Why you should experiment
If your digital efforts involve simply punching the clock, no wonder you're getting lackluster results
In my days as a marketing professional I’ve experiment with many different ideas to create interesting content, drive traffic, earn links, rally communities and inspire people to action. It’s a lot of fun, and at the same time a fantastic way to learn. There is no limit to using open networks other than your creativity. And, quite possibly the best way to learn and find what works for you personally is by experimenting.
The top companies and professionals in all fields are constantly experimenting, motivated by an unstoppable drive for what they do. There are so many great reasons you should be experimenting daily with your social presence, your marketing and your business. I’m going to run through just a few…
Experiments attract attention
Human beings are infinitely inquisitive. Marketing and content experiments are bound to attract attention if they are interesting or offbeat. In fact, there are so many people outright copying each other and following the same methods that truly creative experiments will always get more attention than more of the same.
And this is a beautiful thing. The web makes the cost of failure so low it’s worth failing like crazy to learn what works. Embracing failure as part of the process is a key characteristic of those who achieve success. Do not fear this.
Experiments on the web are cheap
I touched on cost under the last point, but I want to highlight this further. Think of how many millions major companies spend on things like TV advertising. Even a percentage of that moved to experimenting on the web could yield huge ROI. The web is measurable in ways far deeper than TV anyway and forges more intimate connections. I’m not saying experiment as in merely shift TV advertising dollars to web advertising (but you should probably do that too) – do something genuinely interesting.
Experiments often work
Imagine if you conducted 20 little content experiments just like this over the course of a year – that would add up fast. Experiment mixing up your own content, especially in cases you don’t think it was given the proper exposure the first go around. It might just not have been in the right format.
Experiments are interesting because they’re unrestricted
Are you in a traditional organization with lots of artificial barriers, yet looking to fully embrace the Internet for your marketing? Get those up top to let their guard down and give you permission to experiment as you see fit. You’ll quickly find the experiments will be even more successful than the overly-refined, corporate messages because they’re much more interesting and actually break through the clutter. If you can’t remove the barriers, you’re not really experimenting. Those who consistently restrict and move slowly will always place behind nimble competitors who have trusted, empowered people out front.
Experiments are fun
If your experiment isn’t fun, it’s not an experiment. They’re so much fun because you don’t know the outcome – while you can hypothesize results based on your experience, intuition and prior art, you can never know for sure until you’re conducting it in the wild. Companies that experiment have motivated teams.
Experiments are just the types of things your “sneezers” will love
Seth Godin advises us to ignore our critics and fans, but focus on our sneezers:
Your fans don’t want you to change, your fans want you to maintain the essence of what you bring them but add a laundry list of features. You fans want lower prices and more contributions, bigger portions and more frequent deliveries.
So, who should you listen to?
You should listen to the people who tell the most people about you. Listen to the people who thrive on sharing your good works with others. If you delight these people, you grow.
In other words: your fans want more of the same – but your sneezers are delighted by having new ideas and new things to tell the world about you. Clever experiments deliver just that.
Experimenting is the sign of a strong purpose
Max Kalehoff brilliant states:
…far too many business leaders have lost sense of what their purpose is. They’re ships without a compass that points anywhere beyond profit. Their crewmembers typically can’t articulate what they’re doing, nor why others should join. It’s especially evident amidst the largest companies, many of which have become giant, self-absorbed and calculating machines. Think about the U.S. auto, finance and airline industries. Consider the advertising industry!
The good news is that purpose increasingly represents fundamental opportunity and advantage. Having purpose means knowing one’s self, as well as solving real customer problems. Maximizing purpose makes it easier for relevant customers to affiliate with you and develop preference. Purpose is what makes success possible.
Know your purpose, and experiment with that in mind. When purpose is clearly defined and is something all team members embrace, it enables nimble companies, bloggers and marketers to conduct lots of little experiments with purpose and run circles around competition who spend all their resources second guessing themselves. I’m not saying don’t have a strategy, just realize if you spend too long on that, those focused on action and purpose will pass you by again and again.
Google, a company with a strong purpose, understands the value in experimenting:
As an interesting motivation technique (usually called Innovation Time Off), all Google engineers are encouraged to spend 20% of their work time (one day per week) on projects that interest them. Some of Google’s newer services, such as Gmail, Google News, Orkut, and AdSense originated from these independent endeavors. In a talk at Stanford University, Marissa Mayer, Google’s Vice President of Search Products and User Experience, stated that her analysis showed that half of the new product launches originated from the 20% time.
Experimenting provides both subjective and objective insights
We learn by doing, and the more we experiment, the more unique and useful insights we have to assimilate and build upon. What we learn during experimenting can be taken back and applied to improve our formal processes. A key to building a huge following on the web is to continue to innovate and improve, and the more experiences you have, the better future decisions you’ll make.
Eric Friedman calls his experiments “Sandbox Projects,” and notes:
… it is always good to learn something by actually doing it – and web applications are no different. You can only learn so much in hypothetical situations or from reading about them in a textbook or case study situation.
Tim Jahn puts the benefits of experimenting into context nicely:
So many people are waiting for the million dollar idea. That overnight success that will launch them into financial freedom and a mansion in the hills.
Others are trying five dollar ideas, failing, and then trying a different five dollar idea. It may take them days, months, even years, but they’ll end up with something.
Are you experimenting with a good deal of frequency or just doing more of the same? What do you think of companies that empower their teams to freely experiment vs. those where deviation is not an option?
Similar to experimenting, embrace the notion to “try things and iterate”
Noah Brier previously published a fantastic presentation entitled everything is media – a must read. I’ve stressed the idea of experimenting for awhile, and slide 59 really nails the rationale behind this:
Try things and iterate. Face it, you’re not as good at predicting success as you think you are. It is well-established that things become popular mostly randomly. Sure you can spend against but even that isn’t a guarantee.
Noah is spot on and hits upon something most marketing and PR pros don’t get. All content needs to be iterative – whether an infographic, video, blog post, white paper, etc. To put this into an action: you should be following a plan and publishing a stream of new content that has expectation of success with frequency throughout the timeframe of a program. Improve as you go based on data, and refine bit by bit. The old days of optimizing a limited set of pages on a website, linkbuilding and hoping for rankings area dead. So is the idea of publishing one video and trying to push it throughout channels in the hopes of it catching on (if that was ever a good idea).
Stop overvaluing every idea, you have no idea which will work until you try them
Most communications pros overvalue each single idea because they are following a set of rules applicable to a society where the amount of content created and power to publish it was limited. This world no longer exists. It used to be expensive and time consuming to create and distribute content. If it still is for you, you’re in a lot of trouble – make it cheap and simple to create and distribute with very low cost of failure or forever be dominated by the agile.
In reality, you should never expect a single piece of content you make to be successful. Ever. First, it does not properly manage expectation, second, none of us can accurately predict success and third – perhaps most importantly – it doesn’t even matter if it is. Not really. One success is not what you should be after. If you are staking your digital marketing results on a limited number of pieces of content that are relatively static you’re doing it wrong.
Organize around shipping to be in a position to experiment
You need to structure your efforts in a way that you are constantly trying new things and iterating through the content formats that fit the behaviors, preferences and formats of your audience (and perhaps testing new ones that you think might work). Would you rather go fishing with one rod or an ever-increasing number of them?
In a world where every company is a media company, it’s no longer about any single one piece of content. Create, publish, promote, measure, repeat. Don’t dwell.
One other point made in Noah’s presentation linked above that stood out is another huge mistake most businesses make with their marketing. They neglect to build an audience and reinvent the wheel with every single thing they publish or promote:
Build on prior success. Too many brands rebuild their audience for every campaign, spending the same money to reach the same people over and over again. Even if you’re not sure what to do with it yet, you’ve got to recognize the value of building an audience.
You are in absolutely no position to create increasing returns or build momentum without this.