In a normal April, most marketers would agree that taking a test & learn approach to build actionable insights to improve advertising effectiveness is a smart thing to do.
But, right now, during these unprecedented times, testing & learning through marketing experiments might initially seem like a luxury for most practitioners. How can they justify diverting time away from standard campaign management tasks to build insight? It might seem wise to just buckle down and keep things simple.
However, there’s another opinion to consider.
Maybe testing is the only way to navigate these uncharted waters?
To think about it another way: would you want your competitors to be testing and learning right now building insights to guide them? Probably not.
Who could have any historical data to guide them right now?
As we reported in our recent white paper, Marketing Experiments: How Leading Companies Make Data-Driven Decisions, the most successful organizations have adopted a test & learn approach with marketing experiments at the core of the foundation.
During a non-global crisis period, most digital marketing practitioners can take a quick glance at their weekly or monthly KPIs and have an immediate understanding of how things are working. Are CPCs high or low? Is impression volume rising or falling? Do CTRs look normal? A channel marketer that has been working for years with an account may not need a marketing experiment to know these basic things.
But, right now, historical data won’t be really worth that much to anyone. There’s just nothing in our recent past that is like today’s environment. Directionally? Maybe. But true navigation to what is and isn’t working requires real insight.
Your CPMs might be super low compared to a few months ago or last year at this time, but do they correlate to more ROI if consumers are holding on to their cash before they spend on anything non-essential?
What about channel allocation? Do you cut budgets or push forward? Do you spend more in Search or put that incremental spend in Social?
Certainly messaging is a key area to be revisited in a big time of change. But what messages? Which ones are working? Which ones need to be pulled immediately because they are accidentally causing negative sentiment?
These are the kinds of questions that marketers need answers to, and unfortunately, data from pre-Covid campaigns just won’t be very valid right now.
Any decision made without data is a guess at best
One day—hopefully very soon—this pandemic will be over and we will all be able to leave our houses and get back to our normal routine.
But, the truth is that there are always market fluctuations. They won’t be as big as COVID, but there are always forces at work impacting our campaign performance. It could be competitors ramping up their marketing activity, macro-trends like politics, supply-chain friction, and a million other invisible variables that make advertising metrics go up or down.
“Test & Learn” is the only way to truly understand the way that various marketing elements—channels, campaigns, ads, bids, etc.—move the bottom line.
I speak to marketers all of the time about the value of marketing experiments and I rarely get any pushback. Everyone knows they should be testing. But, still, some marketing organizations have just not begun even though they know they should be.
This is an unusual time and you might be tempted to postpone testing until things come back to normal. And it’s true that the results you get now will likely require retesting once this is over. However, if you are like most marketers who are under pressure to make the right decisions, testing can absolutely help you right now.
This is also an opportunity to ingrain a test & learn approach with your team, learn the tools and testing methodologies, and build internal processes so you will be ready to hit the ground running once things open up again.
A test & learn approach needs the right technology foundation
If you think this is hard to do, check out a recent article from my colleague, Lior Feldman, on Skai Experiments. With new innovations in big data, there are now tools that can take testing that was once very complex, expensive, and slow into an easy process, highly affordable, and offer fast results that any marketer can run.
One of the biggest advantages to organizations who have embraced a test & learn mindset is that they can now quickly test assumptions that they might not have even attempted when it meant bringing in a process-heavy analytics team to accomplish.
By “democratizing” marketing experiments so that everyone on the team can run tests, it will open up more analytics-focused decision-making. Your team can find answers to inspirational hunches that they may not have normally felt was their realm to figure out.
I point back to my colleague’s post on our vision of the future:
“At Skai, we believe that a key tenet about the future of marketing is that all members of the marketing team will be experts in the test & learn approach with marketing experiments at the foundation of that practice. The media team will always be testing bidding, the creative team will always be testing messaging, the targeting team will always be testing targeting, and even the CMO will run tests to guide channel budget allocation, media mix and so on.”