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How to Optimize the Ad Testing Process with Agile Research

Agile research is transforming everything from product development and packaging to website design and advertising in general.

If you’re new to agile, here’s a brief primer: Agile is about prioritizing many small experiments over one larger one. It emphasizes collaboration because ideas become stronger when teams develop them together, leveraging multiple perspectives and experiences. Baked into the core of agile is the ability to adapt to change and iterate over time to ultimately figure out the best way forward.

Digsite Founder & CEO Monika Wingate shares her thoughts on iterative research processes


One common Agile approach to ad development is A/B in-market testing—which can help you rapidly make go/no-go decisions among options. But, for earlier decisions the company may want to take more of an agile qualitative approach. Agile qualitative research helps teams conduct low-risk learning to find the why behind the what, which, over time, helps the team converge on the final solution. And new qualitative consumer insights platforms make this agile research possible in days rather than weeks, at a fraction of the cost of in-person research.

Making ads sing with agile

In the digital age, organizations are increasingly turning to agile research to test ads—both online and off. With the right approach, agile research can help organizations optimize their video ads, digital ads, print ads, integrated campaigns, social ads, and more. That’s because agile qualitative research gives companies the ability to capture context and emotion. With agile, you can run a behavioral ad test to capture attention and interest—and follow that with profiling to understand the whys behind the ad’s appeal.

For example, insights platforms like Digsite allow you to run targeted social media ads to measure behavioral interest in images, claims, or early ad concepts (branded or unbranded). They automatically offer consumers who saw the ad to take part in a study where they can learn more about the appeal of the ad or message. The consumers can also share more about their lives and usage to understand if the message attracted the right audience. And, consumers can replay videos or images and ask them to mark them up via whiteboard exercises to understand what is most compelling and why.


Focused on continuous optimization, leading research teams are using agile to create insights cycles that look like this:

  • Come up with multiple concepts concept
  • Qual test early concepts - Drill into the whys
  • Develop multiple variation of top performing concepts
  • Qual test later concepts - Drill into the whys
  • Post-production - traditional A/B testing and iteration on executional elements

The cycle repeats as long as the team wants it to, enabling them to refine and optimize their ideas over time using data—ensuring their ads are better received when their customers finally come across them.

Now that you have a stronger understanding of the agile philosophy, let’s take a look at four specific ways you can use agile to improve ad testing at your organization.

1. Agile can help you figure out where to start

For advertising to be effective, it needs to make an emotional connection with customers. That starts by having rich insights into what their needs are and how your brand/product is the best fit. But just as importantly, having an understanding of which words and images communicate those benefits can help spark more impactful creative ideas.

Using agile qualitative, you can glean insights directly from your customers in-context, and you can have them share images and stories that reflect their needs and experiences. By doing so, you’ll start off with an ad that’s in the right ballpark—and you can continue optimizing from there.

2. Agile can help you cover several steps in one study

Using an online research platform, you can share a variety of early ideas with your customers to get early feedback. In the same study, you can react to any feedback to quickly build and iterate on concepts and make them stronger. For example, if you learn that a secondary image in your ad is distracting and confusing consumers, you can look at several alternative images to learn what consumers take away from those images.

This process is quick, too. Oftentimes, you should be able to cover a bunch of different steps in a week—without requiring travel, long in-person sessions, or one-on-one interviews.

3. Agile brings flexibility into the ad development process

Imagine a team has been working on perfecting an ad concept with the idea that they will "validate" and then launch it. When you’re that far down the line with an ad, it’s hard to shift gears and go back to square one. Too much time, effort, and money has been invested moving in a certain direction, and there might even be a deadline in the mix, too.

Thanks to agile research, teams are able to test ideas much sooner. By setting the expectation that multiple ideas will be tested and the goal is learning and iteration - it brings more flexibility into the ad development process. You increase the chances your team listens to the findings and improves the ad—all without breaking the bank or the timeline.

4. Agile enables you to continuously optimize your ads

Very generally, agile qualitative research enables your organization to experience more desirable outcomes from your advertising investments. That’s because you’re able to start with a more consumer-centric premise—regardless of the product or the medium.

With agile, you start from a better place and can optimize during the development process until you’re ready to send them out to the world.

And your job doesn’t have to stop there, either. You can A/B test your ads when they’re in production, refine them further, and release even stronger ads on the other end.

Agile ad testing in action

What does all of this look like in action? Let’s take a look at a real-world case study to find out.

A major electronics brand was in the process of launching a new campaign for a high-end product. They wanted advertising that tapped into the emotions that are associated with family TV viewing experience.

Using agile research, the brand asked customers to talk about the emotions surrounding specific moments in their day. They honed in on the ideal TV watching moment and they captured activities around that ideal moment. They asked their customers to share their experience including who was with them during that time, what the occasion was, and what the emotion was like.

The brand had already developed concepts in five different directions. Each concept aimed to connect the brand and features with emotional needs. The manufacturer then solicited feedback from research participants via a whiteboarding tool to capture what emotions the ad elicited and why. Ultimately, the brand was able to tie these results to their customers’ actual experiences and ideals—and release a much more persuasive campaign because of it.

Take your ad testing experience to the next level with agile research!

The best advertiser in the world can’t get every decision right using gut instinct. And that’s precisely why they use in-context insights to help them figure out the best path forward.

Using agile research, your organization can build and optimize all of its ads—whether they’re online, in print, on television, or on social media. As a result, you can rest comfortably knowing that you have more effective ads that resonate with your customers on a deeper level.

To learn more about how four real-world companies are moving away from costly and time-consuming stage-gate development processes and prioritize innovation while operating with agility, check out our eBook: How Innovation Teams Use Agile Research to Build Better Products in Less Time.


Topics: Market Research, Marketing, Brand Management, Agile

Monika Rogers

Monika Rogers

Monika Rogers is the CEO and Co-founder of Digsite. She has more than 20 years of marketing, innovation and market research experience, including positions at General Mills, Pillsbury and the A.C. Nielsen Center for Marketing Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.