It’s more important than ever to create a framework for experimentation…
Yet why are so many companies behind on using experimentation to improve their digital footprint?
My guest Shamir Duverseau is the Co-Founder of Smart Panda Labs, a company that helps enterprise organizations in the early stages of digital transformation with management and consulting services.
Shamir will cover how you can use experimentation to convert more prospects.
He’ll also share why most companies focus on the wrong phase of the funnel and how you can improve the collaboration between IT and marketing.
Mentioned in this episode:
Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered, Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst. The topic for today’s episode is the importance of creating a framework for experimentation.
Here to speak with me is Shamir Duverseau who is the Co-Founder at Smart Panda Labs, a company that helps enterprise organizations in the early stages of digital transformation with managed and consulting services. Shamir worked across several industries from travel to entertainment to technology, with brands like Southwest Airlines, The Walt Disney Company, and NBC Universal. He’s held leadership roles, overseeing everything from product management to digital strategy. Shamir, welcome to the show.
Shamir Duverseau: Thank you so much for having me.
Steffen: Now, Shamir, before we start talking about today’s topic, tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself. How did you get started in your career, and what led you to founding Smart Panda Labs?
Shamir: Sure, happy to. So got started in marketing, working with Southwest Airlines, working with their vacation package division, helping to create packages for places in Florida and California. That really is what introduced me to not just marketing in general, but specifically product marketing, product development, but also introduced me a lot to marketing operations and just understanding how marketing works.
From a back end, more technical aspect of marketing and how we make things actually happen for the customers and deliver those products. From there went to NBC Universal, and really started to get more specifically into the digital aspects of marketing. That was about the time when digital was really taking off, becoming a key component of everyone’s business. So got to do some very fundamental things there.
And I think it was at that point where I really started to understand how different digital was in terms of the need for marketers to really work very closely with product and work very closely with IT and the technical side of things. And working, they’re working at Disney, working at Marriott, I saw that that didn’t happen very easily. Marketing and IT talk very, very, very different languages.
You know, it’s like one speaking French and one speaking Sanskrit or something, and they just, they just couldn’t get aligned. And I saw how much pain that caused. And that directly affects the digital experience. So that was something where I learned a lot, I learned a lot about how those two things needed to meld, but also saw that a lot of enterprise companies had that pain.
And that’s what led me ultimately to form Smart Panda Labs to say, how can we help companies that are trying to build a foundation and framework for success, how can we help them align the marketing, digital customer experience side with the technical side, so that they can actually deliver what they’re trying to promise.
Steffen: Now, why is experimentation such an essential element of a modern digital operation?
Shamir: Really goes back to those technical elements, right? Marketing is not today, a situation where you can simply set it and forget it. I think that used to be the way, because you know that the time and effort and energy it took to produce a television ad or a radio spot or print ad, you put it out there and it was what it was. But in the digital space where things are so dynamic, you really in real time need to understand and meet the needs of customers.
And experimentation is the only way to do that. And now you’re taking all the subjectivity out of it. And you’re really leading with objectivity in a way that marketers hadn’t done in the past and in decades previous. And of course, that leads to real, measurable, meaningful results that ultimately make marketing much more of a key function than it’s ever been in the history of the field.
So if that’s the case, as marketers, and just as organizations, if you want to continue to iterate, to change, to adapt as the market changes, as competitors change, as customers change, then you need to be changing. And the framework for change is experimentation. That’s the way that you keep up. That’s the way that you make sure that you’re meeting the demands of what’s happening, and that you’re iterating in a way that leads to success.
Steffen: So to make sure that everyone really understands what we talk about when we talk about experimentation in a digital environment. Can you talk a little bit more about that. It doesn’t sound like we’re talking about experimentation of are we going to use landing page A over B, when run on a paid search campaign? A lead gen campaign, right? I think it sounds more like experimentation across the entire marketing sphere, as it relates to you know, you talked about customers, you know, what my customers respond to better, for example. But talk a bit more about that, Shamir.
Shamir: Sure. Yeah. I mean, what you mentioned, I mean, that’s just like one corner, one aspect of experimentation, right? Just like a split test to say this page A work better than page B. But it’s really about the entire experience. So it’s not just the page or the email, but it’s about the experience you’re having on sight.
So how do we lead customer A through the conversion funnel? Versus how do we lead customer B through that funnel? What products and promotions does customer A respond to versus customer B? And understanding that those customers are very different too because those customers fall into very different segments.
So one powerful thing about experimentation is helping you to understand that not all people can be treated the same. That people from different geographic areas, different psychographic groups, all those people respond very differently to different products, different promotions, different creative, different page architecture, different conversion funnels.
So it’s really understanding how do we adapt to that, right? How do we surface what’s most relevant to each of those groups? And then once we’ve figured that out, well, how do we keep that relevant? Because those groups are changing, they’re in a constant state of flux.
So how do we keep that relevant. So now you have an entire cycle of experimentation that’s constantly in the works, because that’s what’s keeping you relevant. That’s what’s keeping you moving in the right direction, turning and ebbing and flowing the way that customers do.
Steffen: Now, as a company embarks on a journey of implementing experimentation, that requires I don’t want to say necessarily smart people but inquisitive people. People that want to question the status quo, that want to question what they’re currently doing might not be optimal, and then have to come up with what are we going to test as an alternative? So where would a company start with that journey, basically? And who do they need to be successful?
Shamir: Yeah, I think starting with that journey, is really having a baseline of what are those critical tactics that we want to have in the marketplace, and establishing those tactics and getting those things up and running? And a key part of that is saying, how are we measuring the success of those tactics? There’s a lot of talk about data, obviously, and data is a wonderful thing.
But you know, too much of anything is, you know, can be bad, as much as good. And there’s so much data available. You really have to identify and say, what are the key metrics here? What are the things that really matter when it comes to actually creating a customer, and building value in that customer.
Identify those key metrics, and then draw insights from how those metrics are performing based on the campaigns you’re running based on what’s in the marketplace, and then use those insights to say, based on what we’re seeing here, here’s an opportunity for experimentation. You know, this insight would tend to indicate that if we try this, as opposed to that this might have a better outcome for this particular segment of our audience.
Or on this particular component of our web experience, or whatever the case is. That generates ideation, you experiment, and by its nature, experimentation generates more data. The results of the experiment, that data drives more insights. And now you’re creating a framework of success, because now it begins to feed itself and pick up speed.
So that’s really the kind of the very simple structure of how you get started. Those critical tactics, those key measurements, using those measurements to drive insights, using those insights to drive ideation and experiments, and then seeing the cycle over again.
Steffen: Now, when you work with companies, are you focusing on the end goal when you do that, or are you focusing on kind of milestones in between that lead to the end goal?
Shamir: Honestly, it’s a bit of both. Right? So one of the things you mentioned, you know, in your previous question was, what are the resources you need to do that. And as we talked about earlier in our conversation, modern marketing, modern digital marketing is a combination of multiple different skill sets, right.
From development engineering, to the actual, more traditional creative side of marketing, to the more technical back end operations of IT, to product, to operations, right. There’s a blend of all those things that are necessary to do that. And then you need someone who understands enough about all those things, to kind of herd the cats, so to speak, and kind of get everyone moving in the right direction.
So you also need those resources as well. And a lot of organizations, that’s a combination of both key internal team members, but also external people that you’re kind of bringing in. People like ourselves or other organizations that can help kind of guide and kind of direct that to get organizations aligned and moving in the right direction and kind of saying, okay, this, you know, these are the things and key components we need to have in place if we want to be successful, and being able to drive and experimentation.
So it’s those milestones in between of saying, okay, you know, who is defining those data points? How are we measuring those data points as successful? How do those data points tie back to the ultimate business goals of the organization. It’s saying, okay, who’s gonna take the time to derive insights on these data points, and actually look at the data that’s being spit out and produced.
Who’s going to take part in ideation and then that process, and then of course, building the experiment, running it, and then feeding back the loop again. So multiple people are involved in different ways in each of those steps in those milestones to be able to create that feedback loop, that framework of experimentation.
Steffen: Yeah, I think it makes a lot of sense, right? Because if you just work towards the end goal, and don’t look at what happens in between, if things don’t work out, it will be really hard to identify what is not working, right? If you don’t have these milestones in place, but once you have the milestones in place, once you define what the milestones are, what they have to deliver what the KPIs for those milestones, you will identify well milestone two seem to be underperforming, or we’re not meeting what we basically set out to do there. And therefore you can work on that.
Shamir: Exactly. Because ultimately, experimentation is about learning, right? I mean, ultimately, you want to win, but most experiments fail. But every experiment produces learning. The results are always to learn. And the learning is what pushes you to iterate and say, well, where do we need to iterate, as you alluded to.
Is this a technology issue? Is this the wrong tech stack to deliver the kind of tactics we need to do? Is this the creative issue? Is it messaging? Is it positioning? Is it a product issue, right? Or is it a combination of those things, and what’s the weight that we’re giving to each of those things?
So there’s so much kind of complexity in there to understand because so many things can change and shift, which is why it’s a constant cycle because ultimately, you’re testing this and you’re kind of, you’re tweaking this thing in one direction. And it’s like, oh, but now I need to tweak this other thing in the other direction, and you’re constantly looking for that right mix.
And you need people who kind of can embrace that, right? Who kind of find that to be fun, and energizing to say, I love to tweak, you know, I love to find those mixes and kind of play with it on a constant and consistent basis and mix that up and see how we can find the right combination and drive results from that.
Steffen: Yeah, I have to say digital transformation is a little bit like SEO, right? I mean, digital is kind of around us. So much, it’s hard for me to understand why there are still so many companies out there that haven’t gotten through to digital transformation. That haven’t found a way to kind of get their business, what they’re doing digitally, properly, digitally set up.
And it’s the same thing as I said with SEO, right. I still don’t understand why there’s so many companies that don’t understand the value of SEO, and why they haven’t tapped into it, in having it as part of their marketing plan ongoing. So my question here is, why are so many enterprise companies behind on using experimentation in order to improve their digital footprint, their digital operation?
Shamir: When I think about marketing, I think about kind of two big pieces. There’s the pre-click experience and the post click experience, right. So there’s the advertising, the ad that drives the click. And then there’s what happens after the click. Traditionally, marketers, advertisers spend the majority of their time and money on what happens before the click. And that happens, because that’s the easier part.
That’s the part that’s easier to control. It’s easy to say, I’m going to spend more money on this ad, it’s relatively easy to create new ad creative. It’s easy to set up ads in new platforms in new spaces. That’s easy to do. So by default, every problem becomes an advertising problem. The challenge here is that when it comes to the customer, they spend only a fraction of time interacting with the ad, most of their time is post click.
But post click is where it becomes more complicated, because post click is well, now marketing has to get along with product, and has to get along with IT and has to get along with operations. And we all have to be singing the same song in order to get the website to be what it needs to be and do what it wants to do. Or the mobile app, or the email automations or, you know, the personalization. All those things need to be in sync with all these different groups. And that’s harder.
So I think a lot of organizations end up kind of saying, I’m going to shy away from the hard part. And I’m going to focus toward the easy part. And the easy part is just the ad. The hard part is what happens after the ad and trying to iterate and experiment and improve on that. That’s hard. That’s a lot of work. That’s a lot of people that need to be coordinated. That’s a lot of understanding and technical knowledge I don’t have, I don’t want to have, or maybe don’t have on the team today.
So let’s just focus on the easy part. And I think they get caught in that cycle. But ultimately, it catches up with them. And you can only stay in that cycle for so long. Because again, the customer has a certain demand of that experience. And hey, it’s nice to get someone to get to your store. But if they walk in the store and can’t find anything, then what was the point? And that’s what’s happening in the digital world every day with so many enterprise organizations.
Steffen: Interesting. I mean, they’re literally wasting money at the end of the day, right? I mean, they’re kind of telling you what you will find might be an over promise because, as you said they’re focusing on getting them in. But then once they’re in there literally leaving them standing there without giving them what they promised they would give them.
Or it might not be easy to find or whatever kind of the barriers or the hurdles are that that customer then faces. Now, how do you help companies to kind of make that mind shift to kind of, not necessarily disregard kind of attracting them, but then also, once you attract them, help them convert them, or make them the things that the your company or you want them to do, basically.
Shamir: So we help companies do two key things. So first is let’s establish the foundation. And the foundation is, again, one of those critical tactics you need to be running, you need to be executing in order to do business. What is table stakes for you in order to do business in your particular industry, for your customer? What’s the base expectation, and let’s make sure those things are established.
Let’s make sure those things are up and running. And even if we’re just starting based on you know, quote, unquote, best practice, that’s fine. But let’s get those critical tactics running in place. That’s the foundation right. And that takes some technology, that takes the proper resources that take the proper planning and strategy.
Now that we’ve got that foundation in place, now comes the framework we’re talking about of saying, how are we measuring success? And then how are we using that to drive experimentation. Now getting those two pieces kind of up and running can definitely be tricky. So we’ve got to get the organization to buy into the fact of, hey, this is what’s going to not only help you get more out of your marketing dollars, right and improve the performance of your marketing and drive a better cost per acquisition, a better customer acquisition cost.
But this is also the space that drives lifetime value for those customers as well. Your ads have some play, but much, much less play when it comes to lifetime value. It’s your experience that’s really going to drive lifetime value. And ultimately, marketer, those are the things that make you valuable to the executive leadership, right?
Because it comes down to numbers for them. It comes down to how is this affecting our shareholders? How is this affecting the valuation of our organization? And that’s how marketing can affect those things. Advertising isn’t affecting those things. It’s dragging those things down. And that’s why oftentimes, when times get tough marketing is the first thing to cut. But you want to see marketing as a value generating group.
And the only way to do that is to optimize and build on that experience, that post click. So making that argument that that foundation framework ultimately drives to the key components, the key business objectives of the organization and making that connection, that helps to justify making that investment. And then we start to build that foundation and build up that framework, which helps to drive maturity in a digital experience.
Steffen: So where do you start building that framework? And what do you need to get started with doing so?
Shamir: So typically, it starts with kind of an assessment of what’s the current landscape, what’s happening today. And then we typically help our customers kind of roadmap things out and kind of say, okay, great, based on what’s happening today, here’s where you want to get to. But getting to there usually is not just one step, it’s five steps.
And the order of those steps matter. So we literally have to create a roadmap and say, what’s phase one? What’s phase two? What’s phase three? Why are each of these components and steps important? What’s the objective? What’s the strategy to get there? What’s the driver behind each step? And then what are the dependencies behind each step?
Because again, there’s technology that’s involved in that, right? So in order to do this, what needs to be reconfigured? What kind of technology platform do we need to look for? Does there need to be a change, does there need to be an enhancement?
So mapping all that out, understanding those steps, understanding their phases, understanding those dependencies, those technical challenges and issues, mapping that out. Now it says, okay, now we have a blueprint that we can follow, and then we start executing on that blueprint and moving in the right direction.
Steffen: Interesting. What are push backs you get? Or are you getting any push backs at all when you go through that? Because I would think, you know, companies, although they might say, hey, you know, what, yeah, let’s talk about it, I’m interested, but they are set in certain ways. And certain things they might not be open to, to kind of change. How do you approach that?
Shamir: I think in terms of pushback, we get probably maybe two or three main areas of pushback. So first is again, getting past that mentality that this is about advertising and understanding that it’s not. There are other components here that are at play, and understanding that the experience that someone has matters. I think marketers sometimes get under the delusion that people will just kind of figure it out.
And it’s not that people are necessarily stupid, it’s that people like easy. And you know, every time you make something a little bit hard, every time you create some semblance of friction, it’s just easier to jump and go. You think about running into a store, to maybe buy a quick item off the shelf, and you went into the store and you grab the quick item you want, and you get to the checkout, and the lines are long.
How many times are like you know what, I don’t have time for this, I’ll get to some other time. You put the item down where you’re standing and you run out of the store because you don’t have time to stand in that line. That’s not an issue of stupid, it’s that’s an issue of hard. So what we want, is we want to create experiences very smooth where the person gets to the line, that the person is standing at the register waiting for him. It’s a smooth checkout, right?
And just getting markers to that mentality is one kind of big component of that. The other component of that is it’s the history between marketing in IT, and those departments. Especially in those more legacy enterprise organizations, where those two groups just aren’t getting along. Marketing feels like IT is a barrier to everything they want to do. Therefore, they create a culture where how do we work around IT? How do we get around them? How do we keep them out of the loop? IT builds up resentment to that mentality.
And because ultimately, you’re going to have to deal with them in some way, form or fashion. But now you’ve created an adversarial atmosphere in terms of dealing with them. And sometimes it’s about getting past that adversarial atmosphere and saying, hey, look, the only way to move forward is to kind of get along. It’s the move in the right direction.
And then the third one that we typically run into is, a lot of enterprise organizations have these proprietary legacy systems in place that have been there, since you know, grandma was there, and there’s only two guys in a garage somewhere, often, you know, the middle of nowhere. And they’re the only ones who know how to work the system. And they’re the only ones who had to change anything, or fix anything.
But this thing runs the whole company. And it’s, you know, it’s scotched taped together, but it runs the whole company. And now there’s this colossal task of saying you’re gonna need to move off of that. And that’s a big change, it’s a huge change. It’s usually a lot of money, it’s a significant investment. And that’s extremely scary, because you feel like it’s been working for this long, like it’s going to keep putting along.
And what they’re not realizing is, it’s not going to keep putting along, and every day that you wait to make that change, the more expensive the change is going to become. Like all that’s happening is that number keeps going up. That’s all that’s happening. That’s the only thing you’re delaying, it’s just that the investment that make the changes just keeps going up every day.
So at some point, you got to, you got to pull the cord, and you kind of say, okay, like, we need to make this investment now, before it becomes another, you know, 10, 20, 50% bigger than it is today. So those are the ones that we kind of deal with and have to talk through with customers and clients.
Steffen: But that can be really tricky. I mean, I’m just thinking of a client of ours, that uses an online ecommerce system, which, I won’t say the name, it’s a big company, but it seems very complicated to use. And the client actually has very little control over the system and has to work with an outside vendor to get things done. Now, that has impacted their ecommerce massively, because they’re really handcuffed in what they can do.
And they actually just recently went through that system and did that system. But if you probably would go in there and say, look, why is your ecommerce not working? You probably would immediately raise the finger and say, that’s one reason why it’s not working. Because you don’t have flexibility, you’re relying on a third party to do a lot of the things that your team should actually do, because you need that control.
Now, how do you convince someone to kind of throw that overboard and literally buy into sending out something that probably serves them much better in the mid and long run? Because as you said, there’s a cost associated to it, you know, that might be quite a bit. And that’s scary at the end of the day.
Shamir: It’s hard to make generalizations here. But sometimes it’s not necessarily kind of throwing it out the window. A lot of times, it’s not the system, it’s how the system was configured. And that comes down to the fact that there was poor communication upfront to kind of say, what are the requirements that we need in terms of how this gets set up.
Because maybe the person who was trying to deliver those requirements didn’t have enough understanding of what to say, and how to say it, and how to get that thought across. The person who’s taking in those requirements, didn’t have enough understanding of what the person is trying to tell. So you end up configuring it a certain way.
And then what happens is, often the system gets blamed, like, oh, you know, Company X, that’s a terrible tool. But the tool is fine. It’s just the way you built it, like you set it up poorly. Or maybe just you know, out of pure ignorance, you just didn’t know any better. And it got set up a certain way. And that’s what’s holding you down.
So it’s a matter of kind of saying taking a step back and saying, okay, like this, this ecommerce system in your examples is holding you back. What’s the issue here? Well, we have to go through this outside company and make these changes. Okay, well, like why is that? I almost think about like lean thinking like the five whys like keep asking why five times to get to the root problem.
It’s like, let’s get to the root problem here. Like, what is that? And sometimes it’s like, we pick the wrong system. But sometimes it’s like, we set this up poorly. Okay, well, what tweaks can we make in the short term, in the midterm, in the long term that at least starts to turn this the ship and start to get you going in the right direction? Because sometimes there’s this quick win that can kind of like, hey, we can do some things here in the short term to show value.
And then we can work toward those bigger changes to get you where you need to be. It’s just a matter of understanding that. Getting to the root cause, like what went wrong here? Was it the choice of the system? Was it how the system was configured? Is it who’s running the system? Is it the partner like, what went wrong here?
And let’s address that problem. As opposed to what happens sometimes with marketers, which is like, oh, this is the problem because this is easy to blame. And it’s just like, well, it can be more complicated than that.
Steffen: Yeah. Yeah. That makes sense. Now the other part of you mentioned marketing and IT kind of butting heads. It’s actually in that example exactly the same thing. IT makes a decision on we want the system. Marketing didn’t really have much say in that and then marketing now air quotes suffers because they can’t work with the system and can’t achieve their results because they don’t control the system.
So, when we talk about lead generation, sales and marketing ,we’re always talking about, they need to kind of talk to each other, you know, they need to have one voice, they need to agree on goals and everything. So that, you know, leads can easily flow through from the marketing side, to the sales side, and then actually convert at some point or feedback has to come back from this feedback loop, what you talked about earlier. But IT is exactly the same thing. It’s, you know, marketing and IT need to sit together.
Marketing needs to communicate, what do they need in order to be successful? What software do they need? What solution, technology will make it easy for them or easier for them to achieve the goal? And then IT hopefully is able to go and look for those solutions, and then also help to implement them, to service them, to help the organization because it’s not about IT versus marketing. It’s about what benefits the overall company.
Shamir: 100%. And you know, and what happens is, you know, you get any department in any organization, you get lost in the sea of your own goals, right? So marketing has its goals and what it needs to drive. IT has typically a cost center, they have their goals of what they want to do. But what are the goals of the organization? How do our individual goals tier up to those organizational bigger goals?
And then how do we find the technology we need that bring both those goals into alignment, and end up driving those bigger organizational goals? That’s kind of a key step that often gets missed. Because, again, you know, we get locked in our own world. And we’re just thinking about, well, these are the things I want to do.
And IT says, well, these are things that are important to me. And you know, depending on the organization, whoever has kind of the trump card and kind of has more influence or control, like they win that fight, right? And then the other one is now like in it kind of already in the corner, instead of saying, hey, how do we work together? How do these things tier up?
And then let’s work together to make that choice. No matter who ultimately has the final say, but let’s work together to make sure that as those things tier up, that we’re both kind of getting our list checked off in terms of the goals that we need to accomplish.
Steffen: Yeah. Well, Shamir, that’s a great last thought. Thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast and sharing your thoughts on the importance of creating a framework for experimentation. Now if people want to find out more about you, about Smart Panda Labs, how can they get in touch?
Shamir: Sure, so they can certainly visit us. Smartpandalabs.com and check out the website but they can also follow me on LinkedIn. Shamir Duverseau. I’m probably the only Shamir Duverseau on LinkedIn. So it shouldn’t be too terribly hard to find. Post there regularly. Kind of share my thoughts and musings and kind of see if they jive with yours, and if so, happy to have a conversation.
Steffen: Great. Well as always, we’ll leave that information in the show notes. Thanks everyone for listening. If you like the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.
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