Cornflakes, Fireworks And Microwaves. (Now It’s Your Turn).


Has someone on your team ever come to you with a novel idea that you’ve perhaps shut down too quickly? Has your agency wanted to try something a little out of the box that you’ve not carved out some budget for? Have you stifled one of your own ideas for fear of it being too risky?

I’ve long been an advocate of “responsible experimentation” – the idea that everyone should experiment with new ideas, technologies and approaches – particularly in an era when advances in technology are playing such a pivotal role in marketing.

When you consider that cornflakes, fireworks, microwaves, post it notes – even potato chips – were all borne out of the by-products of responsible experimentation, perhaps you’ll be inspired into thinking your business could benefit from a little responsible experimentation on a regular basis.

To help frame these ideas up and put some shall we say… “responsible parameters” around experimentation, here are so some ideas that may help get the experimentation underway:


Set up a process for encouraging new ideas

It’s one thing to pay lip service to the idea of responsible experimentation, it’s another to actually create a framework for getting ideas tabled and explored. Consider a monthly get together with your team and your agencies to talk about new ideas and approaches. Create a cross-functional team specifically for innovation. The more you can let go and let your teams be creative, the more they’ll feel involved and empowered. It can be good for morale too.

Not All Measures Are Created Equal

Not every idea is going to have a concrete ROI model – at least in the beginning. So if you can’t measure on ROI, encourage teams to create some other form of measure of success (or failure) that’ll help you evaluate the merits of an idea.

Ask your customers for feedback

Responsible experimentation is a great opportunity to get your customers engaged with your business. Ask them for help, feedback, thoughts and ideas. And while you’re about it, build up a database of those who are willing to help – think of it as free focus groups.

Get the word out

If appropriate, use social media to provide updates on your responsible experimentation. Ask for input or help along the way. Don’t let ideas go into a black hole never to see the light of day. Be honest about what worked and what didn’t.

Set aside a budget

Most ideas won’t get off the ground unless there’s some sort of budget to support them. Even when budgets are tight, the upside to responsible experimentation (or even just the learning from responsible experimentation) can be huge.


A word of caution.  Not everything is going to go according to plan when you’re experimenting.  In fact, if you’re doing your experimenting properly, things will definitely go awry now and then.  So before your start – draw some boundaries:


Don’t mess with the brand

Every brand has attributes and values that make it what it is. Responsible experimentation should always be evaluated through the lens of the brand and whether – at its best or worst – it is in step with your brand values. If it’s not a fit with the brand – or never will be – don’t do it.

Don’t OBSESS about mistakes

OK, this is a broad statement – but the point is the concept here is this is about “experimentation”. Not every experiment is going to work. Not every experiment is going to yield the results you’d hoped for. If it doesn’t work, learn what and why it didn’t work and improve next time around.

Don’t look through rose-colored glasses

Always consider your worst downside and ask “what’s the worst that could happen?” Your worst downside should always preserve the integrity of your brand, as well as the security and safety of your customers and employees. Again, if those attributes aren’t present – don’t do it.

Don’t ignore the recovery plan

If whatever you’re doing doesn’t work – what’s your internal and external communication strategy (if needed)? Give a heads-up to other groups or departments so everyone knows what’s going on and if the worst does happen, be ready with a prepared response.

Don’t stop experimenting

Don’t stop experimenting just because something didn’t work. Measure, learn and try, try again. Remember, even Thomas Edison failed hundreds of times before getting his light bulb to work.


Responsible experimentation should be actively encouraged by all marketers and their agencies. To really make it work, support, encourage and empower your teams to experiment and seek support executive management in your team’s efforts. With reasonable safety guards in place, risk should be minimal, teams engaged and customers engaged, and your upside unlimited.

What experiments has your organization learned from?  What worked?  What didn’t? And most important… what’s next?


Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc offering confidential advisory to marketers looking for truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else. Read more like this on our blog Marketing Unscrewed / follow me @StephanArgent

Photo: Thomas Hawk