Trial and error marketing: the case for 20%

Trial and error marketing: the case for 20%

In a lot of contexts, 20% doesn’t sound like a lot. If someone told you a project was 20% complete, you most likely wouldn’t be that impressed. You might start to feel anxious as your phone battery dips to 20% (I know I do). You might be frustrated because you’re only 20% of the way through Zelda: Breath of the Wild (I’m probably not even 2% of the way through, so if you are, props to you). But it’s all relative. As a business, if your revenue had increased 20% year-on-year, that might be something to celebrate. If your web traffic grew 20% month-on-month, that’s definitely good news. So when it comes to growth, 20% is looking pretty good.

As marketers, a dilemma we often face is doing something now, or delaying it until we’ve got something that’s absolutely nailing it. Taking action and getting it out there vs perfecting and honing and then launching to (hopefully) great effect. The word “hopefully” is the reason we often plump for the first approach. You can spend weeks, months or even years developing and perfecting imagery, messaging, a website, or a brochure in anticipation of a huge launch, only to find it falls flat on its face. In a lot of cases, we prefer the trial and error approach.

This is what I mean by “the case for 20%” – this means taking the view that if you can produce something that’s at least 20% better than what you’re doing at the moment, let’s run with that, and continue to test, tweak and improve while whatever “something” is, is live in the marketplace.


It’s not selling shit while it’s on your hard drive

Whatever you’re working on – whether it’s a blog post, a video, or a new website, I hope I don’t have to tell you it is of absolutely no value to your business while it’s sitting on your hard drive, or your Google Drive, or your dev server, or wherever it’s hidden away from public consumption. Not only is it not getting results, it’s also not providing you with any insight as to how to effective it is. I truly believe that the best way to do things in marketing is to get something out there, gauge the response, analyse, revist, refine and do again. Not only does this give you a wealth of stats and insight into what your customers like and respond to, it also helps you dedicate more time to stuff that works, and less time to stuff that doesn’t. It takes all the guessing out of activity, and it means you’re still getting value from your assets while you’re continually improving things in the background. Nothing riles me more than seeing a “our website is under construction!” message in 2018.


Build, test, refine

The “20% method” isn’t about producing mediocre content, or recycling what you’re doing already – it’s about accepting that in order to get shit done, you’re not going to be able to achieve 100% efficacy without spending a lot of time on it. Set yourself realistic timescales, and achieve the best you can within them – if it’s 20% of the way there or more, then great! Get it out there and start testing it. You’ve already achieved more by doing this than you would’ve done had you decided to embark on a lengthy project to work on in secret until it’s ready. You are not a movie supervillain – your invention does not need to be ready to fight your arch nemesis.

In fact, I’ve just thought of a great analogy for what I’m talking about.

In the 2004 Pixar movie The Incredibles, the villain, Syndrome, wants to create a robot that will kill Mr Incredible. In order to do so, he sets up a testing facility on a remote island, and invites numerous superheroes to fight the numerous iterations of his robot. He tests and refines the robot until it is “ready” to fight Mr Incredible.

So, in summary – build a robot, get it ready to fight a lesser superhero, and keep refining until you can take on Mr Incredible. Raise the quality of your output by 20% to nail some quick win opportunities, test, refine and improve until you’re ready to bring in some serious business and some serious deals. Just remember…


Things move quickly

In a world where consumers have shrinking attention spans, and there are new companies and strategies popping up to disrupt industries all the time, you have to move quite quickly. You could spend a significant amount of time developing something, only to launch it and find everyone’s moved onto the next thing. In the past, I’ve witnessed website projects go on for 2 years or more. The grunt work was completed within 6 months or so – the remaining 18 months were spent twiddling and tweaking to perfection. The result – a website that once it was eventually launched, was 2 years out of date. Is it just me, or does that sound like an incredible waste of time and money to you?

And it’s not just trends within marketing that will have an effect on you – it’s trends within your industry. Sitting on a campaign or project until you’re 100% satisfied with it could mean you’ll miss a key window of opportunity for the year, or a few years if your market is on a 3 or 5 year refresh cycle.


It’s not about rushing

I’m wary that this sounds like I’m suggesting you should rush activity just to get it out there. That’s not entirely what I’m getting at. Give yourself realistic goals within realistic timeframes, and plan ahead for further developments. We’ve approached a fair few projects – particularly websites – with a roadmapped, phased strategy. Phase 1 is getting something looking good that gives us that critical 20% edge on what’s happening at the moment. Phase 2 hopefully gives us another 20%. And so on. For Phase 1, address the things that critically need fixing, and are a barrier to lead generation or brand awareness. The subsequent phases should be about further improvements, keeping an eye on results and analytics as you go.



That ending up coming off a bit more ranty than I meant it to in parts. But it’s something I’m passionate about – I’ve seen so many projects falter off or get massively dragged out because everyone got too obsessed with the detail and weren’t seeing the bigger picture. Take action now – get that 20%, and grow from there.

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