And it’s not just because most people live on their phones. Even products whose eventual distribution may be on a shelf at retail confront the same problem as a product consumed entirely online: you have a split second to stop someone’s thumb or catch someone’s eye. What value proposition do you present and how? Testing online can inform offline positioning.

If you have a huge budget, test new initiatives in multiple channels. If your budget is limited, do your homework: there are some great guides to customer acquisition channels to help identify which channel is most likely to provide a real-world laboratory for your offering.

Need more info? We’ve got it. Shoot us an email and we will send you our overview of social media and search channels, with pros and cons of testing in each.

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