Win Over Shoppers Through Low Risk Experimentation

Everyone (except your spell-check system) is probably aware by now of the astounding explosive growth of Pinterest (they’ve gone from around 600K unique visitors in June of 2011 to over 20M a little more than a year later). But are you there? Your target market probably is. Especially if your target market is higher than average income women age 25-54 with kids… exactly the demographic for Kraft Foods for example. And the by the way, Kraft, the number 4 category pinners (another word your spell-check system doesn’t have) shop most frequently is food. Check out the infographic from Fast Co.Design.

But because it’s quite new, and considering most large companies are inexorably slow, very few are designed to take advantage of this kind of opportunity. Instead, they adopt a “wait and see” attitude and figure they can muscle their way in later by relying on their scale. Well, that strategy is questionable at best since consumer sentiment continues to be low and confidence in big business are just slightly better than congress, both of which are abysmally low.

I suggest a different approach: low risk experimentation. Here’s how to do it.

Think Variable Cost

Don’t think of going out and hiring a headcount to dedicate to any new social media platform (or any other emerging marketing channel for that matter). Adding fixed overheads takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r in larger companies and carries a low probability of ever happening (plus, if you know anything about core and context work, this is context and should likely remain outside anyway). But, and I’ve seen enough marketing budgets to know, most marketers in bigger companies have some dollars they could allocate. This keeps the cost as a variable expense and is much easier to justify.

Think Small

Another “don’t”: Don’t rely on your existing agency. Most big companies turn it over to their agency of record. This is a bad idea for a lot of reasons. While it’s true you’re already spending money with them and could easily channel a few bucks to try out a new thing, most large agencies are heavily vested in maintaining the status quo (i.e., they’re biased economically and ideologically to maintain what they already do). Instead, go through the (likely) hassle of setting up a new vendor and make sure they’re a small business that focuses on doing this new thing. You’ll probably get terrific results because you’ll be their dream account and they’ll cost less than your current agency because they have less overhead to cover (read: high priced talent, fancy buildings and fixed assets focused on yesterday’s marketing). Plus, your consumer’s confidence in small business ranks second only to their confidence in the military (the highest ranked institution).

Think Entrepreneurially

Now comes the fun part. Carve out the opportunity, maybe a smaller line of business or some limited scope, and charter the work to be done. I like to use a formal chartering process because it lays out the terms of the experiment: the rationale for the work, the sponsoring leaders, the working team, the deliverables and objectives, the strategy and a high-level work plan with scope and timing. Once that’s in place, cut the team loose to do their thing and run their own show. Disciplined entrepreneurship, I call it.

If you approach it right, you can actually get several of these experiments going across your business at a pretty low cost. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn quickly: what’s working, what’s not, where to place your bets for the future. And each experiment becomes a great developmental opportunity for those involved. It’s a win-win approach that circumvents what is usually a slow, plodding, big-business response to the rapid changes we’re seeing in the world today.


(Larry McManis is President & CEO of ThinkWay Strategies, a business design agency that focuses on helping companies reinvent themselves internally to meet the growing challenges they face externally. He frequently writes for other businesses and organizations including the Shopper Insights in Action Conference sponsored by IIR USA.)