What organizations can learn about experimentation teams from Marvel & The Avengers

Marvel recently released their blockbuster superhero team-up film – Avengers: Infinity war. Regardless of what your inclination is towards superhero films, you have to applaud Marvel for its efforts in bringing together more than 20 superheroes in one single film to take on a big bad that had been teased for the last 6 years.

Image source

Let’s back backtrack a bit, all the way to 2008. Marvel Studios was not in a good place. All of its A-list superheroes were part of other studios since they had sold the rights to avoid bankruptcy (Fantastic Four and X-Men to Fox). It hedged its bets on the lesser-known Iron Man and launched a standalone film with only a small hint of a shared universe in the now infamous post-credits scene. This gave audiences a small glimpse of the larger world out there, but didn’t detract from the fact that this film was a standalone origin story of Tony Stark.

The misfire of the next film, The Incredible Hulk, aside, they launched the origin stories of other superheroes such as Captain America and Thor, which similarly added post-credit scenes that linked the films together. These origin stories allowed audiences to understand the motivations for why the characters behaved the way they did and the decisions they made. It helped them truly enjoy the first team-up film – Avengers Assembled.

Now, I don’t want to go into a detailed analysis of every film that followed since then, but rest assured Marvel has been going from strength to strength with every film seemingly better than the last.

It culminated in the biggest superhero story that has come off the back of 10 years of stories. No small feat at all. At the center of it all, Kevin Feige played the role of the master orchestrator, ensuring that whilst each film had its own unique flavor, they all fit into the master plan.

A different way for DC

Without getting into a fanboy debate, let’s turn our attention to another comic book powerhouse – DC. Somehow, even with a rich history of instantly recognizable superheroes like Batman, Superman, Wonder woman, it has failed to achieve the same success of Marvel. It released the Man of Steel film, which was received with mixed reviews, followed by a Batman vs. Superman, which was critically panned.

Image courtesy of DC Comics

DC wanted to emulate Marvel’s success but whereas Marvel had spent years weaving together an intricate story, DC wanted to get straight to their team up film – The Justice League. When it launched in 2017, the film failed to capture the same spark as Marvel. Why? Because we weren’t familiar with the newer characters like Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg or their backstories let alone the motivation to form a group with this particular people.

How does this apply to your Conversion Optimization team

Unless you have been living under a rock, you would know that everyone pushes out case studies and some familiar names like Booking, Skyscanner etc get mentioned. Why? Because they are seen as the gold standard in what experimentation teams should be like.

Here’s the truth – Your company is probably not optimization first; meaning that it wasn’t set up with an optimization team from the get-go. Most likely, the optimization team was put together because they heard “this CRO A/B testing thing is the next best thing and we’ll be swimming in money”.

This mindset alone puts the hired CRO professional on the losing foot. The expectations are not helped with constant “big win case studies” and when the reality doesn’t meet that expectation, the team gets fired, replaced or worse still they reach a decision saying “AB testing doesn’t work”. Yep, I have seen situations where the latter has occurred too.

Then there’s the paradox of the person managing the CRO manager and their team isn’t well versed with CRO, it’s processes and real expectations, etc. How can you expect someone to lead a team of professionals if they haven’t done it themselves?

Building a conversion optimization team is a slow, lengthy process. The rewards are not as immediate as you’d hope for and it takes effort and change management to bring about lasting results. Marvel took its time and established each character before achieving big successes with their films.

Be More Marvel.

Manuel da Costa

A passionate evangelist of all things experimentation, Manuel da Costa founded Effective Experiments to help organizations to make experimentation a core part of every business. On the blog, he talks about experimentation as a driver of innovation, experimentation program management, change management and building better practices in A/B testing.