Do you really know what works?

Picture the scene — the company you work for is struggling for performance. Someone senior starts firing questions at you: How do we drive footfall? How do we improve conversion? Should we do x or y marketing tactics? Should we drop price? What happens if we do?

Could you answer those questions with empirical certainty?

In too many businesses answering these questions become matters of experience and opinion rather than fact.

For example, Stephen Norman, Managing Director of Vauxhall, is quoted to have said:

“If anything, we have even less idea today of what works and what doesn’t than we did [pre-digital]. At least in those days, we knew we didn’t know, now you think you know and you don’t — that’s the big difference.”*

Why does this happen?

There are a couple of reasons for this phenomenon:

Short term corporate memory: I’ve worked places where several of the team have been there a long time. That can bring its own problems, but they remember whether tactics have been successful or not. But in lots of places that memory is not as long. People move on, their learning and experience are not captured anywhere and you’re back to square one.

No scientific experimentation: Let’s say someone suggests dropping the price of a product to stimulate demand. Well, that’s an opinion based on basic economic theory which is fine but will it actually lead to the outcome they want? If it does, does it increase demand enough to offset reduced margin per unit?

To me, that sounds like a perfect thing to test: “What is the price elasticity of a specific product at a given point in its lifecycle?”. But in a lot of cases, it isn’t tested. Or it’s “tested” by making the price change everywhere and tracking pre and post. Given the noise in retail and the variance of sales week on week, it can become hard to track any uplift at all.

Build your playbook

In the fabulous book “Inside the Nudge Unit”, David Halpern describes the set-up and growth of a behavioural science unit in the heart of the UK government. Their purpose was to use Behavioural Science to “Nudge” people to take positive actions — pay taxes on time, join the organ donor list, and more.

He describes the idea of building up a Playbook of tactics through robust experimentation. Tactics that have been proven to work for any given challenge for the business. This Playbook is available for all employees, new and existing, meaning learnings aren’t lost over time.

Test robustly. And often.

To build your Playbook you’ll need to experiment and experiment well. Ideally, that means randomised control tests but other methods can work if needs must.

There are a few key things to be aware of when setting up an experiment. I’m not going too far down the rabbit hole here in terms of how — smarter, more erudite people than myself have written about that here, here and here. What I want you to take away is the idea of building a series of validated and, crucially, replicable results that you have confidence in. And to put them in a format that doesn’t get forgotten as people leave your business.

You’ll have barriers to the type of work. Questions of time, creative resource, the urgency of the commercial situation and more will be presented. But if you don’t do put in the effort, then all you are really doing is spinning your wheels and the next time you get those questions you’ll be stuck wrestling with opinions, not facts. Again.

To quote a line from my time at Voodoo Park — Don’t think you know, know you know.


I am an evidence-driven marketer and consultant with over 20 years of experience across both client and agency side. I have applied my knowledge across brands as diverse as Vodafone, McDonald’s, Volkswagen, Disney, Westpac and GAME.

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Thanks to Jen Clinehens for the editing and advice



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Rob Voase

Rob Voase

Over twenty years of marketing experience in big brands, small brands, agency & client-side. I’ve worked in Australia and the UK and still miss Sydney daily.