Cornflakes. Fireworks. Microwaves. (And what are you going to do…?)

Has someone on your team ever come to you with a novel idea that you’ve perhaps shut down too quickly?  Has your agency wanted to try something a little out of the box that you’ve not carved out some budget for?  Have you stifled one of your own ideas for fear of it being too risky?

Well, when you consider that cornflakes, fireworks, microwaves, post it notes – even potato chips – were all borne out of the by-products of responsible experimentation, you should be inspired into thinking your business could benefit from a little responsible experimentation on a regular basis.

I’ve long been an advocate of ‘responsible experimentation’ – the idea that everyone should experiment with new ideas, technologies and approaches – particularly in an era when advances in digital communications and technology are playing such a pivotal role in marketing.

To help frame up some responsible parameters for your own responsible experimentation, here are so some do’s and don’ts that may help get the experimentation underway:


Set up a process for encouraging new ideas 

It’s one thing to pay lip service to the idea of responsible experimentation, it’s another to actually create a framework for getting ideas tabled and explored. Consider a monthly get-together with your team and your agencies to talk about new ideas and approaches. Create a cross-functional team specifically for innovation. The more you can let go and let your teams be creative, the more they’ll feel involved and empowered. It can be good for morale too.

Learn to measure 

Not every idea is going to have a concrete ROI model – at least in the beginning.  So if you can’t measure on ROI, encourage teams to create some other form of measure of success (or failure) as a placeholder to help you evaluate the merits of an idea.

Ask your customers / audiences for feedback 

Responsible experimentation is a great opportunity to get your customers engaged with your business. Ask them for help, feedback, thoughts and ideas.  And while you’re about it, build up a database of those who are willing to help and open a dialogue on their views of how you’re doing.

Use social media 

If appropriate, use social media to provide updates on your responsible experimentation. Ask for input or help along the way. Don’t let ideas disappear into a black hole never to see the light of day. Be honest about what worked and what didn’t. 

Most ideas won’t get off the ground unless there’s some sort of budget to support them – so some sort of budget is essential. Even when budgets are tight, the upside to responsible experimentation (or even just the learning from responsible experimentation) can be huge.


Mess with the brand 

Every brand has attributes and values that make it what it is.  Responsible experimentation should always be evaluated through the lens of the brand and whether – at its best or worst – it is in step with your brand values.  If it’s not a fit with the brand – or never will be – don’t do it.

Worry about mistakes

OK, that’s a broad statement – but the point is the concept here is this is about experimentation.  Not every experiment is going to work.  Not every experiment is going to yield the results you’d hoped for.  If it doesn’t work, learn what and why it didn’t work and improve next time around.

Look through rose-colored glasses

Always consider your worst downside and ask ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ Your worst downside should always preserve the integrity of your brand, as well as the security and safety of your customers and employees.  Again, if those attributes aren’t present – don’t do it.

Ignore the recovery plan 

If whatever you’re doing doesn’t work – what’s your internal and external communication strategy (if needed)? Give a heads-up to other groups or departments so everyone knows what’s going on and if the worst does happen, be ready with a prepared response.

Stop trying

Don’t stop experimenting just because something didn’t work. Measure, learn and try, try again. Remember, even Thomas Edison failed hundreds of times before getting his light bulb to work

In my view, responsible experimentation should be actively encouraged by all marketers and their agencies. To really make it work, support, encourage and empower your teams to experiment and seek support executive management in your team’s efforts.  With reasonable safety guards in place, risk should be minimal, your teams engaged, your customers engaged and your upside unlimited. 

What’s your approach to responsible experimentation? And how can we help…?


Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc offering confidential advisory to marketers looking for truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else. Read more like this on our blog Marketing Unscrewed / follow me @StephanArgent

Photo: Pete

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