For companies far along in the marketing transformation process, data-driven test-and-learn strategies have become a permanent part of the company’s ways of working. But the Covid-19 pandemic is pushing all companies and organizations into a crash-course in test-and-learn to help navigate how to best connect with customers. Almost overnight, we’re watching marketers having to push out new content, update their allocations, and pivot on plans.

And while we’re certainly months away from being able to call anything linked to the outbreak a “silver lining,” it is astounding to realize just how much Plato knew about the digital age: Necessity is the mother of invention.

In this crisis, organizations everywhere are feeling the urgency to do something, and the rush to be relevant has never seemed more important. Inertia isn’t a viable marketing strategy, and that makes for corporate bravery. Right now, data-driven test-and-learn can be your best tool to navigate each day.

Three Changes Every Companies Need to Make Now

We see three fundamental changes all companies need to make to ensure their marketing strategies, tactics and content are relevant and helpful to customers in this time of great need. They apply whether companies are just starting to do data-driven test-and-learn pilots or have already embedded that always-learning mindset.

  • Collect new data: What’s important to people right now is radically different than it was even a few weeks ago. (Remember when we used to look for live music? Plan vacations?) How are they searching and browsing differently? With many confined to their homes, what are they doing all day? Are they with kids? Having intense financial worries? And as tempting as it is to make permanent proclamations about how customers are “changed forever,” we’re hoping that this crisis reminds companies that this data is always changing. It’s dynamic. A week from now, people may be stressed about something else, and a month from now, something entirely different.
  • Find new ways to connect and help: In a digital-only world, customers are spending more time than ever online, and digital marketing must reflect that. Is it time to shift budgets, or tactics to reach them better? Open your aperture. We love the way some brands are quickly introducing ideas that are both helpful and memorable. Look at the way Williams-Sonoma’s West Elm immediately launched Zoom backgrounds to help customers step up their videoconferencing game. Or Mattel introduced printable activity sheets and coloring books for parents.
  • Make it personal: We would have thought personalized messaging was obvious to marketers by now, but the barrage of generic Covid-19 platitudes make it clear there are opportunities to connect differently. Even digital laggards know so much about customers–their names, their engagement, their products. Find ways to make your communications stand out and be truly relevant.

Turn data-driven test-and-learn into a brand superpower

While there are many ways to dive into or refine test-and-learn strategies–and we’d rather see companies start imperfectly than not start at all–most businesses can follow a process like this:

  1. Start with the problems your customers are trying to solve and use data to get a better understanding of their context during this time.
  2. Create hypotheses to test new tactics and approaches of digital marketing. What types of new content might solve an immediate pain point? What new channel might connect you to prospects? At this moment, no one knows the right answers–not within your organization, or anywhere else. This is all new, so be open.
  3. Unleash your data and bring new people to analyze it, gathering ideas about what to optimize. Invite different people to this process, including team members you don’t work with, such as people from the website, media, manufacturing and customer service teams. If you’ve been longing to break down silos, now is your chance. And many studies have proven that more diversified opinions are always better.
  4. Set stage-gates, based on different learning outcomes. If the test is successful, how might you begin to scale it? When might it make sense, if ever, to go companywide? This will likely require a new way of communicating with each other. If working with people from multiple departments, adopt a task-force mentality and send weekly updates. No one likes to feel as though they were pulled into a new initiative and then left out. People want to know if these experiments are working and have a say in how testing can be refined.
  5. Once you know something is working, codify the processes and approaches. That way, when the intense impacts of Covid-19 begin to subside, that information can be used to drive growth.

Final Thoughts

Once companies begin to move past the basics, we believe it will be critical process to digitally transforming all marketing. Historically, brands that invest in times of crisis and downturns emerge triumphant.

If you’re eager to learn more or need support ramping up your data-driven test-and-learn activities: we’re here to help. Drop your questions, or ideas, into the comments or reach out directly.


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