Promotion Analytics Team | April 9, 2013

I had the good fortune of attending the Promotion Marketing Association (newly rechristened as the "Brand Activation Association") industry conference in Chicago this week. It was everything you'd expect from a trade show: keynotes and breakouts, vendors and networking, issues with PowerPoint. But I noticed something else as well: a recurring theme across presentations.

The theme of this year's show was "The Art and Science of Brand Activation." And intuitively, that feels right: whether your expertise is shopper marketing, omnichannel engagement, in-store activation or promotion management, it's probably fair to say that some combination of "tried and true" and "test and learn" exists within any optimal strategy. Skew too far to either side, and you become vulnerable to shifts in consumer sentiment, in technology and in tactics. It feels similar to that old investing chestnut: "a well-diversified portfolio is key."

Tara Scarlett, former lead for Coca-Cola's Mobile Center of Excellence and current Global Director of Digital Marketing for Nutro, provided an excellent illustration of this philosophy at the 2012 Mobile Marketing Association summit in New York City. She shared that Coca-Cola generally adheres to a "70/20/10" approach (primarily for mobile and emerging digital platforms, but the idea has utility everywhere) to resource allocation: 70 percent of your budget should go to established strategies; 20 percent to "firming/emerging" concepts, and 10 percent to the truly new and untested ideas. The important thing to remember about the 10 percent is that it's ok if the test does not yield tremendous results! (Sometimes that's the "learn" part in "test and learn"!) By giving their marketing teams just a bit of permission to err (nobody gets fired if the 10 percent pilots fail), you would be amazed how often they hit home runs. Coca-Cola is not exactly a ragtag band of renegades, either, but one of the most sophisticated marketers on earth.

Variations of this strategy were shared by several speakers, including Clint McClain (Walmart's Senior Director of Marketing), Clive Sirkin (Kimberly-Clark's CMO and former Leo Burnett chief) and Paco Underhill (author, speaker and principal at Envirosell). Each delivered a different point of view with unique priorities - which makes sense as all brands naturally have different tolerances for change - but the common, recurring theme was that *some* element of testing should be included in every strategic plan. You don't have to bet the farm, but you shouldn't be afraid of allocating 10 percent of your budget, either. In our jobs and lives, we all strive to constantly improve. And learning is the first step toward improving… but you must test in order to learn. Embrace it.

Because it's relevant to the topic at hand, I'll close with a shameless plug for Inmar's Analytics and Consulting. If you'd like to talk about incorporating ongoing testing strategies into your existing promotional plans, give us a call or email anytime. Whether testing face values, trying new digital methods or integrating shopper research into your promotion mix, our team lives for this stuff. For, you see, helping clients design and execute smart promotions is precisely how we "test and learn," too...