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Test and learn your way to smarter marketing decisions

By Chris Pitt, Managing Director

Vertical Leap


The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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October 5, 2020 | 6 min read

A recent survey published by the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council found that 90% of businesses planned to make changes to their marketing strategy during the peak of the coronavirus outbreak in March. However, the same survey revealed 69% were not satisfied with their decision-supporting data, forcing them to make blind changes during a time of crisis.

Test and Learn

Test and learn your way to smarter marketing decisions

Now, more than ever, brands need robust data to guide their marketing decisions, help them navigate difficult times and capitalise on new opportunities for the fastest possible recovery. To build this kind of dataset, businesses need to apply a test and learn approach to their marketing efforts so that every campaign collects useful insights for improving performance and making smarter decisions.

What is ‘test and learn’ marketing?

Test and learn marketing is a data-driven approach to constantly improving the performance of your campaigns, website and brand through a series of ongoing tests. Chances are you’re already familiar with conversion rate optimisation (CRO) and this is a perfect example of test and learn marketing.

A good CRO strategy has two main objectives:

  1. Increase conversion rates through testing variations.
  2. Learn from previous tests and apply findings to future marketing decisions.

The same two objectives are true for all test and learn marketing principles. You run a series of tests to determine the best outcome for specific scenarios and you collect all of this data to spot patterns and inform smarter marketing decisions.

The only difference is you’re not necessarily testing for conversions.

By applying a test and learn model to all of your marketing campaigns, you can improve every aspect of brand performance with data-driven insights. The more tests you run and the more data you collect, the more reliable these insights become and the more robust your marketing decisions will be.

We recently published an article on our website, 'How to apply a test and learn approach to your digital marketing', where we list some examples of the goals you might apply a test and learn system to:

  • Measure the ROI of your organic search strategy.
  • Compare the value of leads from different channels (eg paid search vs paid social).
  • Test the effectiveness of content types (eg video vs articles).
  • Determine which content topics generate the highest engagement.
  • Test the potential value of a new platform (eg TikTok).
  • Calculate the lifetime customer value of leads based on acquisition channel and their position along your marketing funnel.
  • Identify negative friction that’s preventing leads from converting into customers.
  • Optimise your marketing funnel to reduce dropouts and maximise conversions.
  • Optimise the customer experience to maximise repeat purchases and lifetime customer value.

A test and learn model can be applied to any marketing objective and campaign type where you want to maximise performance and collect insights to inform better marketing decisions in the future.

How to apply a test and learn model

In the same article, we provide a six-step process for applying a test and learn approach to any marketing strategy. You’ll find a more detailed explanation in the original article but here’s a quick overview of the key steps to take:

  1. Define your goal and KPIs: It’s crucial that you have a specific goal in mind and understand which KPIs truly measure success.
  2. Develop your hypothesis: This is the theory that your tests will prove or disprove – for example, that increasing PPC bids at the weekend will generate more leads.
  3. Create your testing criteria: To get meaningful results from your tests, you need to define strict testing criteria and remove every possible variable that might skew the outcome.
  4. Test ideas with the highest potential first: This will have the biggest impact on performance and collect the most valuable data early on – but it also ensures that your test and learn models achieve a positive ROI as soon as possible.
  5. Run your tests until statistical significance: This ensures your results are reliable enough to inform decisions while mitigating for variables outside of your control.
  6. Turn insights into action: Individual results help you make specific decisions but collecting data from all of your tests helps you to make informed predictions and decisions for future campaigns – for example, which ad format is most effective for your campaign message or how much to bid to achieve your target reach.

This test and learn approach can be applied to any marketing strategy and, with today’s automation tools, managing tests and compiling data doesn’t need to drain your funds or resources.

The coronavirus pandemic will pass but further economic downturns and other crises are inevitable. Brands that successfully build their own test and learn models will be best placed to overcome the challenges of the future, rather than simply relying on third-party data that leaves you a step (or more) behind.

Chris Pitt is managing director at Vertical Leap.


Content by The Drum Network member:

Vertical Leap

We are an evidence-led search marketing agency that helps brands get found online, drive qualified traffic to their websites and increase conversions/sales.


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