A process for faster, better MARKETING.
When the going gets tough, good leaders ask more questions — and the best leaders run more experiments.
Brilliant Noise’s Test–Learn–Lead™ process is proven to help marketing teams boost performance and learn faster than the competition. This article will explain why and how it’s done.
Experiments create breakthroughs
Leading with questions and acting with experiments is a core capability for marketers now. Uncertainty is like kryptonite to a corporation’s superpowers — its size, resources, and market share — because it brings hesitation and slows learning, leaving businesses confused, slow, and vulnerable.
In uncertain times — and these are undoubtedly those — the best advice from leadership experts, neuroscientists, and innovators is to lead with questions. Acting as if we have the answers depletes confidence and morale. Even if an optimistic decisiveness can rally teams at first, questions work better to calm anxious minds and inspire curiosity among colleagues. This is uncharted territory. No one has the answers, not even our competitors. But with strong questions and bold experiments, we could be the first to find the answers.
Finding a way into the big challenge
Prioritisation is a challenge at the best of times. Today, the list of urgent issues to tackle is almost impossible to decide between — which makes it more essential a focus of a leader’s job choosing and communicating the organisation’s priorities. It’s the one place uncertainty cannot be allowed to exist. Leaders need to rally organisations around “the Big Problem” and show clear progress against it before focus moves to the next priority.
Talking to leaders at global brands, Brilliant Noise has found that the three most common reasons why the Big Problem hasn’t been solved yet are:
- “Something else became the priority.” Short-term concerns can divert resources away from projects that will solve big problems towards addressing short-term pains. Alternatively, there are just too many priorities slowing down decision-making to the point of stalling it completely.
- “We couldn’t get started.” All sorts of things block projects from getting underway — inertia comes from structure (silos), politics (competing interests), and bureaucracy (it’s easier to say ”no” than “yes”).
- “We couldn’t keep going.” A spectacular pilot project is completed and celebrated, and then everyone just moves on. Awards may be won, case studies written, and career reputations burnished, but the change doesn’t stick because it doesn’t spread through the organisation or mark the start of a process for constant improvement.
But there’s an antidote to these corporate kryptonite symptoms, and a process for overcoming all of the drag effects caused by business-as-usual in a corporation: it’s the unit of progress that has revolutionised scientific endeavour and so many fields but has often eluded marketing and management. It’s called an experiment.
One might think that risk-averse, politically complex organisations can’t possibly embrace the idea of running experiments. “Experiment” would be a trigger word for saying “no” and risk-managing to death, or just a plain old red flag for those who value their jobs. But, as one of our most senior consultants recounted after presenting to a large team: “As soon as we said it was an experiment, you could see everyone relax.” It wasn’t going to be a big initiative set to ruin everything that works well, sucking up time and budget and somehow appearing as if it’s their fault if it fails—they were just going to try something a little different and see what happened.
Starting with a testable hypothesis and turning it into an experiment that takes a few weeks to run is a lot easier to commit to and try out than a grand change programme. Once the results are in, everyone knows a little more. And once a dramatic improvement is seen — as is often the case — there’s an appetite for more.
Experiments are low-stakes, high-return moves that marketers can make in areas such as digitalising content management, raising capability in data science or developing practical, consistent global approaches to influencer marketing and social commerce.
Getting the most from experiments requires more than giving a team permission to try new things. A coherent global framework is needed to help prioritise testable opportunities according to ease, impact, and urgency while standardising ways of measuring, capturing, and sharing knowledge across the organisation.
At Brilliant Noise the Test–Learn–Lead™ process uses this insight to get rapid, breakthrough results around a challenge. For marketing teams, going from an idea to running an experiment in a few weeks shows how quickly things can be done, while quick wins build interest and momentum. With a strong method and data coming in, a brand can establish ways to capture and share knowledge that help build a system of consistent testing and learning.
The Test–Learn–Lead™ PROCESS
Test–Learn–Lead™ is a three-phase process that can start with a single challenge and then scale to an organisation-wide best practice for constant improvement in marketing performance.
Phase I: MAP THE CHALLENGE
Focused on the priority for the team, we find all of the opportunities to improve performance. In practice, this means breaking down the issue and finding the crux of the challenge.
For instance, one brand experiencing issues with getting data to assess and improve performance in different territories found that the problem wasn’t silo mentality or data literacy (two early guesses), but the fact that there were almost as many customer query capture formats as there were local marketing teams. This diversity of web design implementation undermined data, reporting, planning, and collaboration in many other areas.
Phase II: RUN EXPERIMENTS
And now the cycle of testing and learning through running experiments can begin and gather pace. The key is to build momentum early by running quick experiments that can yield both knowledge and performance results.
Not every experiment will be successful, in terms of showing how to do things better, but all yield valuable knowledge in terms of insights. By keeping the test-and-learn loops short, the team can move quickly to run more experiments and find what does work.
Phase III: SCALE SUCCESS, SHARE KNOWLEDGE
The data and insights from an experiment begin with the simple question: was our hypothesis correct or not? There are other benefits, too. As described in the examples below, unexpected insights and unknowns that weren’t even in the initial thinking arise from experiments. All experiments create knowledge and expand the boundaries of both what we know and what we don’t know — answering questions usually means we discover new questions to ask. There’s a cycle of running experiments that makes an organisation smarter. Every time it runs an experiment and then shares the knowledge, it is “less wrong than it was yesterday”, as Adam Grant puts it in his brilliant work Think Again.
This all relies on having systems for knowledge capture and a culture for learning. The system is needed to make sure that a new way of creating better TikTok ads at pace is recorded in a way that all the people who need that information today — and those that will need it next year and beyond — have access to it. The culture of the marketing organisation also needs to value learning and put it to work each day so that new knowledge is really used.
What these systems look like from organisation to organisation differs based on technology platforms and methods of communication. The culture of learning will also vary, but universally running experiments not only creates a way of capturing new knowledge, it also nurtures a mindset of curiosity and learning. If teams see challenges as opportunities to learn, they lean into problems with deep motivation.
TEST–LEARN–LEAD™ IN ACTION
At Brilliant Noise, we’ve drawn inspiration from the pioneers of lean and agile software development, innovators and pioneering scientists. For more than a decade, we’ve been working with global brands to help them adapt to digitalisation, rapidly changing consumer behaviours and rising to the emerging challenge of telling sustainability stories.
Example one: Content Hub for 11 countries
This business had been achieving efficiency and performance gains from digitalisation across its core competencies — design, manufacturing, and supply chain management — for several years. It now wanted to look for similar advances in its business operations, including marketing.
In this context, the marketing leader for a key region wanted to move content production and management to a central hub and more efficiently provide content for local territories to adapt to their needs. The aim was to deliver savings for the business, but also to take money wasted on duplicated or unused content production and put it back into working media budgets.
Centralising the production of content always makes sense on a spreadsheet. But, in practice, differences in priorities and ways of working can slow new approaches and frustrate central and local teams to the point where little is saved and quality suffers. The Test–Learn–Lead™ approach meant that new approaches were developed even as business-as-usual content production continued, giving teams what they needed and running tests to show how new coordinated approaches would work.
Hard ROI metrics were coming through, but, after just six months, the client was reporting that there was a shift in culture and mindset toward finding out what was possible and how new ideas could be tested.
Example two: Preparing for personalisation
A surprise silver lining of the pandemic for this clothing brand was the boost to its e-commerce performance. After years of steadily developing its direct–to–consumer offer, sales shot up as consumer adoption of online shopping leapt ahead by as much as five years against analyst predictions.
Already a leader in brand marketing, the company told investors that it would invest in tools and capabilities for its marketing team to accelerate their ability to support this fast-growing area of the business.
Brilliant Noise worked with an internal group to find ways that marketing will need to evolve in the next few years. A consensus from analysts and experts in the company was that personalisation would be an area of competition for marketers in the future. Personalisation is not a new idea, but outside of digital-first companies like Amazon and Netflix, its implementation has been uneven and problematic in large companies. With more data and competition for customer attention, the pressure to personalise at scale for D2C e-commerce will only increase. The question from boards to marketers will be “Why can’t we do this?” And “why aren’t we already?”
Experiments showed that using archive content to create new campaigns should become a focus. What if they could speed up production by using some of the stacks of images and copy they had already created, rather than have up to 20 of their territory and regional hubs creating new content for a seasonal campaign? The hypothesis was that it would save money and improve performance. In testing this, however, the difficulty of re-using content became clear. Multiple DAMs, a lack of secure collaboration platforms, and an archive that required manual searches showed how hard it would be to develop content that could be personalised. The relative success of the experiment — it was possible — was accompanied by a vivid illustration of how much capability and technology would need to change in order to begin any kind of personalisation at scale.
Undaunted, the brand’s team asked for the next experiments to test and show how to solve these problems. As valuable as the insights were, the sense of possibility and curiosity that had been engendered in the teams involved has been a lasting success. The journey to personalised shopping and content experiences for customers would be long and challenging — but it had already started and the organisation was leaning into the challenge.
You can start today
Brilliant Noise is here to help you put Test–Learn–Lead™ into practice. The beauty of leading with questions and acting with experiments is how quickly you can begin, and how rapidly the benefits can be shared to create a ripple or domino effect of change across an organisation.
Contact us to discover the benefits of experimentation for your brand.