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Reduce, Reuse and Recycle: Using What You Have for Content Testing

Garin Hobbs January 25,2017

I’ve recently proclaimed 2017 as the year of Customer Driven Marketing. Of course, I don’t actually have any type of authority to issue such a declaration. However, I do have a blog and a perspective derived from much experience.

Giving consumers the ability to drive marketing programs isn’t a new concept. In fact, customer decisioning is likely already a critical component of many of your campaigns. Journey programs, trigger campaigns, and multi-variate testing (aka A/B testing) are staple aspects for every marketer. While journeys and triggers seem to be increasing in use, testing hasn’t been getting nearly as much love. 

Now, I understand the perception behind this: It’s expensive, it requires more effort and it’s time consuming. Personally, I find that thinking to be inherently flawed. Truth be told, there are way more tactics that one may employ to improve campaign performance and revenue that require  more time, money, and effort.  Can you spare 6 months for a strategy revamp? Tens of thousands of extra budget dollars to develop new journeys? Idle IT teams begging to build API-driven triggers? If so, stop reading right now and please give me a call. If not, you should probably read on.

In my opinion, ubiquitous testing is the best and most economical way to unlock the latent potential in your existing campaigns. The audience is empowered to decide which bits of content are most resonant, relevant, and ultimately drive action. Marketers simply need to provide choices. Whether you’re optimizing for clicks or conversions, the most traditional approach to multi-variate testing is to test the performance of two distinct creatives, one against the other. For example, a product image vs. a lifestyle image, or GIF vs. static image, etc. The drawback is having to develop two (or more) different creatives for a single campaign, and this doesn’t have to be the case. 

There are many existing assets that can be easily and economically leveraged for campaign improvement. You can use webcrops of products and images from your website and other digital presences, utilize user-generated content (UGC) to extend your asset library and involve the audience in the brand narrative. In reality, there are a lot of ways to squeeze more marketing mileage from what you already have.

Another way is single-image testing, which is easier than ever. Using overlays, marketers can test audience response to a broad range of different values. Price framing (% off vs. end price), image-text color, spacing and layout, CTA language (shop now vs. buy now), or even placement. Speaking of placement, think about using testing to determine optimal placement, ordering, and prioritization of content in your email: top vs. middle vs. bottom, left vs. right, position 1 vs. position 3, etc. Each of the above tactics requires minimal investment in time and effort. Text overlays can be changed in as little as 2 minutes, and in an era where 40% of Millennials think that cereal is too inconvenient, finding low effort ways to optimize, becomes increasingly important.

A few paragraphs ago I wrote that testing should be ubiquitous and I can’t stress this enough. A common mistake that many marketers make with testing, is to develop learnings which are then applied and used in ad nauseam to subsequent mailings. This behavior reminds me of my stepmother, I told her once that I liked Apple Jacks and that’s all I got to eat through 3 years of middle school. People don’t want the same thing day after day. Any noticeable change in your content, cadence, or call to action is likely going to generate lift. But, that lift has a very short life, as the newness or novelty of it wears off. Marketers must test in perpetuity because CONTEXT is what determines the winner, and by its’ very definition, context is fleeting or temporal in nature. Need, emotion, sentiment, even the weather…few of these are permanent yet they are the biggest part of what drives in-the-moment decisions. Just because your audience usually prefers lifestyle images, doesn’t mean they always want one.

Having said all that, there are a few inherent downsides to traditional multi-variate testing. 

Time: It can take a few days to send competing versions, wait for confident results, then send the winning version to the remainder of the list. As mentioned above, the conditions that elect a winner are fleeting.  By the time the holdout group opens the message, the winning version may no longer drive the best performance.

Test Groups: Most marketers only test a small portion of their list and send the winning version to their remaining audience. The test group must be of significant size to return meaningful results.  20% of your list does NOT accurately represent the likely preference of the remaining 80%. However, sending to a larger test group means that a larger portion of the audience will ultimately be subjected to a non-optimized experience. Obviously, that isn’t ideal for many reasons.

Triggers/Journeys: Testing for triggers and journeys can be difficult as such campaigns are not often sent to large audience, but rather trigger or drip over time. This doesn’t provide a long enough yardstick to meaningfully measure performance.

There are a few solutions such as Movable Ink, Live Clicker, and Kickdynamic that allow for real-time multi-variate testing, and the approach is nothing short of game-changings. First, the marketer enters the audience size (number of recipients) and the expected open rate into the platform interface to create an algorithm for “confidence”. Both versions are then sent at the same time, to the entire audience. The platform tracks the customer interactions and once confidence is reached, a winner is declared and the platform “reaches” into all inboxes to change the content to the winning version. Using this approach, optimization is achieved much more quickly, winning versions are still relevant to their contexts, and everyone ultimately enjoys the better experience. For journeys and triggers, these platforms offer a “learning” mode, analyzing performance over time until the marketer feels there is sufficient data to confidently declare a winner.

Testing isn’t perfect, but then neither are your campaigns. Before you spend endless cycles and rounds of budget chasing strategies that may or may not deliver, try fine tuning what you already have in front of you. You’ll likely find testing is the key to unlocking your content’s potential.

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Tags: Digital Marketing, Digital Strategy, Email Marketing, Email Strategy

About The Author

Garin Hobbs

Garin Hobbs

Vice President, Client Solutions - Seattle Garin is an accomplished sales and marketing executive with over 20 years of experience building brand awareness and revenue. With a career spanning across ESPs, agencies, and technology providers, Garin is known for his ability to grow email marketing programs, help launch new technologies, and develop the strategies and thought leadership to support these endeavors. By specializing in optimally aligning people, processes, and technologies, Garin has delivered meaningful improvements in consumer experience and program revenue for such brands as Gap, Starbucks, Western Union, Bank of America, United Airlines, and Hilton Hotels.