Is Marketing Testing the Missing Link in Your Plan?

Posted by Vince Giorgi on Aug 25, 2013

Take a minute and pull out your organization’s marketing plan and budget. Now scan down to the line item labelled marketing testing.

What’s that? There is no line item for marketing testing?

That’s what I was afraid of.

With absolutely no data to back it up, I’m going to venture a guess that testing marketing might be today’s most underutilized tool for improving marketing.

I see and read quite a bit of research on what marketers are doing with their strategies and budgets. I can’t remember a time when I’ve read how active marketers are, or how much of their budgets they spend, testing marketing communications tactics for relative performance against alternatives.

IMPORTANT: We’re not talking about test marketing here. That would be taking a new product or marketing message and putting it in front of a subset of your target audience to gauge their reaction and acceptance. And we’re not talking about market research, where you’d go out and interview or survey members of an audience, to better understand their needs, preferences and buying behaviors.

We’re talking marketing testing. The sort of testing where you might send one email subject line to half of your list, and a different subject line to the other half. Or, as part of your ongoing content strategy, you might offer an ebook as your call to action (CTA) on one landing page, while you offer an on-demand webinar or a product demo on a second landing page. Then you measure and compare results, to see which generated more downloads or registrations. More “conversions.”

Here’s the deal: If we’re not testing marketing in this way, it’s virtually certain we’re leaving leads, audience engagement and money on the table.


A Marketing Testing Reminder

I was struck by the importance of testing this week as I sat in on a web clinic offered by MECLABS through their research publishing arm, Marketing Experiments.

If you’re not familiar with MECLABS, you should be. They are the parent organization to Marketing Sherpa. They describe themselves as “the world’s largest independent research lab focused exclusively on marketing and sales.” These folks are ultra-aggressive about testing marketing executions to analyze what makes one landing page, subject line or CTA work, while another flops by comparison.

MECLABS says its analysts have conducted scientific tests on more than 10,000 web pages. That’s not to mention the millions of sales calls they’ve recorded and analyzed, or the tens of thousands of interviews they’ve conducted with marketers to learn what’s working and what’s not.

The clinic I saw is classic MECLABS. This particular test focused on the website for a new residential golf community. The experiment involved a simple A/B CTA test. CTA A: A downloadable PDF which describes, hole by hole, the golf course’s design features. CTA B: A PDF of a blank scorecard from the course.

The result? CTA A generated a converstion rate of 8.92 percent. In other words, of 100 consumers who visited the page, nearly 9 downloaded the hole-descriptions PDF. CTA B, the scorecard, earned only a 2.73 percent conversion rate. That’s a nearly 70 percent drop-off in conversion rate, given what some might see as a relatively minor difference in the information value of the content asset being offered.


Do You Put Your Marketing to the Test?

MECLABS analysts theorized that CTA B saw such a drop-off in conversions because the marketers got ahead of the buyers. Generally speaking, more consumers were open to being further informed and convinced about the value proposition represented by the golf course than were already envisioning themselves playing a round on that course. As MECLABS put it, the hole-descriptions PDF did a better job of synchronizing with the buyer’s thought process. A better job of answering the next most likely question a consumer might have as he or she worked through a consideration process.

If you’re a golfer, you’ll recognize the qualitative difference between a hole-by-hole description of a golf course and a bare-bones scorecard. But whether you’re a golfer or not, here’s the takeaway:

If the marketer in this case had simply settled on the scorecard as the one-and-only CTA, she would have been missing out on large numbers of leads. Conversely, if the marketer had never made the effort to test a CTA B against CTA A, he wouldn’t have known just how well A was performing.

Now consider your marketing. Where on your website do you have a landing page you’ve been getting by with for a while now; the same design, the same headline and copy, the same form, the same CTA? What about you e-newsletter sign-up page? Your Contact Us form?

As you look ahead to 2014, consider factoring marketing testing into your budget and plan. In fact, if resources are limited and your options are to try new, different tactics or test what you’re already doing, consider making this the year you commit to testing.

For some ideas and inspiration about what and how to test, check out MECLABS and Marketing Experiments, or this post from HubSpot on 28 relatively simple marketing tests that might help get you in the testing habit.

Without testing, you could be leaving leads, engagement and money on the table.

But you’ll never know if you don’t put your marketing to the test.


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Introducing our team of content explorers and blog contributors.
 Digital Strategy Chris Mikko
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Website implementation specialist Vince Giorgi
Vice President, Solutions Development