The most successful marketers are the ones constantly testing the responses to their marketing campaigns. Controlled test marketing results in incremental improvements over sustained periods of time which then drives better campaigns with tighter focus and improved response rates.
Yet most companies don't test their marketing campaigns. They simply launch them and watch what happens. According to Mark Jeffery, author of “Data Driven Marketing”, a recent survey of top companies showed that more than two-thirds of them did not conduct test marketing with control groups before launching campaigns.
To do better, below are some tips and tricks to add value and measurable success to your marketing campaigns.
The reason most companies don’t test market is that it takes time and effort to manage multiple campaigns. A firm with an active test marketing system may be running 12 or more campaigns at once. If you try to do it manually, or with spreadsheets, the process quickly becomes laborious and prone to error.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, with their integrated marketing automation platforms and more specialized lead management systems, automate much of the effort, making test marketing much faster and more manageable. With CRM applications you can cull out your test lists, prepare your campaigns and monitor the results in real-time. Marketers managing multi-channel campaigns and desiring automation with deep analytics are clearly going to be best served with marketing automation systems, such as Adobe Marketo or one of Salesforce's two marketing clouds that combine CRM with marketing automation in a single package.
Set SMART Goals
Obviously you want your test campaign to be a success. But how do you define success?
Decide what metrics will determine the success of your marketing campaign. Will it be Return On Marketing Investment (ROMI)? Response rate? Leads generated? Sales produced?
Response rate is the simplest metric, but it is considered the least useful for most purposes. ROMI is a measure of profitability, but it can be harder to figure and it isn't applicable to all campaigns. The point is you have choices and you want to choose wisely. This is especially true since you'll probably want to use a small subset of success factors for most or all of your marketing campaigns.
Make Sure Your Test Sample Is Representative
While there are sophisticated techniques to make sure you are generating as close to a random sample as possible (true randomness is very hard to achieve), generally in marketing for small and midsize businesses (SMBs) it is enough to have a representative sample.
When choosing your sample try to avoid anything that would bias the results. For example, if you choose, say, every 10th name on the list, make sure you draw your sample from the entire list. If every 10th name is too many, take every 20th or whatever. But make sure your test sample is objectively sourced and evenly distributed.
And don't use too large a sample. A test sample needs to be large enough to show a response but not much larger. A sample consisting of half your list – unless it's a very small list – is a waste of resources.
How big is big enough is a matter of judgment. For large lists (10,000 names or more) a sample of 500 is more than adequate, as long as it is well chosen and representative of the larger list.
The key thing is that the sample needs to be large enough to show results. A too-small sample may mask the actual response to the campaign in background noise and show no apparent response to your effort.
Keep it Simple in the Beginning
When starting out, only test one variable at a time. For most test marketing, the first four campaign variables to test will include Audience, Offer, Message and Channel. When you start a campaign for a product or service, try to vary one of those four variables, one at a time, and measure the performance impact.
A/B testing is the recommended initial approach. Later, when you have some experience under your belt it will make sense to step up to multi-variate testing.
Include a Control Group
A control group is a sample that doesn't receive the marketing campaign. Control groups help you establish a base line – what your customer activity would be without the campaign.
Test Additional Variables
Once you have applied marketing technology run your initial tests on Audience, Offer, Message and Channel, you can pursue additional variables to model cause and effect impact and then fine tune your response for the next iteration.
Even the smallest things can have big impacts. For example, one client that ran a heavy schedule of direct mail advertising campaigns discovered that it got a higher response when the mail was sent using stamps rather than a postage meter. And that they got an even higher response when the stamp was put on the envelope upside down. Why it happened was inconclusive but it happened and they took full advantage of it.
Similarly, it is understood wisdom in email marketing that the best time to send a campaign to businesses is Tuesday or Wednesday mornings about 9:00 a.m. The best time to send a campaign to individuals is about 5:00 p.m. Friday.
The theory is that businesses are less distracted and more receptive early in the week once Monday's backlog is out of the way. Individuals, on the other hand, are more likely to be responsive at the beginning of the weekend. How true this might be for you may be another matter, but many email marketers report different results depending on the day and time of day they send their messages.
Continuous Tests Deliver Continuous Improvements
Testing is a continuous process. You should constantly run test campaigns to measure the responses and conversions, and compare them among other tests. One test campaign is better than no tests, but repeated tests are better yet. Always assume you can do better and work toward that goal. And remember CRM can bring the automation to accelerate this marketing strategy.