Leveraging Deltas to Beat the Dark Side of Innovation Stagnation

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that the only constant we can count on is change.

Of course, this isn’t news. However, now more than ever, we see twists and turns play out in everyday life. With every little shift, each bit of new information and knowledge, we’re forced to adapt. Flexibility is essential.

To me, the most eloquent way to articulate and leverage incremental change over time goes back to ancient Greece: the concept of Delta, Δ.

Now, don’t worry that I’m going to geek out and make you try to remember delta-driven lessons from economics, chemistry, physics, or math.

What I will geek out over is how we can use this concept to apply design thinking to drive performance marketing. The delta — a unit of measurement from people who knew so much about design and its interplay with civilization — is eloquently expressive of growth and progress. And its implications for modern brands are profound.

In tech projects and software design, the most common approach to launch a new product, feature, or service is a sprint. Teams use an Agile sprint, a user-centric approach, to move from idea to done quickly. This linear, formulaic approach involves four steps (understand, ideate, prototype, test) implemented over a set period of time (five days, four weeks, etc.).

While this works great for tech projects, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of sprints as a former software engineer. The whole point is to take a concept and develop the minimum viable or usable product (MVP or MUP). While “changing requirements” is fine and even welcomed at a late stage in Agile development, a sprint is about going from point A to point B without learning, returning, and building in a greater context.

Instead of a typical sprint if we’ve got a clear thing we are looking to test or learn, my team and I will often use a delta — a four-week cycle that plays in the product-market fit arena. During a delta, we’re continually validating (or invalidating) hypotheses by working through what we call a “willingness to buy” initiative. This can be as small as just running a few social ads to test the theory or as large as a full-on in-market launch for a segment or cohort that makes sense for the brand.

The point is to create continuous forward momentum that’s measurable against KPIs. So, for example, one of our clients is a public global company that has a non-invasive vision improvement procedure. A top KPI for them is the ability of customers who want the procedure to find a doctor. So a delta would include several small experiments to see where we find both positive and negative improvements in a key metric like conversion rate or marketing qualified opportunities to their healthcare practitioner network.

The ultimate goal is a eureka moment that drives performance and results. One that’s equal parts science and magic and a concrete marketing building block to build more success upon.

One way you can triangulate a challenge is to view it through the prism of time: past, present, future. By tapping into where a brand has been and taking a clear-eyed snapshot of where they are today will help dictate where they’re going or — not.

The main driver of a successful delta is curiosity. The most profound three-letter word — WHY — is the channel through which you can process past and current events and question future aspirations. (The classic 5 Whys exercise is my personal favorite to use during a delta.)

Asking questions about historical decisions and current positioning is where the magic of a delta happens. It takes that 2-D triangle and shines a light on possibilities, turning it into a prism where you can see new avenues to explore, new directions to expand into. It also reveals friction points that are holding progress back and slowing down the flow of energy.

I know this may sound esoteric, but the bottom line is this: the biggest leaps forward happen with the smallest deltas. Those graduated changes in that prism are the incremental innovations that end up moving the needle forward for your business.

For example, if we’re working with a personal care brand whose site traffic is strong, but conversions are flat and below conversion rate benchmarks in their category, the first delta will be about the shopping cart. We’ll start with an audit and assessment of the path to purchase journey using various sources, like site pathing, dwell times, heat maps, visitor recordings, customer service calls, abandoned cart emails, etc. Then we’ll build out an experience map for the way forward.

Instrumental in using a delta as a catalyst is to be clear on what you’re trying to achieve. What does progress look like?

Then, each delta becomes a mini-map, as you’d see in a video game. It’s a marker that acts as a wayfinder to help build out more deltas to propel the brand forward and achieve larger business objectives.

Back to the personal care brand: once the shopping cart is improved, the next delta may be about smarter bundling of products to give people more options to save and stock up or bake in a post purchase sharing flow that drives advocacy and referral rates or it could be about tweaking the shopping experience on social channels to tap into social commerce.

While the delta is a design construct, it’s ultimately more than that. It’s a mindset. When everyone else runs out of ways to look at things, the delta reminds you that change is always possible. And inevitable.

What do you think about progress? Is it a straight-line? Circular? Or are you digging the delta? Hit me up in the comments, and let’s discuss.

Founder and Force-multiplier @digitalsurgeons. https://www.linkedin.com/in/petersena/ & http://petesena.com/

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