Testing in Marketing
John F. Eberhard
Years ago, I cut my teeth in marketing in the direct marketing arena. That's a figurative expression of course. When I started in marketing, I already had teeth. But what I mean is that I learned how to do marketing, by working in direct marketing.
Direct marketing is a term referring to marketing where you are offering something, and you are asking the person to respond right now, and you carefully track that response. Usually by buying a product or service right now. But there might be a step or two before the buying happens, like you might offer some sort of soft offer like a free report on the topic of the product or service. But the point is, in direct marketing, you track the level of response.
Originally direct marketing referred mainly to direct mail, or to display advertising. But the key was that you tracked the response rate very exactly. That meant you had to know exactly which direct mail piece or which ad the person was responding to. You usually did that with 4-digit codes associated with each individual piece.
I read books on direct marketing, where the idea was that you tested things. You tested different offers, different ad copy, different headlines, different graphics, different headlines on the outside of the envelope, different pictures. And guess what you did when you tested something? That's right, you tracked the results.
You can test 5-6 campaigns, or two dozen campaigns, carefully track your results, and invariably one or two of them will perform far beyond all the others. And that's even if all your campaigns are based on survey results.
But guess what? If you only run one campaign, you may get one of the winners, or one of the losers. Chances are, you are not going to get a home run on the first try. But if you test a bunch of different approaches, you increase your odds astronomically.
I was reading a book by Perry Marshall recently, and he said "It wasn't a failure, it was a test." I think this is the proper attitude to have in marketing. You have to test multiple things, and you can't just run one campaign and that's it.
And you have to have a good ration of humility to work in marketing, direct or otherwise. Because sometimes we thought we had the most brilliant idea that ever came down the pike, but it bombed miserably. And other times we had an idea we thought was OK, and that idea hit the ball out of the park.
And you have to base your decisions, when you are evaluating different promo pieces or different campaigns, on the response statistics.
These days, people still do direct mail, and it still works. But the trackable promotional medium of all trackable promotional mediums, is Google AdWords. AdWords allows you to test a bunch of marketing ideas and approaches against each other, all at once. And you can know how each ad did, how each keyword did, how each landing page did, and what your cost per lead was. You can test different ad headlines, different copy in the first line of the ad and in the second line of the ad, different landing pages, different offers, different pictures, different color schemes.
Some people make the mistake of testing a couple things on AdWords, getting something that works OK, and just leaving it. That isn't applying testing very well. You have to go for continuous improvement. If you do that, you will eventually get your cost per conversion down and start to dominate your market.
In direct marketing, you have one piece, or one ad/landing page combination, that is your best performing one. In direct marketing speak, that is called your "control." You should always be trying to beat your control, by replacing it with a new ad and landing page that works even better.
Continuous improvement is where it's at. That means continuous testing, and basing decisions on the results.
John Eberhard has been involved in marketing since 1989, having run marketing divisions for a wide variety of companies, including Executive Software (now Condusiv Corporation), The Dohring Company, Survival Strategies, and Panda Software, prior to starting www.RealWebMarketing.net in 1999. He has specialized in Internet marketing and special services, which can be seen at www.realwebmarketing.net, for the past 16 years. Being a Google partner there are many services available including the creation of a website.
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