Launch and Learn: How marketers can keep up in a real-time world


On a recent webinar I spoke on – “How to Overcome the 5 Most Common Social Media Mistakes in B2B Marketing” – we received a great question from the audience. The listener wanted to know how to keep up with real-time marketing from a marketing operations perspective.

Let’s face it, social media, content marketing and digital marketing have changed the timeframe you have to execute your marketing campaigns. We live in quickly evolving times, and marketers are constantly under the gun to produce, as well as be able to speak in near-real time through social media to potential customers. The multi-week static content standard process doesn’t work for real-time social.

My career started in the traditional world, working for an agency that created ads that appeared in The Wall Street Journal and USA Today … or even better when it comes to marketing timelines, monthly magazines.

With online marketing, not only is the lead time condensed but the job never really ends. A print ad closes, we send the insertion, and we’re done. If we’re not getting the response we want, we change the ad … in two weeks.

With digital advertising and marketing, you can always make changes to the ads in real time while they’re running and customers are reacting to them. You can react to your content marketing, email sends or even industry news any time of day or night on Facebook and Twitter.

You have to quickly react in an ever-changing marketplace. And, it just never ends. So how can the marketer deal with this? Launch and learn, with a little help from A/B testing when possible.



If we’re going to learn to be successful in this digital world, maybe we can take a lesson or two from the creators of it – software engineers. Essentially, I’m asking you to consider the marketing version of the hacker ethos celebrated at Facebook: “Stay Focused and Keep Shipping” and “Done Is Better than Perfect.”

“For the most part, the content approval process is dead because conversations are real time and approval processes are not.  In social media, an approval process for content will fail every time since conversation happens so quickly,” agreed Scott Lake, CEO, Source Metrics.

“Today, we need to work toward an approval process based on company ideals, rather than written responses. The benefit of defining company ideals is that you can respond to anything you like without seeking formal approval. As long as it is consistent with the ideals of your organization, it will be appropriate.”

“Once we outline our organizations’ ideals, marketers can respond in real time by using those as our guides,” Scott advised.

Traditional campaigns sometimes entail focus groups, surveys, market testing, and lots and lots of meetings. That simply doesn’t work for social media. And, even for campaigns, individual sends or online ads, can you try to short circuit the preparation time and get it out the door quicker?

For those marketers involved in product development, this idea is about more than just marketing.

“Particularly with technology-based companies, it is easy to get caught up in having every feature envisioned developed prior to the site launching,” said Corey Leff, Founder and CEO, spendLO, LLC. “If you spend all of your time building technology (as opposed to the user base), you very well could miss the opportunity the existing market provides. Plus, you don’t want to spend any more money than absolutely required on development until you have a proof of concept.”

Once you’ve launched, on the backend make sure to …



This is really the beauty of digital marketing. After quickly executing on your marketing campaign or individual piece, you can continually optimize and improve it once it’s live.

Essentially, I’m advocating to quickly get it out the door and to fix it on the fly.

“The most important thing to learn is to always be tracking your results in real time. If something is not working, you need to know, and it’s time to iterate,” Scott concurred.

“If your marketing idea is not working successfully, do your best to leverage other networks and communities that can help you achieve your goals.” Scott provided an example …

Goal: We wanted to promote the neighborhood of a new condo development as a great place to live in Ottawa, so we decided to host a Facebook photo contest.

Tactics: The idea was to get people to take pictures of their favorite parts of the neighborhood, then have people vote for the best pictures on Facebook. The winner got a prize package from local businesses.

Initially, we promoted the contest in social media, but we only got a lukewarm response.

To get things going, we quickly organized a photo walk with a prominent local photographer and blogger to bring attention to the contest.

At the photo walk, we announced the contest and got another 100 submissions. Building on that success, we got in touch with local media to tell them about the photo walk/contest, and it was covered on local TV, which in turn brought another wave of participants. Now that we had generated enough buzz, we refocused our efforts to promoting a much more successful contest in social media.

At the end of the voting period, we held a community event where we auctioned off large-format versions of the winning photos at the sales center, and gave prizes to the photographers. Proceeds from the auction went to local charities, and the event was done as a celebration of the neighborhood and not obviously positioned to promote the sale of condos.

Results: Increased the numbers of submission by 1,000% and gained a 50% increase in Facebook followers. Plus, we developed solid community relations by celebrating the neighborhood, and developed great ties to the local businesses by promoting their brands.


Beyond an individual campaign, Ted Leonsis, founder and CEO of Monumental Sports Entertainment (owner of the Washington Capitals, Wizards, and Mystics), provided this example for an entire company.


“One of the companies that I’ve invested in is called AddThis (notably, Revolution also invested in AddThis prior to my partnering with Steve Case and Donn Davis for the Revolution Growth fund).

When faced with the harsh economic reality of 2008, the company realized that they needed to overhaul several key assumptions in their business model.  To their credit, amidst many obstacles and a very turbulent economic environment, they took on an ambitious repositioning of their offerings, including a significant pivot in strategy and a painful but necessary reduction-in-force.

Although this was an emotional and challenging time for the company, the result of their willingness to change course led to AddThis becoming a leader in the multibillion dollar advertising data market.

By re-examining their core and making needed shifts, these entrepreneurs were able to move from an unprofitable business to a scalable revenue model, transitioning from a stand-alone idea to a central platform for industry consolidation.”


The caveats

On the MarketingExperiments blog, we try to never get up on a soapbox and say there is only one way of doing things. Instead, we strive to show you the pros and cons of different options. So now, let me poke a few holes in my own argument.

You can really only launch quickly if you already have a firm understanding of your value proposition and customer theory. The basic idea being, once you understand the value your firm provides and the value your customers are looking for, don’t waste time and resources trying to craft the perfect headline or design. Get it out there and …

This is where the second part comes into play. The launch without the learn is just winging it. Once you get it out there, do some A/B testing to actually see what works better. If you don’t yet understand how to run valid tests, at the very least, keep a close eye on your analytics and ear to social media to get a sense for how your campaign or marketing piece is working, and react on the fly.

Moreover, I should note, not everyone whom I discussed the launch and learn idea with agreed with me.

“On this particular topic, since we are a mobile marketing company that delivers content directly to customers’ mobile phones, we are very sensitive about customers’ device type and optimized experience with every content we send directly to customers,” said Cezar Kolodziej, President & CEO, Iris Mobile.

“In this sense, we optimize our campaign in real time while running it. However, since mobile campaigns that we create and run are largely for big brands and retailers, the ‘better done than perfect’ philosophy doesn’t really apply in this space. Instead, ‘better be timely and perfectly done’ is more appropriate. At least this is our experience.”

Whether you decide to expedite your up-front approval processes and campaign development or not, it’s hard to argue with Scott’s advice … “You should make sure that you are constantly benchmarking your success. Build on what you learned in this campaign and apply it to the next. If you can get it, data is the key to iterative improvement.”

… or Ted’s… “The best entrepreneurs are always pushing forward, leaving no stone and no opportunity untouched. It can be a humbling process, but it is the only proven way to create meaningful companies with enduring value.”


Related Resources

Local B2B Marketing: 150% boost in lead generation (case study with Mike Ulwelling in which he touts the virtues of “failing quickly”)

Optimization 101: How to get real results from A/B testing

Online Marketing Tests: How do you know you’re really learning anything?

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  1. Michael Jones says

    What a great article! It can be messy to ‘launch and learn,’ but if your dev cycle is built for it, it makes sense. My experience is that your launch is never going to be perfect because that’s a subjective term and you can always improve something. So ship imperfectly, but don’t confuse functional with done. The qa process needs to occur on some level for every project, even social media. Quality matters and will always set your campaign apart from the others.

  2. Internet Marketing Company USA says

    I really like your writing style, excellent info , thanks for putting up

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