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    Experimentation is the Greatest Science

    Mark Fells

    2 Oct 2023

    Why you should introduce experimentation in to your business

    So runs the Arabic proverb, but how come so many business decisions ignore that basic principle? Why are history, myth and ‘wisdom’ more often the guiding principles?

    For example:

    • We know it will work because the boss said it would
    • We know it's true because best practice tells us so
    • We’re sure a thing will happen because it happened before
    • We know it will be successful because it worked for our competitors

    It’s guesswork at best - uniformed gambling at worst. Assumptions and the truth are not the same thing. Assumptions are often inaccurate or incorrect, but because they are never challenged or tested, the real truth is never known.

    At Zebra, we’re passionate believers in an alternative: faster commercial decision making based on testing and learning. So to make better, more informed decisions, we focus on fostering a culture of experimentation in business.

    What does an experimentation culture look like?

    A culture of experimentation means taking a hypothesis or theory-driven approach to decision making at every level across the company.

    When looking for experimentation culture, businesses will proudly point to their digital teams, who often use experimentation in conversion rate optimisation (CRO). Those teams do indeed base much of their work on calculating the statistical significance of the impact of one activity versus another. CROs tend to start from the position of accepting they don’t know anything for certain, so they run tests to find what works best in different situations to optimise conversion rates.

    But all too often, it’s a small area of the business that’s generally confined to digital. When in fact, experimentation can and should be applied to everything you do commercially.

    Why is this a good thing?

    Embracing experimentation and testing at every level of the business can help break down silos and achieve maximum optimisation across commercial operations.

    Say, for example, you’re running A/B tests on the structure of your website product landing page. That’s a good starting point, but if you only look at the structure and ignore other factors—like the product’s price, or how you drive traffic to the page—you run the risk of under-optimisation.

    Should you be looking at your pricing strategies? How about your range depth and breadth? What about distribution? What about tweaking your Google advertising? Experimentation creates greater results if you deploy it through all commercial disciplines—not just through your website or digital environments.

    Nothing is fully optimised until you’ve tested everything. But that’s a huge shift for many, so how do you start?

    How can you introduce experimentation to your business?

    Start small

    Find the fastest, easiest and smallest way to test a theory. This has two critical benefits:

    1. It changes your mindset from: “we know these things, and therefore we do these things”, to instead: “we don’t know, let’s test it and see”. One valuable experiment with commercial results will do wonders for your mindset, along with the rate of adoption.
    2. Starting small doesn’t involve huge risk, and allows you to learn and scale fast.

    You can easily get help setting up an experimentation practice. It’s something we begin and oversee for many clients to prevent it becoming warped or smothered by existing ways of working.

    Get the right kit

    You’ll need the right kind of software and structures to establish, run and measure experiments. This might mean looking to third parties to allow you to run the experiments you need.. It’s technical but achievable, and doesn't need to be expensive.

    Get the right capability

    Finally, you’ll need people on your team who can run the tests you need to run, understand the results, and make recommendations based on these results. This might mean training existing staff in new skills, or hiring new talent to help fill gaps in knowledge. Or again, you can outsource to turbo charge your approach and get the results that changes your culture.

    The more experiments, the better the results

    The more experiments you run, the more value your approach returns. If you’re starting small, this should help your ideas gain traction and support.

    This means less time will be wasted on things that aren’t good for the business, and more resources can be channelled into the most beneficial activities. Creativity can flourish, as left field ideas are tested without reputational risk.

    HBR (Harvard Business Review) ran research that found the most successful business leaders didn’t necessarily make better individual decisions than those who weren't successful. But they did make many more decisions— and they became successful by experimenting….

    All life is an experiment; the more experiments you make the better’ (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

    Ready to realise the true commercial potential of digital for your business?

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