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Unlocking the True Power of Testing & Other Takeaways from Brooks Bell’s Interview With Ambition Data


Recently, our Founder and CEO, Brooks Bell, sat down with Allison Hartsoe, host of the Customer Equity Accelerator—a podcast produced by Ambition Data. Listen to the full podcast or read on for a few highlights from their conversation:

On what inspired her to build an experimentation consultancy…

Originally, Brooks founded Brooks Bell Inc. in 2003 as a website development agency. After working with a few local clients, a chance introduction led to her first major experimentation client, AOL.

Today, you might think of AOL as one of the [now-extinct] internet dinosaurs, but even back in the early 2000s, the media giant was facing its fair share of challenges. According to one story by Time Magazine, despite having 34 million members in 2002, AOL was battling slowing subscriber growth, falling ad revenue and exorbitant operational costs. 

So, the company turned to experimentation. “AOL had the right environment to build a testing culture,” said Brooks. “They had a closed technology environment, their own analytics platform, and their data was clean and connected.”

Back then, AOL relied on pop-ups to drive new subscriptions. Working with Brooks, the company issued a challenge: design a new subscription pop-up that would beat the control experience. And so, drawing from her background in design and psychology, she did—and then she did it again, and again, and again.

But that was just the start. As other large companies began to rely more on the digital space to drive their business, Brooks saw an opportunity to help them tap into the power of experimentation.

“We realized that no one was testing!” said Brooks. “No other large companies had the data, culture and processes in place to test. So we set out to help them build the data fidelity and really recreate what we saw at AOL in those early years.”

On the difference between optimization and experimentation…

It’s one of the more common questions we get: “Brooks Bell is an experimentation consultancy. What’s that? What’s the difference between experimentation and optimization?” As Brooks explains it, it all comes down to science.

By definition, experimentation is the application of the scientific method to determine something. And while optimization is one potential outcome of an experiment, true experimentation requires running tests without a prescriptive outcome or application.

To put it simply – you’re testing to learn. And as long as your results are statistically significant, there is always something to be learned from experiments—even those with flat or negative results.

On how to unlock the real power of experimentation…

Today, in the age of Amazon, a customer-centric experience is critical. But for some established companies, this requires a bigger paradigm shift in culture and processes.  

“Customer-centricity requires rethinking metrics, the type of data you collect, how teams are organized, how teams are incentivized, how you communicate and also your core values,” said Brooks.

The true power of experimentation lies in its ability to align your customer needs with your company’s strategic goals and your program’s agenda. Furthermore, you can use experimentation to learn new things about your customers in a scientific way.

“Having statistically-sound customer insights can totally change how you organize your store, how you train your team, and how you structure your website,” said Brooks. “This is where testing programs can really drive change.”

To that end, we recently celebrated the launch of Illuminate, our customer insights software for testing teams and executives. Illuminate not only provides a place to store, share and learn from your experiments, but also a means to develop impactful customer insights.

“We launched Illuminate to provide a repository of great test examples, to learn from each other, and to build a library of great test case studies,” said Brooks.  This is because outside of the testing program, any key learnings from an experiment can get lost within the data. Illuminate solves this by encouraging deeper thinking about customers, their needs, preferences, and behaviors. 

Learn more about Brooks Bell’s experimentation consulting services.