In 2015, 45 percent of business-to-business marketing teams utilized testing to optimize their content, up from 43 percent in 2014, according to research firm Starfleet Media. This reflects a broader trend of adoption among decision makers in all industries—a study conducted in 2014 by Forrester and ExactTarget found that while 41 percent of these marketing teams utilized testing at the time, another 36 percent reported plans to implement technology and develop a strategy within the next six months. Clearly, testing is an essential approach to marketing strategy and is quickly becoming a critical tool for developing a competitive advantage.
For those companies already doing some degree of testing, there is always room to grow. Moving through the five stages of testing ideation and program capability, however, can be a difficult process. Often, it requires a fundamental shift in culture, improvements to technology platforms, and optimization of internal processes.
When preparing a testing team for growth, Director of Optimization Engineering at Brooks Bell, Mike Adams, explains, it’s important to “consider your existing toolset, its capabilities, and the features your currently taking advantage of in your testing tools.” Even the simplest tools, he says, can handle the basics of testing without a problem, but once you “start expanding into different realms of testing—native app testing, for example—it’s easy to hit a wall in terms of what a basic testing tool can accomplish.” When this happens, you need to move on to a more robust solution. Constantly monitoring the industry and experimenting with new platforms and technologies, he says, “Is the best way to ensure you’re ready when it’s time to expand.”
“When testing programs become more mature,” Director of Client Management at Brooks Bell, Claire Schmitt, explains, “we see a need for the organization’s structure to grow and change.” Early stage programs, she says, tend to be characterized by small, cross-functional teams working as either a center of excellence or as the sole owners of testing and optimization. The focus is really on executing tests. But as the program advances, resources and requests increasingly come from outside the central group, making it “essential to manage individual product teams to prevent collisions, ensuring strategy is sound, and resources are properly allocated.” More than anything, however, testing leads must “make sure the strategy is sound,” Claire says, “this is an essential step for a testing program to continue to grow.” While technology and structure are important considerations, culture, too, plays a role.
“If you can’t get your organization to want to or be excited about testing and see value in it,” Director of Analytics at Brooks Bell, Brian Shampnois, says, “then it is very difficult to build traction.” Growing, he explains, requires resources to be prioritized. Perhaps more importantly, he says, “you need lots of people coming up with lots of ideas.” You can set up lots of tests quickly and without error, he says, “but if no one is excited or nobody else cares, you’re program is never going to get off the ground.” Reporting, of course, is one way to accomplish this—but often it’s just a matter of making the process more fun. Encouraging people to bet on variations, inviting other teams into the process to give them a sense of ownership, and sharing success widely are all ways of encouraging buy in and building excitement.
Growing a testing program can be difficult, Director of Client Management at Brooks Bell, Suzi Tripp, says, because it requires two things that don’t always go together: “Being methodical and being exciting.” Culture is critical, she says, and you have to always work hard to “build excitement, publicizing the wins people want to hear about, socializing test results, and demonstrating what testing can accomplish” so that everyone in the organization wants to be a part of the effort. But you can’t achieve these things, she says, “without having a solid infrastructure in place.”
If your successful, Suzi explains, people will start coming with ideas—which is great—but you must be ready to absorb these ideas and execute on them in a reliable, trustworthy way.” You have to build your testing culture, she says, at the same time your improving your testing process. “You have to get people to buy in to the idea and learn to love testing,” she says, “but at the same time, you have to create structure, develop templates, enforce documentation, and plan how your team will grow.”
Launching a testing program can be tough but growing one may be even more difficult. Developing a clear vision for that growth, keeping some of these proven approaches in mind, is essential for making the process more manageable.