Does your company operate with a culture of experimentation? What exactly is a culture of experimentation? Why should you have one? And how do you create it? These are important questions all management- or executive-level professionals should be asking themselves NOW about their business. Why? Because experimentation, testing, and data-driven decision-making (unlike intuition or subjective opinion) tell brands exactly what users want, or don’t want, from them so they can, in turn, serve products and experiences that matter… and that get results.
To help you get there, the Harvard Business Review recently published an article on “Building a Culture of Experimentation,” that breaks down both why experimentation is absolutely essential for the growth and success of your company and how to create a culture of experimentation when the status quo is often and unfortunately in conflict with this approach.
In short, experimentation is powerful stuff. And, in today’s digital landscape, it is very likely the single most important practice that will put your company on a path to long-term, sustainable growth.
They found that the best and most successful brands (like Booking.com, Facebook, LinkedIn, Netflix, or IBM) and their respective leadership teams have created corporate environments that embrace constant testing and experimentation to improve their products and user experiences.
They look in particular at Booking.com’s impressive process around creating and supporting experimentation across the organization. For a bit of context here, the authors estimate that Booking.com runs around 1,000 tests on its site simultaneously, adding up to more than 25,000 tests per year!
While this may seem a bit out of reach even for some ‘big players,’ the benefits that a wide-spread culture of experimentation and testing yield are so exponential that they more than justify any challenges or roadblocks you might face.
For example, at Multiplica, we have been helping large organizations establish cultures of experimentation and increase their testing efforts for over 10 years, mostly focusing on optimizing transactional sites within the travel and leisure industries. Over the last decade, we have found that our best success stories — the brands who have seen the biggest increases in conversions and the most online revenue growth — have come from companies who are open to collaboration, willing to embrace experimentation, and who are supportive of challenging the status quo, even if that means questioning the opinion of their own CEO. In fact, adopting a “data-trumps-opinion” approach to business and product development is a key element in creating a culture of experimentation.
Here are some other key takeaways from the HBR article that we’ve found to be especially true over the last decade as we’ve helped large travel, hospitality, and leisure brands embrace and implement experimentation:
- Experimentation means listening to the data (because this tells you what users want and need) and then making strategic or creative decisions based on that. We can’t say it enough… data ALWAYS trumps opinion when you have a culture of experimentation. As one director at Booking.com puts it, “If the test tells you that the header of the website should be pink, then it should be pink. You always follow the test.” Yes to that!
- Experimentation should be accessible and encouraged across all levels of an organization for it to really take hold and become a key part of the culture. For example, at Booking.com, “About 75% of its 1800 technology and product staffers actively use the company’s experimentation platform.” To make this happen, company leaders should reward curiosity, encourage transparency, and put systems and processes in place to democratize testing. This also requires the removal of any bottle-knecks or red tape that could slow down the process or discourage experimentation.
- Experimentation as a concept, as a company value that permeates across the organization, always starts at the top. Leaders first have to embrace testing and experimentation and adopt this approach themselves. Every idea, whether it comes from the C-suite or the intern’s cubicle, should be questioned, tested, and analyzed against the same standard.
- Experimentation should not just exist quietly in the background but should be actively and energetically promoted, encouraged, and incentivized on a daily basis. Set a framework for experimentation to grow that could include things like internal contests or sprints that will increase testing pace and volume. Motivate your team to test and take ownership over the process, and make them feel safe and excited to experiment.
- Don’t focus your tests on one group or subgroup of users at the expense of others. Consider all groups and segments when testing, even taking into account varying international internet speeds or device usage. Allow these tests to run long enough to see statistical significance, but have a stop-gap process in place to put the brakes on tests that are having an immediate negative impact on the business.
- Find the right tools and agency partners. While the HBR article doesn’t include much discussion around the role that tools or digital firms play in helping brands to build cultures of experimentation, they are vital to the success of your testing strategy. The right tool and agency should act as true partners on your brand with a deep understanding of your goals and needs. Your tool should fit your functionality requirements and provide you with a good support system to train your team, while your agency should collaborate closely with you to build a strong culture of experimentation and get the most out of your tool and team to see the best results.
- And last, but maybe most important, creating a successful culture of experimentation that helps your business grow always starts with people… Whether you’re working only with your in-house resources or partnering with an external agency, the core team you have to drive testing and help establish a culture of experimentation — from ideation to implementation to validating and reporting — will be your biggest asset. Find people who have experience with experimentation but who are also open to training and agile in their thinking.
The power of experimentation isn’t a benefit only to be enjoyed by industry giants like Booking.com or LinkedIn. By embracing, creating, and maintaining an ever-evolving culture of testing and experimentation, brands will inevitably set themselves on an upward trajectory of growth. As the article says, “to successfully innovate, companies need to make experimentation an integral part of everyday life — even when budgets are tight.” In fact, I’d argue, if budget constraints are holding your team back from testing or experimenting, your company probably needs it more than ever.
- On 26th February 2020