Marketing Wisdom: Testing basics prove worthy as a foundation for 2012 planning


As I prepare to wade through hundreds of submissions for the MarketingSherpa 2012 Marketing Wisdom Report, (sponsored by HubSpot) I was compelled to take a final glance at the 2011 edition.

While combing through the pages, many of last year’s submissions evoked some forward-thinking thoughts for 2012. Here are just a few of the standouts…

1.      Mind your metrics

Around here, we love using the term “boost.” We also get giddy about “triple-digit growth,” and view test results with the same exuberance teens have for Twilight.

But, when all the excitement fades, and we begin to dissect the numbers, we often find that positive growth in certain areas can mask bigger concerns beneath the surface.

Yes, your latest email series may have doubled your open rates in record time, but that positive growth could possibly force a massive increase in unsubscribes, highlighting problems with content, design, or some other variable. These moments can be disconcerting, but also beneficial, as deeper analysis of metrics can lead to a more optimized result in the long run.

Look at all your metrics when testing. In email test results from different campaigns this year, I have seen:

1) A subject line test with unique click rate up 45%, only to find total click rate unchanged

2) No change in click rate in a creative redesign but the pattern of what was clicked changed

3) A “from name” test giving a 33% increase in open rate, by using a person not a brand, but a 150% increase in unsubscribes.

These results were all statistically valid and significant for the test cell size. While it’s necessary in testing to have key evaluation metric that closely reflects your campaign objective, do also look deeper at all campaign metrics. You may find unexpected side effects or an apparent no result actually having a result, such as the creative test that had the same clicks but what was clicked changed.

– Tim Watson, smartFOCUS

Key Takeaway for 2012:
Metrics can be deceiving. Be sure to look at the “numbers behind the numbers” and see if growth in one area negatively affects other areas of your performance. And, if you do find one of these, take advantage of this new knowledge to correct areas of concern and optimize your results.

2.      List management is as important as ever

The predominant theme of the 2011 Marketing Wisdom Report was a seemingly universal return to “back to basics” marketing practices. For many, this meant embracing the power of interpersonal communication, maximizing internal resources, and integrating new technologies with old fashioned marketing know-how.

In the following entry, we see that “back to basics” went a little deeper for one marketer, who learned the hard way that the old adages “measure twice, cut once” and “never assume” are also sage points of wisdom when it comes to the daunting task of list management.

Grant Wrangler is our free grants listing service for teachers and schools. We operate it as a community service and a “sandbox” for testing technologies, content, and services.

In November 2009, we made major updates to our site design and content. After the redesign, we expected traffic, ad revenue, and newsletter signups to increase. Instead, we saw very modest increases in traffic, some loss in ad revenue and no increase in our newsletter list.

After several months of testing newsletter subject lines, promotions, buying ad words, revamping our SEO – all the strategies that are supposed to matter – I stumbled upon the answer. We were cleaning up our mailing lists and I discovered two opt‐in lists with nearly identical names. One was growing; the other had no new addresses since November 2009.

During our redesign, we had posted the wrong opt‐in to on our subscribe page. People were signing up on one list and we were mailing to another one!

A couple of lessons:

1. Assume nothing and test everything.

2. A sandbox site that does good for the community is a great way to learn how to do your best for your clients.

– Karen Henke, Nimble Press

Key Takeaway for 2012: While email marketing’s focus remains largely on list growth and nurturing potential leads, it’s more than wise to regularly check the names you already have. You may very well have an audience hungry for content and product … who could be completely unaware of your offerings because your sends are arriving elsewhere.

3.      Testing = ROI

My father often told me, “Satisfaction is the death of desire.” Perhaps it was a tad melodramatic, but the statement made a lasting impression on my youthful mindset. It taught me how being idly content can effectively kill growth and forward-thinking.

In marketing, this is no exception. Today’s reason for success is tomorrow’s reason for double-digit conversion loss. See for yourself…

Cycle of innovation and iteration leads to big wins. No matter how high your campaigns are converting, or how optimized you think they are, a continuous cycle of innovation and iteration can help to push the envelope even further. This year I increased SEM leads 200% over last year, thanks to ongoing landing page testing and optimization.

Most recently, an iteration wave resulted in over a 90% increase in Web conversions in our top performing market. Learning in pilot markets is then leveraged across markets to improve overall lead conversions, and maintain brand consistency across 12 states. Having a nonstop cycle of content testing is the biggest piece of wisdom I can share with my fellow marketers looking to continually increase ROI.

– Arden Buchanan, Wellpoint, Inc.

Key Takeaway for 2012: The Web is a living entity, with a very short attention span. If you’re not consistently evolving, you could be falling behind in a race you may have just entered. Test often, and never stop using these results to innovate and optimize.

4.      New technology is still the future of marketing

While our focus on somewhat minimalist approaches, and “roots-level” marketing made for a rewarding collection of anecdotes these past few years, we must not forget that many of the marketers applying these tried-and-true tenets were integrating these ideas with emerging technologies.

In the following entry, you’ll see how a team maximized the speed and efficiency of its testing through a simple set of tools, allowing them to create an optimized Web experience that better conveyed its value proposition.

At the University of St. Thomas, online lead generation is very important to increase interest in our non‐degree and degree programs in business. Unfortunately, our frontline Web experiences weren’t living up to the standards of the programs themselves.

We adopted a post‐click marketing tool to help us improve our Web presence. Whereas before it would take us months to test just one aspect of our online campaigns, in the same amount of time we’ve now tested video testimonials, long‐tail messaging, incentives, second‐level segmentation and three levels of narrowing by visitor’s intent. This has led to a 3x conversion rate improvement, higher quality of leads, and a Web experience that now reflects our programs.

This year, we also integrated the tool with our marketing automation platform, allowing for seamless passing of lead data. In 2011, we will be focusing on bringing an exceptional user experience to the mobile market by creating, testing and optimizing mobile landing pages within the platform.

– Mykola Sarazhynskyy, University of St. Thomas

Key Takeaway for 2012: Yes, marketing 101 will never go out of style, but when coupled with exciting new platforms in which to optimize your process, the combination can produce phenomenal results.

Often, the past seems to dictate the future. But in the case of marketing success, the future is entirely up to you. These four slices of wisdom aren’t meant to be a guidebook for exponential growth, but rather an inspiration for what is possible through learning, innovation, open-mindedness, and a deep understanding of marketing’s roots.

We hope your 2010 wisdom proved to be beneficial for your 2011 campaigns, and has set the groundwork for further success in 2012. If so, we’d love to hear about it.

Related Resources:

Share your wisdom for a chance to be published in the 2012 Marketing Wisdom Report

B2B Marketing: Top “Aha moments” of 2011 from your peers

The Indefensible Blog Post: Actually, the old rules of marketing are pretty good

Personal Branding: The five elements of being seen as a thought leader through crowdsourcing

2011 Marketing Wisdom Report

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