How To Be Like Edison: Fail Your Way To Success

Thomas Edison’s insights show up at least once in every business discussion (whether the participants know it or not). He may very well be the model of entrepreneurship.

Interestingly, there’s a common pattern in his life and teachings, one that defines success as ‘not the absence of failure but the sum of it’.

We’ve discussed a lot of things under the topic of lead generation for startups: focus, design, copywriting, platform-independence, and email nurturing. We’ve stressed how, from beginning to end, focus aims to simplify every decision into a binary one. And if you made your due diligence in creating as many of those as possible (or, rather, creating as few non-binary interactions as possible) you’ll receive a lot of — and we mean A LOT — of negative feedback.

People will simply say ‘no’ and that will be your best asset.

Know your enemy

Negative feedback, whether it’s a drop-off rate on your landing page, and opt-out during your email campaign, or any one of the literally hundreds of places it could come from is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good thing.

Of course, getting positive feedback is even better. But what’s bad is no feedback at all, because that gives you no data to work from, nothing to change, and nothing to improve.

Evolution, not revolution

Your product, and therefore your marketing, is not the business equivalent of Pallas Athene, springing fully armored from your mind. Every facet of your business (product, marketing, and so on) isn’t what it was a year, six months, or even a week ago: all of these evolve over time.

The biggest disservice you can do to yourself is prevent evolution — and that’s still better than making bad decisions based on the wrong data. It’s crucial to have good, clean data (which requires focus from the beginning, and simplified decisions that are easy to make and fast to evaluate).

Once you have good data, you need to make good decisions. The best way to do that is through systematic, continuous testing. There are three important qualities you need to establish for a reliable and useful testing process: scope, method, and progress.

1. Scope

As mentioned above, what you test is a matter of scope. You can go as big or as small as you’d like (or need) but once established, your scope cannot change or it’ll render your results unusable and your decisions mute, if not downright harmful.

Remember how you defined the focus of your landing page and marketing campaign? Use the same principles in defining the scope of your testing.

2. Method

Once you have your scope established, you can visualize it as the mathematical concept of a sphere. It’s the abstract boundaries of testing, but to grab it and use it you need a physical model of it. That’s your method.

Method, on its most basic level, includes both the dataset you’ll be looking at and the toolset which you’ll use to evaluate it. Whether that’s web analytics, like from Google, or something much simpler (or infinitely more complex, such as aggregated data from multiple datasets) is defined by your scope and refined by your progress and a certain ‘meta’ quality of testing. That is, you have to keep testing your testing as well.

Keep your datasets updated and your tools sharp, so you can respond to the evolving needs of your progress.

3. Progress

This is the part where data becomes communication, communication becomes decisions, and decisions become evolution.

Standing on the ground established by the other two, your progress is the infinite cycle of action-reaction. Your market’s reaction to your initial action becomes, during a decision-making process, an action on your assets, both in marketing and otherwise.

Depending on both your tools and your scope your progress can be measured by very small steps, by huge leaps, or anything in-between. Some of them will be organic and come automatically from the data. Others will need refinement, especially in cases where you misjudged the appropriate decision you’re asking your market to make and have to break it up into smaller, more manageable ones (or, when you went overboard, and a number of decisions can be eliminated or merged together to speed up the process).

Testing is not a process: it’s a form of communication

There are many misconceptions surrounding it but fundamentally, testing is just as simple as its tools: evaluating positive and negative responses, and changing the latter to restart the cycle. Whether it’s A/B testing marketing collateral or evaluating new market spaces simply depends on the scope.

Testing is the lifeblood of any growth in a business. And because it is, or should be, a constant process (as opposed to an isolated phase in the development cycle), testing becomes the foundational communication platform between you and your market.

Most people accept the fact they need to listen to their customers, but few have an understanding of what that means. You can’t rely on lengthy reviews or direct communication from your customers, no matter what form that takes. But you can and must rely on the feedback they’re still constantly giving you by continuously gathering and evaluating data from the myriad decisions they make, even when they choose not to make one.

Experience is key

While true in most cases, the importance of experience simply cannot be over-valued when it comes to testing. Because of how important and influential this process is, intuition alone won’t get the job done.

We’ve said this before: the momentary loss of hiring outside professionals pays for itself ten times over through the value they bring in with their experience. While testing, it means they’ll be able to analyze the data faster, make decisions or recommendations quicker, and not only have a strategic understanding of the process but also an example you can adapt and take advantage of in all areas of business.

What recommendations do you have for testing and receiving valuable feedback?