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Building a Culture of Experimentation

November 18, 2015 | By

In marketing, we’re accustomed to having a single message and a single way of expressing it, all centered on a campaign’s Big Idea.

While messaging consistency and clarity are crucial to any marketing initiative, programmatic advertising has created new opportunities for marketers to run regular experiments and, for the very first time, use data to determine how to express that big idea most effectively.

But shifting from a traditional creative agency or marketing organization to one that not only supports but also celebrates experimentation is no small task. A failed experiment is often considered toxic, which is why marketers are so often discouraged from taking risks or running tests in the first place. 

In order to reach the next frontier in advertising, marketers have to change the way they think about experimentation and creative.

The Programmatic Opportunity

Programmatic advertising has created new opportunities to gain insights into audience and drive incremental performance increases over the course of a campaign. With rapid-fire impressions and real-time results, there are more opportunities than ever to test different creatives against unique audience segments or media.

At this point in the programmatic era, most advertisers are comfortable with the concept of optimizing media buys by experimenting with different placements and audience parameters, but there’s a much bigger opportunity. If advertisers are already optimizing media, the next step is to experiment with ad content. 

A New Ethos

We often associate creative optimization with buttons and headline tests. Sure, small tweaks can sometimes lead to big differences in performance, and every advertiser should be using this type of creative testing to drive lift when possible. With that said, the only way to drive real results with creative experimentation is by testing concepts.

Instead of selecting one idea, committing to it, and tweaking minor variations, advertisers should use experiments to pit the big ideas against one another. They can then find answers to bigger questions than, say, which color button performs best. Testing bigger ideas and answering bigger questions will result in bigger returns in the long run.

Having the tools and the organizational support to optimize on the fly means marketers don’t need to settle on one big idea in the beginning of a campaign; you can continuously adapt the messaging around you big idea to better optimize against your targeted audiences. 

Changing Organizational Mindsets

Changing an organizational mindset isn’t easy. Within most organizations, risks are seen as dangerous and the possibility of failure often prevents decision-makers from trying new bold ideas despite the potential upside.

Over time, however, testing returns don’t diminish. So, even if there are individual tests that don’t create a new winner, you still learn something valuable: The creative you’re using is the best one for the job. 

Advertisers don’t have to take huge risks with their company’s image in order to prioritize testing either. By sticking to creative variants that are well branded and aligned with messaging, there’s no risk of damaging the brand.

Developing a new culture doesn’t happen overnight, but is crucial if marketers hope to reach the next frontier of digital.


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