Ideation & Hypotheses Development: GMLC Phase 2

About The Author

Ahmad Iqbal

Ahmad Iqbal

Co-founder and CEO at HMS Commerce. Product development and marketing of our suite of apps, as well as providing growth marketing services to select merchants.

Ideation & Hypotheses Creation

Once teams have completed Goal Orientation, they should feel confident of what’s expected and bought into the achievability of their goals. In this stage, the teams collaborate and brainstorm to identify the right tactics and opportunities (Growth Stories) they should execute.

Coming up with new ideas and discovering things that haven’t yet been surfaced is one of the most challenging activities marketing teams can engage in. How do we know where to look? How do we know what we don’t know? How do we make sure we’re not going down the wrong paths? Without some ideation framework in mind these things are tough. So in this stage we will lay out several visual activities, canvases, and approaches to keep these working sessions productive and valuable.

Let’s again visit word origins. “Idea” also has an interesting origin story. It comes from the ancient Greek term, Idein, when meant “to see.” It then evolved to Idea, meaning “to form, pattern.” The interesting thing here is that the word is firmly rooted in the concept of sight. Then evolved to mean to see patterns and form. Sight can trigger ideas, because patterns and symbols give us a layer of context and insight. Words, either written or verbalized, cannot. This is why visual reports, pictures and dashboards are important, they tell more of a story. It’s also why “pictures are worth a thousand words.” How is this important to us? Well, this is why it’s so important to leverage the physical canvases, sticky notes, and kanban boards. These physical boards around which the teams can congregate and share a common snapshot, will help drive new questions and ideas. And so by collectively seeing stickies move, group, and change in our working sessions, we’re inviting and catalyzing new ideas all the time.

In addition to coming up with a backlog of campaign ideas, hypotheses and questions, teams should use this time to co-create their growth story template, prioritization criteria, and kanban workflow design. Once these activities are completed and the artifacts are created, the team will be well suited to start stage three, Execution.

Roles & Responsibilities

Performance Owner

The Performance Owner is the most crucial role at every Ideation and Hypotheses session. After all it’s their backlog that’s being created. Performance Owners need to be present and should drive the ideation sessions using the artifacts we will discuss in this stage of the GMLC. Their role is to run the working sessions to populate the Funnel or Lifecycle Map, encourage Core Team members to document on-going questions for the Questions Backlog, and co-design the Kanban Board.

Core Team

The cross-functional marketing execution team is heavily involved during this Ideation and Hypothesis Creation stage. This is because they will be responsible for executing against these hypotheses, and being involved in framing experiments is a great way to create buy-in and motivation to see quality work through to completion. This is not like waterfall processes where execution teams are the last in line in the workflow. Where leadership decides on what is being worked on, and the instructions flow down the ladder onto an apprehensively waiting pool of individuals. No. In our workflow, these front-line staff have a say in their backlog. This is why their involvement in the goal orientation is important.

In this stage, Core Team members are co-creating their artifacts, most importantly the Funnel or Lifecycle Map. We’ll dive more into this shortly. The key thing to take away here is that participation in this stage is important to create team buy in and a visualization of the Growth Equation. These are the ideas your team will spend months or quarters working on, so having their input at Day 0 is key to ongoing engagement.

Leadership (optional)

Leadership is listed as optional, but it’s probably a good idea not to include them if their titles have anything higher than Director. However, if the team includes many new individuals, or lacks someone who can drive the working sessions, it may be prudent to involve someone from leadership to facilitate. That being said, if leadership doesn’t have experience running these ideation and hypothesis generation sessions either, then bringing in an independent coach or performance marketer to run the sessions would be worth your while.

Peripheral Team Members (optional)

As with the first stage, peripheral teams like data science, product development, merchandising, etc, should be called upon when needed. As with most businesses you may want to lean on the data focused teams more, since you’ll be looking at the data to inspire your lowest hanging opportunities, but depending on your business line another may make sense too. As an example for a large retailer, having someone from Merchandising involved for a portion of a session may be useful to understand which products perform better, or new product lines being introduced so the team can formulate marketing experiments based on new offers.

Activities & Outcomes

Funnel Mapping & Backlog Generation

In this phase we will continue with the initial Funnel Stages Map created and complete the full visualization. Your growth team should list the existing campaigns or tactics currently in flight that are aimed at driving those events. For example, for the Conversion stage of the funnel, one of the key events is “add to cart” - so how do we catch abandoned carts in order to maximize the flow-through from add to cart to completed checkout?

In the canvas above you will see sections for different funnel components the team needs to populate. In the major middle section across the canvas, the team should add the key events (as identified in the funnel visualization during Goal Orientation) and ideas for how to drive those levers. So with the abandoned cart event, place that in the “Conversion” bucket, and then list the tactics/campaigns/strategies the team can implement to patch that hole in the funnel. Additionally, list all the Channels you can use to recover these abandons, as well as metrics so we know how to measure improvements.

In another example, one towards more top-of-funnel (left side in the canvas), if we see we have a great flow rate within Awareness (site visit to time on site) but the total visits are lower than our peers in the same industry, we should spend more time focusing on acquiring new channels. The team should then populate new channels in awareness so we can open up the top of the funnel.

Continue this exercise for as many key customer events you can think of throughout your marketing funnel.

The outcome here will be a completed Funnel Map, but more importantly will be the basis for the backlog. All of those tactics that your team has thought of to improve/drive each event or metric will be placed into the backlog.

Lifecycle Mapping

An important point to consider about the Funnel Map is it is best equipped to handle acquisition initiatives. But as with most mature marketing organizations you also need to consider retention marketing. We’ve all heard the saying “It’s cheaper to retain a customer than to acquire a new one,” and not having a retention focused artifact would be a shame.

This is what the Lifecycle Map is used for. It serves the same purpose as the above Funnel Map, to help retention teams document and visualize their customer’s journey through their marketing stages. Mapping how customers move from within different segments.

In an example below customers could be grouped into five different buckets:

  1. Best
  2. Potentially Best
  3. New & Recently Returned Customers
  4. At Risk
  5. Churned

It will be up to your team to define the parameters of each of these customer segments. One suggested model is a framework called Recency Frequency Monetary (RFM) Model which we’ve explained in detail in another one of our playbooks outside of this four part series.

Question Backlog

Another very important component of this GMLC stage is creating questions the team should answer. From our experience, the larger the organization or technology stack used, the fewer ratio of team members are aware of key insights. For example, what’s the Customer Acquisition Cost of customers in the Greater Toronto Area? How old, on average, is our “Best” customer? What percentage of our customers who purchased five years ago are still purchasing today? Who are they? Over the period of this stage, and onwards, your team should get more and more curious, and ask these questions. If answers are not immediately known, they should be added to a questions backlog that ideally data analyst on your team should own.

Answers to questions like these are integral to the ideation and hypothesis generation process. It’s in these insights that we hold the keys to further and consistent growth. For example, if we find that only 10% of our customers from five years ago are still retained today, and they all have a specific geography or product collection in common, there is an insight there we can unpack. Perhaps they all opted for the next-day shipping option and their fast delivery experience made them much stickier. In this case you have a new hypothesis to check: By changing our shipping options on the backend, to automatically upgrade first-time customers to next-day delivery, we can drive 50% improvement in monthly retentions.

More on this hypothesis template below.

Growth Story Template

The Growth Stories are the building blocks of the whole GMLC process. The Growth Story communicates the opportunity for growth in a simple and consistent form. They are the building blocks that make up the whole execution stage. Each organization’s Growth Story template can and should be unique, but there should be at least the below seven components across all:

  1. Growth Story Name: Testimonials Facebook Remarketing
  2. Insight: Our testimonials page is in the top three highest converting pages
  3. Hypothesis: By changing our FB remarketing content, to feature look-alike authentic customer testimonials, we will improve our retarget ad Click Through Rate by 25% and improve our Conversion Rate by 40%.
  4. Key Performance Indictor(s) (KPI): Click Through Rate, Cost Per Click, Conversion Rate, Customer Acquisition Cost.
  5. Impact (0-1): 40%
  6. Confidence (0-1): 70%
  7. Effort (1-5): 1
  8. ICE Score: (Impact * Confidence) / Effort

Once you’ve come up with a decent amount of growth stories your team is happy with, we need to populate our physical Kanban Board with each growth story.

Kanban Board

This is the most fun artifact to create, and the one teams enjoy using the most. That’s good news because this artifact will be used on a daily basis and becomes the main visualization of all work in progress for the team(s).

Kanban is taken from the Japanese word for Visual Card. It was used in the lean manufacturing industry to manage workflows in Toyota’s car manufacturing process. It is a pull-based working model, versus the push-based model of a conveyor belt system. The conveyor belt model is a waterfall type model that most experts have deemed ill-suited for complex and high-variability work, like product development and in our case, growth, performance, or digital marketing. And it’s likely that a waterfall method is failing your marketing organization, which is why you’re probably reading this guide in the first place.

So as you can see, the Kanban Board is a cornerstone of the transformation from a push-based Waterfall methodology to pull-based Growth methodology.

We will dive into the details of this important artifact in playbook number three: Ideation and Hypothesis Creation. It will include examples of boards, how to use them, and how to build/evolve your own.

Outcome

After this stage your team should have developed:

  • Marketing Funnel Map and/or Lifecycle Map
  • Growth Story Template
  • Prioritized Idea and Hypothesis Backlog
  • Questions Backlog
  • Kanban Board

These are the documents and artifacts you need to begin “sprinting” or executing against your campaigns.

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