The Year of Optimization

Will Marketers make 2013 the Year of Optimization?

Four key trends point to a breakout year for data-driven testing

This story was originally published on Fast Company

Most will agree that 2012 was a banner year for marketers and digital-led organizations. We finally had our year of mobile, customer experience became more than a buzz word, and data (both big and small) burst into boardroom discussions.

But there’s little time to reminisce when 2013 is moments from unfolding. What will be the big story of the next 12 months?

All signs point to a breakout year for data-driven optimization. This includes A/B Testing, Multivariate testing and personalization – or any tactic that helps marketers take action from data, improve experiences for customers, and extract more value from existing digital investments. 

And we’re not just talking about your garden variety landing page and acquisition-focused testing. As digital reaches escape velocity from the marketing department, 2013 will bring an increased focus on improving touchpoints across the entire customer experience, both online and off. Any moment that matters can be analyzed, deconstructed, redesigned, tested, improved and rolled out at scale.

Testing and data-driven optimization activities will continue to stretch across content, on-site search, e-mail, mobile, social, commerce, support and more. Marketers will finally start to put the promise of personalization to work, in creating online experiences that are more contextual, more local, and more relevant than ever.

This momentum will be fueled by a perfect storm of accessible (and effective) technology, more in-house data expertise, and a hunger within organizations to have more accountable and actionable digital channels. 

But hey, you say, folks have been testing for years. How can 2013 be a breakout year?

While it’s true optimization has been in the headlines for some time, there are still large hurdles to overcome for organizations to become mature with it as a discipline.

The data suggests we still have a lot of work to do, and 2013 may be where we finally turn that corner. 

Adobe’s 2012 Digital Marketing Optimization Survey indicated that 84% of marketers, when asked to describe their testing process, said they either have no process at all or a manual approach to ad hoc tests. The same report found that marketers on average are spending $92 to acquire customers via digital and only $1 to optimize the experiences.

eConsultancy’s 2012 Conversion Optimization Report found that 2/3 of client-side organizations admit they are struggling to leverage fundamental optimization tactics such as multivariate testing and segmentation.

So, what will it take to make 2013 the year of optimization? We explored this topic with several hundred marketers on a recent webinar (view the recording). We see four key areas that organizations need to resolve to turn the corner on.

1. Ad Hoc Tests to Structured Processes

The good news is that most organizations are at least dabbling with testing. We can thank Google Website Optimizer (now Google Content Experiments) and other inexpensive tools for lowering the barrier.

But few organizations have truly developed a culture of continuous improvement with a structured process for testing that can deliver sustained success.  It’s easy to do a few quick win tests and boast of big conversion gains. It’s hard to systematically improve your digital channel and customer experience with an ongoing testing program. We’re betting more organizations will figure it out this year.

2. Marketing to Experience Focused

The initial momentum and interest in testing almost always starts with acquisition marketing. After all, it’s easy to start with where the money is being spent. PPC, online media and landing pages are all areas ripe for improvement and quick wins.

However, mature organizations realize the deeper opportunities in post-click optimization. Prioritizing optimization activities across the entire customer journey reframes it from a marketing-focused effort to an experience-led program. We appropriately shifted the conversation in 2012 from marketing to customer experience, and we hope 2013 will see more action and less talking when it comes to optimizing touchpoints across the entire experience. 

3. Analytics Hero to a Culture of Improvement

With data professionals more in demand than ever, organizations are adding internal capabilities and are more equipped than ever to run sophisticated tests.

But all too often, optimization responsibilities are left in the hands of the few – or outsourced entirely to consultants. It’s good to have analytics rock stars that can single-handily analyze, test and act, but it’s better to have a culture of optimization across the entire organization. We’re expecting to see more organizations go all in on testing in 2013, which means getting non-data folks to wade into the pool.

4. Lift to Learnings

As marketers, we’re hungry for the big numbers. Performance should always move up and to the right, and the greater the conversion gains the better – 14% lift is OK, but 145% is really something to shout about.

Thinking big and celebrating successes should never go away, but smart marketers understand the learnings are more important than the lift.  Yet, in most organizations, the knowledge gained from testing resides in a few folks and rarely benefit the broader organization. We’re hoping 2013 sees organizations shining a light on these nuggets of wisdom and sharing the insight with more people across more departments.

A Toast to Testing

While 2013 will have many exciting storylines, we truly hope that Optimization is one of the big ones. It’s an exciting time to be a marketer armed with data and the tools to put it to good use. We look forward to continuing to help organizations with testing with our analytics and optimization services and will continue to share the lessons learned along the way.  

Will analytics and testing be a bigger part of your marketing efforts in 2013? Share your thoughts with a comment. 

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