OUR THINKING/ARTICLE

Test, learn, improve: How to take intelligent risks with your content marketing

Ben Harrison

A ‘fail-fast‘ approach to innovation is one of the hottest trends in business, not least in the marketing sphere.

Today’s marketers have the tools and technologies to test and refine their messages and campaigns almost in real time. In theory, this should enable us all to take intelligent risks and try more experimental approaches, safe in the knowledge that we can quickly amend and evolve them.

In reality, marketers often find it’s not so easy to apply these approaches within a corporate environment. It’s no simple task to reverse a business culture that for decades has espoused a rigid long-term planning process, where risk-taking and failure are frowned upon. This resistance is felt keenly in B2B marketing departments, at a time when budgets are tight and return on investment is increasingly scrutinised.

But it’s a battle worth fighting. In his book, Black Box Thinking, journalist Matthew Syed argues that one of the most important factors in continuous improvement is instilling a progressive attitude to failure. Crucially, this entails creating an environment where people are not afraid to fail and are encouraged to learn from those failures. Syed’s thinking has particular relevance to marketers: we need to learn how to experiment, test new ideas and embrace our mistakes.

Analyse your previous campaigns

So, how do you start to apply a focus on continuous learning to your thought leadership programmes? Before initiating your next campaign, we suggest that your first step should always be analysing your past experiences.

Organisations that publish a lot of content are always at risk of duplicating stories or, even worse, publishing conflicting points of view. A thorough audit of past performance is a good first step in optimising your publishing activity. At Longitude, we recommend that a broad basket of performance metrics is gathered and analysed, encompassing engagement metrics at the top of the funnel – media coverage, visits and downloads, for instance – through to more commercial metrics lower down – MQLs, conversion rates or marketing-sourced sales contribution.

It seems like an all-too-obvious place to start, but numerous B2Bs still skip this step. The likelihood is that you’ll be targeting a similar audience as before, so your previous campaigns are an invaluable source of knowledge.

Be brave – but not suicidal

Gary Brammall, CMO at property search company Zoopla, recently talked to Marketing Week about the role of failure in marketing and revealed that he operates a “70-20-10 model”. This method dedicates 70% of work towards tried and tested activities, where his team are certain of a “good” outcome. A further 20% of his time goes on calculated risks – these are slight variations and improvements on the previous mistakes you’ve identified. Small tweaks, rather than radical changes, can help your thought leadership programmes improve into the future, without risking the programme as a whole – Syed describes this as a “guided missile” approach, as opposed to a “ballistic missile” one.

For posterity, the final 10% of Brammall’s time is dedicated to the “bat-shit crazy, hail Mary stuff”. The B2B marketers among you will dismiss this as a B2C-only mentality, but the thinking should be similar: dedicate a small amount of time to more radical ideas, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised if and when they eventually come off.

While we accept that a strict 70-20-10 model may not work for every organisation, the idea is to plan a sensible mix of safe bets, smart improvements and radical punts. A healthy balance such as this will go a long way to ensuring your thought leadership and marketing strategy continues to innovate and excite the market.

Foster innovation in your marketing team

By now, the business case for embracing a culture of experimentation should be obvious. There are a number of things you should consider to make your marketing department more agile and ready to evolve:

  1. Back strategies that are proven to work well – but make space in your content campaigns for more experimental ideas and radical punts.
  2. Make smart tweaks to weaknesses identified in previous campaigns – this bolsters an ethic of continuous improvement for the future.
  3. Experiment with different messaging, headlines and hooks – and measure their impact, so you can truly understand what performs and what flops.
  4. Have the resources ready to make agile tweaks – refine rapidly until you achieve the desired result from your programme.
  5. Prize experimentation in your team – create an environment where the fail-fast approach is not only tolerated but encouraged.

“The single greatest obstacle to progress is failing to learn from mistakes.”

Matthew Syed, Black Box Thinking

If there’s a single lesson that Matthew Syed would want to impart, it’s that a greater emphasis on analysing your mistakes and failures is essential. There is a great tendency to stick with the status quo when something is initially successful, but, as marketers, we need to keep testing, failing and improving. It’s an ethos that will be vital for those who want their brand to be an innovative and disruptive presence in the market.

Speak to an expert

Call us to find out how we can help you strengthen your thought leadership strategy.

+44 (0)20 7873 4770 enquiries@longitude.co.uk Contact us

About the author: Ben Harrison

Ben is part of Longitude’s marketing team, working closely with Emily – our marketing manager – and the rest of the commercial team to help deliver on the company’s content strategy. Using social media, our blog, and a long-term programme of eBooks and research reports, Ben helps provide the content the company needs to be a thought leader in the world of thought leadership.

Having completed an undergraduate degree in Marketing and Management from the University of East Anglia, Ben joined Longitude in October 2017 as a marketing intern.

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