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James Black shares timeless marketing advice that identifies the role and benefits of testing.

As your marketing shifts from planning to execution, it’s important to structure tests to understand how well your marketing is performing, and to learn from it.  While the old adage “Half of my marketing isn’t working, I just don‘t know which half” often rings true, today you have access to more and better data to track the performance of your marketing and ideally the return on your marketing investment.  The important thing to do is to design tests, set success criteria to measure and collect learnings to inform future marketing initiatives.  By borrowing key elements of the marketing process from leading consumer marketing companies, you can make your marketing work harder for you.  Also, because as a start-up you are likely to be more nimble, this enables you to quickly invest in higher return marketing, vs. spending too much in vehicles that aren’t productive, which is a considerable advantage in the marketplace.


  1. Set up “test and learns.” In reality, everything you do as a start-up is a “test and learn.”  The important thing, though, is to put some structure around the work to understand what resourcing you should commit to it and, ideally, what you are getting out of it.  After all, most start-ups are not “idea-constrained”, they are “dollar-constrained” or “resource-constrained.”  As such, you have to ultimately make choices about whether to invest a dollar or an hour here or there, you generally don’t have the luxury of doing “everything” and if you do, few have the luxury of doing everything well!  For each marketing tactic you deploy, outline a simple test and learn strategy.  Note the: a) objective for using the tactic, b) what specific things you are looking to test, c) how you are going to measure success and d) benchmarks for what you anticipate performance to look like.  For example, if you are using Google AdWords, the objective would be “to drive traffic to our website,” the testing might focus on different advertising directions and keywords, and the success measures could include a) website traffic, b) cost per click and c) sales generated via AdWords.  Likewise a request for sampling program might have an objective of trial and compare the results of redemption rates from various request executions.  In addition to applying this logic to core tactics, it’s important to identify one or two tests to execute that have the potential for breakthrough to push your marketing and marketing learning forward.  For decades people have cited the 3M “15 percent” rule (where employees allocate 15 percent of their time to self-managed innovation projects); think about a similar logic, it terms of budget or hours that you want to put against marketing innovation in your plans.  You want to make sure that core tactics are sufficiently funded, but it’s important to also have a “test and learn” budget for marketing innovation so that your marketing plan is not merely “tried and true” and that you’re also making reasonable investments to prove out “unknowns.”


Key points include:

  • Using Google Adwords
  • Setting success criteria
  • Tracking learnings to inform future marketing initiatives


Read the full article, Think Big, Act Small #4. Learning Early, Inexpensively and Correctly: the Role of Testing & Measuring in Marketing


James Black provides an update on how COVID-19 forced museums and cultural institutions to reshape how they interact with the public and still provide an engaging experience.

As the WSJ noted, “With galleries and museums closed due to Covid-19, online offerings blossomed—giving viewers the chance to experience outstanding exhibitions and masterpieces in a new, digital way.” (12/13/20).

From an analysis of the activities of 20+ institutions around the world, completed via desk research and interviews with various CEOs, board members, curators, and heads of advancement and marketing, among others, several themes emerged.

WHAT did museums and cultural institutions do during the shutdowns?

Covid made more institutions realize that live and digital programming are complementary, not competing. Many institutions built out online offerings; those with pre-existing platforms and capabilities had a distinct advantage in building engagement. Unsurprisingly, musical institutions may have had a head start in cultivating alternative channels (e.g., radio, digital, etc.) But museums quickly adapted to the new situation, expanding and intensifying their existing online activities. A number of smaller players, like the Frick in NY, were scrappy, driving creative executions, perhaps driven by their need to sustain visibility and raise funds.

Audience interest in programming was strong. As the Director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC noted, “Audiences are clearly hungry for diversion, learning, enjoyment, and connection during this crisis.”

SO WHAT did they learn from this experience and reapply as they reopened?


Key points include:

  • Audience rewards
  • Improvement of production value
  • How to best reach and engage audiences in the “new normal.”


Read the full article, COVID-19 has served as a prism to reframe museums & cultural institutions, their activities, and how they serve their audiences as they have reopened, on LinkedIn.



With a look ahead to a post pandemic environment, James Black provides nine questions to help you identify the potential possibilities and pitfalls.

While all eyes are on navigating the pandemic—and for retailers than also means navigating the critical holiday shopping period—smart manufacturers and retailers are starting to look ahead to envision how they will operate in a Post-Covid world. (This is not to say we are in a Post-Covid environment yet, rather, for how to strategically plan for when we are.) I offer up 9 questions as thought-starters to help you start thinking about the Post-Covid world.

    Purpose – Will companies come out of the pandemic with a renewed sense of purpose (for the company and their employees)? Recent McKinsey research show that employees that are “living their purpose” at work report higher levels of well-being.

    Opportunity – Given the short-term focus that has (rightly) dominated a lot of managerial thinking, it is critical for managers to seize the opportunity to anticipate what consumers needs will be. How can businesses get ahead of the competition more long-term?

    Supply Chain – Robust supply chains were a key enable of winning as the pandemic settled in. How can companies’ leverage this unprecedented opportunity to design more agile supply chains to be more responsive to new demand flows?


Remaining topic question include:

  • Organization
  • Innovation
  • Distribution


Read the full article, 9 Questions to Help You Start Preparing for a Post-Covid Environment, on LinkedIn.



James Black shares the third article in the  series Seeing 20/20 in 2020. Each post shares steps to help brands and businesses improve their marketing strategies. This article focuses on marketing plans and capabilities. 

To kick off the new year, I suggested “20 Questions to Help Your Brand or Business See 20/20 in 2020.” And what a year it has been already! No doubt, COVID-19 is leading many brands/businesses to revisit their marketing plans, but the logic here still applies. To help brands and businesses assess the state of the business and identify opportunities, I advocated taking a closer look at the topic of Customer Understanding (Part 1), and then turning attention to the Brand/Business Proposition and The Path to Purchase (Part 2). In this post (Part 3), I conclude the series by looking at Marketing Plans and Marketing Capabilities.


Points covered in this article include:

  • Identifying objectives
  • Evaluating tactics
  • Success criteria


Read the full article, Seeing 20/20 in 2020: Part 3 – Marketing Plans and Capabilities, and access links to the series, on LinkedIn.



James Black shares the first post in a series that explores the development of customer understanding in 2020. 

To kick off the new year, I suggested ‘20 Questions to Help Your Brand or Business See 20/20 in 2020.’ To help brands and businesses assess the state of your business and identify opportunities, I wanted to take a closer look at the topic of Customer Understanding.

Developing a deeper Customer Understanding is helpful to identify opportunities to strengthen your business. If you didn’t enter the New Year feeling like you had a deep understanding of your customer, here are some tips on how to quickly build your fact base. At P&G, business understanding always began with a robust “WHO” Understanding – that is, the consumer who used the product and the shopper who bought it.


Questions asked and explained include:

  • Do we have a clearly defined target customer?
  • Do we have a clear understanding of the end benefit the customer is seeking?
  • Does our offering fit with his/her desired benefit?
  • Do we understand the customer’s unmet needs vs. current offerings?
  • Are we conducting the right mix of research (qualitative and quantitative)?
  • Do we prioritize what we do (and don’t do) and what we invest in (and not in) against customers’ needs?


Read the full article, Seeing 20/20 in 2020: Part 1 – Customer Understanding, on LinkedIn. 



James Black provides a comprehensive list of questions designed to help you build a marketing strategy that can help your business move forward in 2020.

Entering the New Year provides a great opportunity to take a quick audit of your brand or business to identify opportunity areas in your 1) customer understanding, 2) go to market strategy and 3) marketing capabilities. These 20 questions are designed as thought-starters to help you get a sense of the state of your business.


Areas covered by the questions include:

  • Brand/Business proposition
  • The path to purchase
  • Marketing plans
  • Marketing capabilities


Read the full article, 20 Questions to Help Your Brand or Business See 20/20 in 2020, on LinkedIn.