How the scientific method can be used to ‘test and learn’ marketing strategy

When I was doing my Bachelor of Applied Science at RMIT, our first year included a study unit on the Theory of Science and the Scientific Method. In this unit we read Darwin’s The Origin of Species and discussed the scientific method which became the foundation of science to separate “scientific fact” from “science fiction”.

Interestingly few people have heard of the Scientific Method, even though it is at the basis of all science breakthroughs and is the best way yet discovered for sorting the truth from lies and delusion. The simple version looks something like this:

  1. Observe some aspect of the universe.
  2. Invent a tentative description, called a hypothesis, that is consistent with what you have observed.
  3. Use the hypothesis to make predictions.
  4. Test those predictions with experiments or further observations and modify the hypothesis in the light of your results.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until there are no discrepancies between theory and experiment and/or observation.

At a time where there is so much change and many hypotheses on what will work and what will not, it seems to me that proven methodology like this could be easily adapted for marketing.

In the case of marketing ‘test & learn’ the steps could be:

  1. Observe some aspect of the market place or use market research to define an insight.
  2. Invent a tentative strategy, that is consistent with what you have observed.
  3. Use the strategy to make predictions of the effect the strategy will have on the market.
  4. Test those predictions by experiments and observations and modify the strategy in case where it under-performs the predicted results.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until there is consistent over performance against the prediction when you would integrate the strategy into the core ‘go-to-market’ strategy.

I have heard from a number of advertisers, who have used this approach, that they start by separating their budget into a 10 / 20 / 70 split.

70% is for business as usual (BAU) – that is, they budget to undertake their usual marketing plan with a 30% reduction. This reduction is achieved not by paying the agencies 30% less for the same work, but by eliminating waste and investing less in non-essential or non-performing activities.

Of this 30% reduction, 10% is for observing, strategy hypothesising and testing and the remaining 20% for proving those test strategies that deliver worthwhile results.

It provides a disciplined approach to embracing those opportunities that seem to continually present themselves and testing and learning what is working and what is not before you jump in with a significant investment or worse, underprepared and under-resourced.

But it is not just new opportunities, the process can be used to test and learn how effective many of your existing strategies actually are delivering against your objectives and predictions.

We have been very effective in finding where you can fund this from within your existing marketing plan and budget.

Are you testing and learning? And if so, what is working for you?

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About Darren Woolley

Darren is called a Pitch Doctor, Negotiator, Problem Solver, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Strategic Marketing Management Consultants and a founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum. He is also an Ex-scientist, Ex-Creative Director and a father of three. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com
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2 Responses to How the scientific method can be used to ‘test and learn’ marketing strategy

  1. Les Woolridge says:

    Just found this brilliant validation of what sound 'test & learn' methodology looks like Darren. The process you've described is what I've been expounding / practising for years (little did I know it was based in the Theory of Science). My objective in approaching the marketing process in this manner is to end up doing fewer things, with the things I do being increasingly more productive after each iteration. Of course, as the external factors impacting a marketing strategy are constantly changing, you'll always find yourself building new hypothesis to test and learn ways to stay ahead – but with a test & learn approach there are no random acts of marketing. The approach also highlights the difference between counting (sales) and measuring (all results) from each activity. Cheers!

    • TrinityP3 says:

      Thanks Les. In regards to the constant changes, this is another branch of science called Complexity Theory for the study of complex systems which can be anything from traffic flow to market dynamics. But the tenants of test and learn apply equally to complex systems. It is just that you are not able to define cause and effect, simply stimulus and outcome.

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