Marketing teams have choices. Lots of them. In fact, the options are never-ending. Just check my email for proof of that.
With so many choices, it can be easy to become overwhelmed and unsure what is best. When I visited with chief marketing officers for my dissertation, several of the participants shared that testing was a critical component in doing their work.
When talking with participants, they all used testing in different ways, but some common themes emerged about how testing could help marketing teams.
Types of Testing
Number One: A/B Testing – This testing focuses on message and creative preferences. The general notion is that you have two iterations of the campaign, the email, etc. By sending separate options to a subset of the population, it’s easier to see what performs best. Then, that preferred message or creative can be sent en masse. This also works with digital advertising. By running a few ads in market, it’s easy to see which ad is preferred, and then optimize to using that ad.
Number Two: New Markets – This testing focuses on looking at data you already have and exploring new opportunities to engage based on those insights. For example, if you see a decent amount of website or application traffic in a particular city where you are not heavily advertising, you might test that market by increasing your advertising presence in that area. Normally, you can expect much lower engagement rates in digital ads because the people in that market aren’t aware of you. However, if you see some interest, it can help you make a case to enhance efforts in that area.
Number Three: New Tools – Marketing teams are usually crunched for time, so it can be easy to stick to what you know works. However, one study participant challenged that this part of testing is the most important to consider. This involves having a small bit of money left in your budget to try new things (Participants had about $5k). Is there a new platform that comes out? Does a platform now offer a slightly different strategy that could work for you? By saving a few dollars in your budget for testing new tools, you can try new things without damaging your tried-and-true tactics if it happens to be a bust. It also helps you to be nimble and become an early adopter of new tools because you already have the support and resources to try them.
Number Four: Ongoing Efforts – This one seems obvious, but having been in marketing for more than a decade, it doesn’t always happen. It’s important to evaluate ongoing efforts every few weeks. You should be looking to see where numbers are trending, should messages be optimized, is it time for fresh creative? These regular conversations also help you explore ways to hone messages and tighten who sees advertising to ensure that you have the least amount of waste possible. If you place advertising and do website work in-house, schedule a regular call to review this. If you work with an agency, they would (I bet) be very happy to work with you to go over the data from current work and offer key insights.
Number Five: Enrollment Efforts – This might go under ongoing efforts, but I wanted to call it out separately because of the collaboration involved. It is important to test your print, email, and social pieces for enrollment with prospective high school students. These students think differently than we do. As I’ve said millions of times — we’re not the target audience. However, we can also be wrong about what matters. I’m thinking of a specific instance of a flag at a prior university. By focusing grouping with high school students, you can get a sense of what matters to this audience. Several participants shared they employed this strategy, and it’s one I have employed as well. When doing it — I have always come away learning something I didn’t expect, and usually it doesn’t cost more than a few bags of chips, a couple boxes of pizza, and some candy.
How to Get Started in Testing
While I didn’t ask this question in my dissertation, I thought it might be helpful to share my strategy. I once worked for an institution that did very little testing. I knew we needed to start testing but didn’t have a plan to do that well. I started trying to test once a quarter with different area high schools. The first tests were quite arbitrary because I didn’t have a specific thing in mind to test, so I used good-to-know topics — giveaway preferences, sticker preferences, photo preferences, etc. This also helped the area schools become comfortable with the idea of testing.
Then, as the team and the local schools got used to the process and the time involved, I started building testing into key print pieces. This involved getting a draft done really early to have time to get it into the high school. Sometimes, the copy had to be faked (cost, scholarship levels, etc) because that info wasn’t decided yet. However, doing that got me close enough that I could share a draft with students to begin the conversation and apply their insights into the piece.