MARKETING HACKATHON: Building a Testing Culture

March 2016
By Kimmy Scotti

I spend a lot of time with our CEOs and their teams building out marketing strategies and in doing so have found that the most important thing that our companies learn through these “marketing hackathons” is how to create and nurture a testing culture. In building ScriptRelief, I think that the most powerful driver of our business was that our small team generated hundreds of tests in a single month and were rewarded for that with exponential growth. Millions of customers in, we continued challenging our control and finding new ways to increase conversion and open new channels for growth.

Here are a few key learnings from recent workshops with companies like OpenCare (8 Angel) and Plated (Formation 8 Fund 1):

Build with Flexibility in Mind

A commonality among our portfolio companies is that their engineers are super busy building new features. Design landing pages and user flows with flexibility allowing the marketers to make changes to the designs. This will create a process that allows marketing teams to iterate quickly on their creative as they learn from the constant stream of data being received from each test. Think: modular layouts.

Even Wrong is Right…

As long as you learn something from a test, whether it’s about messaging, form factor, offer, list or channel — whether it worked or didn’t work — great. Marketing is all about getting new data points and using it to inform and strengthen further testing until you test your way to a new creative that is beating your last control…and then you make that piece your control and continue testing from there.

Iteration Won’t Move the Needle

Not early on, anyway. If you are making small changes here and there — like a color of a button or a few words — your testing is going to come back inconclusive or flat. Think big and make big changes, remember these changes are happening in isolation and you control how much traffic you are putting through a test or how many you send out to potential customers.

Protecting the Mother Ship

I like to think about the control as “the mother ship” and then all of the tests as little “satellites”. You are directing most of the volume coming to the mother ship, which you are protecting by only letting proven creative be displayed there. You can be super adventurous in the satellite creative and push just a little traffic to each of the tests until you are confident in the results. As you see data that is encouraging, you can always turn up the volume to a specific satellite.

Mine…and Mind Your Data

Through all of your testing, you are going to get a ton of information, make sure that when you build tests it happens in such a way that the information is measurable later. Isolate changes in a controlled environment so that you are seeing what is moving the needle, not just that the needle is moving. When reviewing data from your tests, make sure that you retest anomalies and pay attention to interesting “whispers”. If a small creative test has a crazy response rate, retest it with more traffic, and if a small subset of your target demographic is responding super favorably to specific creative/messaging/etc. it may be worth rolling out a larger test to adjacent demos but not adapting the change into your control.

This past January, I visited OpenCare in Toronto. I teamed up with founders, Nikolai Bratkovski, Cameron Howieson and their marketing team to work on their direct marketing creative and targeting strategy. OpenCare is improving the quality of care by providing patients with customized recommendations for top dentists (…other specialists and geographies coming soon!) and helping them set appointments on the spot. I absolutely loved working with this team as they strive to optimize their marketing and help more patients find care. We left the “war room” having built out a multi-channel strategy and with actual creative for multiple media types.

From the start of the year, I have been working with the Plated team to build out a testing culture. Working with founders, Nick Taranto and Josh Hix as well as their marketing, creative and engineering teams has been inspiring. Plated is changing the dinner conversation by bringing chef-designed recipes and quality ingredients to tables across the country. The Plated use case is a great example of how building modular creative is crucial to the testing culture — in building out a flexible landing page style that we could manipulate and iterate on quickly, we were able to place bigger bets and not just iterate. It’s so great to work with a team where the company’s brand DNA is so strong — we really focused on leveraging core direct marketing strategies while still protecting the Plated brand in the process.

“Within hours of sitting down with our marketing and product teams, Kimmy had diagnosed our bottlenecks and worked her magic of getting right and left brained people to see the world (and the challenges and opportunities ahead of us) in the same way. Kimmy has been crucial to our scaling and acceleration.”
 — Nick Taranto, Co-founder at Plated

Just remember that there isn’t a silver bullet around conversion. There’s no exact landing page structure or funnel that works perfectly for every business and no hard and fast rules around creative. The important thing about great marketing is to build out a testing culture in your company.

Kimmy Scotti
Partner, 8VC