Way back in middle school I had a quirky science teacher who played the guitar and sang a song about a little thing called the scientific method that went a little something like this:
Thanks Mr. Busch, but how in the world does this apply to marketing? Scientists use this method to study the world around them and test hypothesis. They start with a question or a problem they wish to solve and conduct a series of experiments to test if their hypothesis is correct using control and response groups. I hate to break it to the anti-science marketers, but A/B testing has essentially the same function. While scientists are asking “why is the sky blue”, marketers want to know “which tag line attracts more viewers to open the email?”. After reading a white paper published by Microsoft, I quickly saw the similarities between the things Mr. Busch my quirky 6th grade science teacher was preachin’ and a tool marketers have.
A/B testing takes the guessing out of marketing. No longer should we utter the words “we think” and we definitely shouldn’t be blindly listening to the highest paid person, just because. Microsoft affectionately calls these people HiPPOs, which is hilarious and puts a funny picture of hippos in business suits in my head. Aside from that, they have a great point. Traditionally, you would pay close attention to those above you on the corporate ladder, or find yourself choosing the idea of the person who shouted the loudest. Well that doesn’t need to happen anymore. The data is doing all of the talking and evidently, it has a lot to say!
Through controlled experiments, A/B testing is able to definitively tell marketers what’s working and more importantly, what isn’t. In some cases you test really practical things like page layout seen in the graphic above. Other times you test the outlandish things that have content marketers scratching their heads, and guess what? Those things are often the most effective. During Obama’s campaign (which was arguably one of the smartest marketing campaigns, political and otherwise) their team did things like using ‘hey’ in the subject line in an email or using the un-aesthetically pleasing yellow highlighter tool. Why in the WORLD would they ever do this?! Because the Obama campaign was data driven. Okay so data isn’t really that sexy, but obviously they did something right. There are a couple of things that can be learned from the team that created this campaign and there are a few things that can be applied to any business:
- Testing everything… I mean everything. Even the ideas that seem totally crazy like advertising less during prime time TV. Remember when your mom would tell you “no idea is a stupid idea” and you would roll your eyes, assuming it was a copout? Well mom’s got a few things right and this can be applied to A/B testing. Just remember and remind yourself: analyze everything, even the ideas that seem “too weird”!
- Be aware of when novelties ware off. Something that is successful has a lifetime of “coolness” (yes please throw away your whitewashed ripped jeans and baggy pants that are worn below the butt- not cool anymore).
- Don’t forget about the importance of inbound marketing. Politicians are stereotypically schmoozers who have really white teeth and use their shiny smiles to win over the masses (with a little politics thrown in there). That is bad news guys! In an area like politics is arguably the most important to express your message in a genuine way, we want to earn the trust.
- Remember the importance of your buyer personas. Don’t forget your audience because they are the ones potentially buying into what it is you have to say. One thing I loved about Obama was the sincerity in his campaign, targeted sharing like the ‘Are you in’ Facebook application were simply genius from an inbound marketing standpoint
- Wipe away your fear of creating a grassroots style movement within your organization. No that’s not a hippie reference… What I mean is that you should get your community involved, change the organization structure, be spontaneous and have some fun! Some of the most successful parts of the Obama campaign came from people at all levels. When the HiPPOs are quiet you can hear the rest of the jungle! Ideas like volunteer ride share across state borders, came directly from a volunteers themselves (hello free). It was important to the Obama campaign to have non-traditional organization structures and they undoubtably would not be as successful if they hadn’t.
So what’s the big takeaway that I’m getting at?
“One accurate measurement is worth more than a thousand expert opinions” -Admiral Grace Hooper
If you’re someone that is easily daunted by numbers and hates looking at spreadsheets, don’t let the numbers scare you off. It may not be your sixth grade volcano science experiment, but if you are willing to ask the right questions, you can find answers that really matter, and that is pretty cool.