Will Marketers Make 2013 The Year Of Optimization?

Data-driven testing is nothing new, but four key trends point to a breakout year for optimization.

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 buzzword, and data (both big and small) burst into boardroom discussions.

But there’s little time to reminisce when 2013 is already upon us. What will be the big marketing 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 the discipline of testing.

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? My agency (ISITE Design) explored this topic with several hundred marketers on a recent webinar.

The presentation outlined four key areas that organizations need 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 to entry.

But only a small percentage of 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. A Shift to Customer Experience
The momentum and initial interest in testing almost always begins with acquisition goals and a marketing focus. 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.

In 2012 we appropriately saw the industry shift the conversation 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--a 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.

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

[Image: Flickr user David Melchor Diaz]

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