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Ask MarketingExperiments: How do qualitative research, design thinking, and design sprints relate to A/B testing?

We frequently receive questions from our email subscribers asking marketing advice. Instead of hiding those answers in one-to-one email communication, we occasionally publish edited excerpts of some of them here as well as our sister publication, MarketingSherpa, so they can help other readers as well. If you have any questions, let us know.

Dear MarketingExperiments: Hi. I read a lot of your articles and see your videos. Your research techniques are based on A/B testing. What’s your opinion about design sprint and design thinking process and qualitative-based research.


Dear Reader: Thank you for your question. A/B testing is not mutually exclusive from the other techniques you mentioned. In fact, they are often paired together by practitioners who are either aware of specific methodologies incorporated by these techniques, or are simply engaging in many of the tactics in those methodologies without specifically following (or even being aware of) them.

Here is some information to answer your question paired with
some related resources so you can dig further.


Qualitative research can be valuable to help you build a
theory about your customer. You should then form hypotheses to test your
theories. That’s where A/B testing comes in. The qualitative research can also
help you interpret those test results.

So, for example, you might assume customers care more about the environmental aspects of a product than the luxury aspects of a product based on your qualitative research. You can run an A/B test to determine if you are correct. The qualitative research can then help you answer why customers have the preference. For example, if they care about the environmental aspects for a deeper reason — maybe they are concerned about getting cancer from chemicals — it can lead you to explore other ways to serve those customer motivations with your messaging and your products.

Some sources you might consider for your qualitative
research include:

You can build a database of your qualitative research discoveries to help you track your findings and prioritize what you would like to test.

While the MECLABS methodology employs quantitative methods to study objective evidence in pursuit of a robust Customer Theory, those quantitative methods are enhanced by qualitative methods. Quantitative and qualitative methods are not at odds with each other, rather they work better in tandem.

Design thinking

Design thinking is a methodology that focuses on the user. A methodology like design thinking can go hand-in-hand with customer-first marketing.

Key elements of design thinking include empathizing with the
prospective customer or user, defining the problem, ideating a solution,
prototyping that solution and then testing it.

Again, we see where A/B testing can fit into this

Design thinking is similar to the MECLABS Conversion Sequence Heuristic — a patented methodology to help you empathize with the customer, define the problem and come up with solutions. And ultimately you want to test to see how your suppositions (hypotheses) behave in the real world.

Design sprint

A design sprint incorporates many of the ideas we’ve already
discussed. It is in many ways a focused application of design thinking in a
condensed amount of time.

That focus can be essential to the modern marketer and
business person. We frequently find our time and attention splintered by all of
the tasks we’re trying to keep up with — from long-term strategy to immediate
fire drills. A surge of effort on a precise task has become a popular way of
attacking a specific problem or opportunity. It can be personally fulfilling as
well, bringing the team closer together and uniting everyone around a common
goal with a clear success metric — building something specific to solve a
specific problem.

As such, this sprint mindset isn’t unique to design or marketing. In fact, it is especially popular in information technology (IT) where practitioners, for example, use the Scrum project-management system for website redesign and software development.

If you are going to engage in a design sprint, it helps to
begin with insights about the challenges and opportunities for the product and/or
user experience based on some information.  This is where qualitative research can come

It also helps to get an understanding of how the thing you
create performs with users and customers — this is where A/B testing comes in.
After all, a design sprint can be a good way to build something based on the
best internal gut thinking, external opinions and other data. But again, this should
lead to a hypothesis which you can ultimately test with real-world behavior.

While we never use the term or official methodology of a design sprint, MECLABS also engages in focused activities with business and marketing teams to get a specific, customer-focused output that can then be tested — our Quick Win Intensives and Value Proposition Workshops.

A common thread

I’ve found that some people in life prefer a specific
methodology or canonical approach to follow.

I’m more of a big-picture guy myself — what can I learn from different methodologies, approaches and belief systems? And how can I apply that in my life, in my career and in specific situations?

If we were to step back for a minute, there is a common
thread in all of the research tactics we’ve discussed:

  • How can you focus on the other (i.e., user or customer)?
  • How can you discover what will best serve the
    other (which can be very different from your own opinion)?
  • How can you structure your time, efforts and
    resources to serve the other?
  • How can you know if your suppositions and effort
    were effective? (What is your single source or truth?)

Thanks again for your question and best of luck in wherever
your research journeys take you.

Related Resources

MECLABS Institute Online Testing on-demand certification course — Learn where to test, what to test, and how to turn basic testing data into customer wisdom

Marketing Analytics: 4 techniques to discuss with your data analysts

Heuristic Cheat Sheet: 10 methods for improving your marketing

The post Ask MarketingExperiments: How do qualitative research, design thinking, and design sprints relate to A/B testing? appeared first on MarketingExperiments.

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Tales from the Trenches: How to Transition from Marketing Doer to Marketing Leader

I was roughly five years into my marketing career when I began managing my first direct report. It was the biggest challenge I faced yet. I was now being evaluated on the actions, successes, and failures of another person—and I also knew it was my responsibility to give them the support and tools they needed to have more successes than failures.

I felt as if I didn’t know how to influence, motivate, or persuade another person. But I was given the opportunity to try and to learn. I had a great group of bosses, mentors, and peers giving me advice, listening to my concerns or wins, and allowing me to make mistakes.

Quite a few years (and many direct reports) later, today I have a much better handle on how to manage a team. And as I’ve grown, I’ve learned that my job isn’t just to manage people, time, projects, or priorities, my job is to lead.

But it can be hard to make the transition from a “doer” to a leader. And the stakes are high. In fact, a recent study from TINYpulse found that nearly 50% of employees have quit a job because of a less than stellar manager. In addition, those who don’t feel recognized for their work are two-times as likely to be job hunting.

Whether you’re stepping into your first management role, moving onto middle management, or you have your eye on the CMO office, as a leader it’s your job to inspire, motivate, and grow a happy and high-functioning team. The insights below are designed to help guide you down a successful path to a fruitful career and happy, supported, and motivated employees. 

Tip #1: Understand the landscape

Whether you’re managing one team member or an entire department, you’ll be setting goals and playing an integral role in setting the marketing strategy your team is responsible for driving results with. But to do that, you must understand the broad and niche context in which your organization, department, or service line operates. This means getting to know your customers, prospects, and competitors more deeply, so you thoughtfully can guide and educate your team:

  • Seek out opportunities to hold monthly or quarterly one-on-one calls with your priority customers. Ask them what they value most about your organization or product, as well as where you can do better. 
  • Regularly research your competitors. Subscribe to emails, follow them on social media, and attend industry events where they might be speaking. This will give you unique intel that you can bring back to your team.
  • Get out of the marketing silo. Brainstorm with the sales team. Talk to your customer service team. These teams are intimately familiar with the challenges your customers and prospects face.

Tip #2: Set goals … and exceed them

Yes, you’ve probably be setting goals at all stages of your career. As an individual contributor, your goals were likely focused on what you could individually achieve. In a leadership role, you’re likely responsible for setting goals for your team that will ladder to corporate goals. If you are new to a leadership role, achieving goals that map directly to the success of the company, can be a quick win to build trust within leadership and grow your team and influence. 

  • Keep your goals top of mind. Discuss progress, roadblocks, and wins with your team, your boss, and other leaders. The more discussion around goals, the more likely you and your team are to remain focused and accountable on achieving them. 
  • Incentivize if you can. Big and small incentives can keep your team motivated to achieve their goals.
  • Make it a number. In my experience, setting and achieving a numerical goal has more impact on the organization and is generally more impressive than an accomplishment-based goal. For example, make the goal double MQLs, instead of rolling out a new marketing automation system. The marketing automation system is a stepping stone to reach the goal, not the actual goal. 
  • Set goals quarterly. Ninety days is long enough to achieve something big-ish, but short enough to keep you focused. We’ve found quarterly goals helps us track for the year and keep the team more motivated. 

[bctt tweet="The more discussion around goals, the more likely you and your team are to remain focused and accountable on achieving them. @Alexis5484" username="toprank"]

Tip #3: Focus on scalability

Once it’s time to step out of day-to-day execution and supervision and into leadership, you should focus more on optimizing and solving issues on a systematic basis, rather than local basis. When I was a new manager, I found myself constantly on the run putting out fires as they would pop up, instead of focusing on why it started and how to prevent it going forward.

  • Create make-sense processes. Identify the things your team does over and over again such as campaign launches, attending events, or adding new content to the website. These are replicable events that you can create process around and then optimize for efficiency, results, and so on.
  • Don’t feel like you have to stick to the status quo. Just because the marketing team has always had six copywriters, two content strategists, and an analyst, doesn’t mean that’s the ideal structure. Document the needs and functions of the organization and then map out the most make-sense roles to those needs. For the sake of the exercise, take the current situation out of it. You can employ a phased approach to get you from current situation to ideal. 

Tip #4: Shift the spotlight to your team

As you’re moving into leadership, you’re likely trying to build trust and show value to upper leadership, and it can be easy to lose focus on serving your team. Fostering a happy, well-functioning team is your top priority. Not only can you not do your job without them, but it is one of the best indicators of success to your boss and your boss’s boss. 

  • Shift how you find personal value from work. Most of us have moved into leadership, after being highly successful individual contributors and supervisors. As leaders, we must find more value from the task, result, or project we helped someone else achieve, rather than the work we did ourselves. 
  • Clear obstacles. Be transparent when you can; have your employees’ backs. These things build trust and create a secure, happy, and productive team. 
  • Cultivate the next round of leaders. Understand what your team wants to achieve personally within their careers within the next five or 10 years, and help them do that. As leaders, we should always be identifying and growing the team members who want to move to the next round in their careers. 

[bctt tweet="Most of us have moved into leadership, after being highly successful individual contributors and supervisors. As leaders, we must find more value from the task, result, or project we helped someone else achieve. @Alexis5484" username="toprank"]

Tip #5: Stay fresh on the job

At all levels of my career, I’ve found the best way to build trust with a team is to help them solve a problem. The more you understand your team’s job function, the more able you will be able to help them solve problems, innovate, and provide feedback to improve the function of their performance. 

  • Stay fresh. I find the best way to do this is to jump in and help execute from time to time. So, write a blog post or create the tactical plan. This keeps you from getting rusty, but also helps you empathize with your team and the challenges within their roles. 
  • Ask questions. Sometimes you won’t understand the details of what they’re working on, particularly if you’re leading a cross functional team. But ask questions. Help them look at the problem critically, and it’s likely you’ll guide them to their own answer. 

Tip #6: Be the leader

One of the toughest transitions from individual contributor to leader, is owning your role as the leader. For the first few years that I was managing a small team, I was more likely to be found deep in the weeds, doing the tasks I did in my previous job titles, than actually doing my work as a leader.

There were a couple reasons for this. It was comfortable doing the work; I already knew how to do it and I was good at. I also felt like I was most helpful to my team if I was helping them get the work done by actually doing the work. 

This was not true. See tip No. 3. You (and I) are most helpful to your team when you’re solving systematic problems, optimizing workflow and production, and creating a happy and secure work environment. If you’re always in the weeds, all you can see is the weeds. 

[bctt tweet="You're most helpful to your team when you’re solving systematic problems, optimizing workflow and production, and creating a happy and secure work environment. @Alexis5484 on being a #marketing leader" username="toprank"]

Tip #7: Keep learning

The leaders I am most inspired by inside and outside of my organization are probably the most voracious learners. Continuous learning through a variety of mediums will help you continue to evolve your skill set, bring in fresh ideas, and help you be inspired to test something new. Here are a couple of the resources that I go to:

  • Read: HBR is a go to for great content on how to lead, manage and shape a business. 
  • Listen: Dear HBR has a great Q&A format about navigating workplace challenges. 
  • Attend: Industry events are great for providing outside perspective, networking with other leaders and inspiring the evolution of your tactics. MarketingProfs is a great event for marketers.

Take Your Place at the Leadership Table

Each stage of your career offers a unique set of challenges and opportunities. The way in which you handle those situations—tackling them head-on or leaving them for someone else—has the potential to make or break your success in that position… and the one that may or may not come after. Keep these pieces of advice in mind as you work to build your team, your organization, and career as a leader.

Looking for more tips on how to inspire, motivate, and build a more effective marketing team? Check out our tips for getting your marketing team to work better together.

The post Tales from the Trenches: How to Transition from Marketing Doer to Marketing Leader appeared first on Online Marketing Blog - TopRank®.

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