How The Smith Family built a culture of marketing experimentation

Giving staff the space to experiment, the systems and KPIs to support a test-and-learn culture and an agile structure oriented around outcomes has proven a winning formula for The Smith Family’s marketing team.

Speaking at this week’s ADMA Global Forum, The Smith Family head of marketing, Lisa Allan, and agency partner, Douglas Nichol of The Works, took to the stage to talk through how marketers can build a culture of experimentation and its importance to the modern digital marketing approach.

For The Smith Family, the triumvirate of space, systems and structure drive marketing experimentation, Allan said. The not-for-profit has been committed to experimentation over the past four years as it works to support more than 180,000 children in poverty each year.

“You need to give team members space and the opportunity to think about how to do things differently. What marketing we can do different, what might that activity look like, or the next thing on from what we did last time,” she said. “Regularly, we’re also looking for team members when they join to have a curious nature to ensure they are willing to look at continual optimisation, not just execution.”

Systems is about supporting performance management systems, and Allan noted the not-for-profit has a test-and-learn KPI for teams as well as individuals team members. It also uses Visio Boards and hypothesis cards to build a knowledge base. This creates reference points, allowing staff across the organization to see current tests as well as what’s been achieved in the past.

“We also talk about ‘flearning’, or failed learning, and bring that into our team meetings. We’re able to present back on things that didn’t quite go to plan and what we learned from that,” Allan continued. “Sometimes there’s a lot more wealth there than in things that did go well.”

In terms of structure, Allan is running two agile squads in marketing, one focused on acquisition and the other on retention and loyalty. These cross-functional units look to iterate in two-weekly sprints in order to deliver more value to customers in the form of minimum viable products.

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