Focus Group of One

If you’re sending your marketing campaigns without benefit of A/B or multi-variant testing—most companies admit to fewer than five tests per month—you are effectively acting as a focus group of one. You are assuming all of your constituents feel the same way about your campaign as you do. Big mistake.

If you’re sending your marketing campaigns without benefit of A/B or multi-variant testing—most companies admit to fewer than five tests per month—you are effectively acting as a focus group of one. You are assuming all of your constituents feel the same way about your campaign as you do. Big mistake.

Most of us have a least a bit of familiarity with A/B testing and have integrated it into some of our deployments. Testing subject line A against subject line B is likely the most common test, but with A/B testing you can go so much further—both simple and complex—for instance:

  • Best time of day for sending each of your email types (e.g., newsletter, offers)
  • Best day for sending each type of email
  • Frequency of sending each type of email
  • Length of subject line
  • Personalization within the subject line
  • Personalization within the message
  • Squeeze page vs. landing page
  • Conversion lift when video, demo or meeting booking are included
  • Diagnosing content errors
  • Challenging long-held behavior assumptions
  • Calls to action
  • Color
  • Format and design
  • Writing style (casual, conversational, sensational, business)
  • From name and email address (business vs. personal)

A/B and multi-variant testing enable you to learn what makes your prospects, leads, subscribers and customers tick. When you adopt a consistent testing process, your accumulative results will provide you with the knowledge to implement dramatic changes producing a measurable impact across campaigns, landing pages, websites and all other inbound and outbound initiatives.

We have a client whose singular call to action in every email is to discount their product, and each offer is more valuable than the last. When I asked how well this worked, they admitted, the bigger the discount, the more they sold. When pressed, however, they could not tell me the ROI of this approach. Sure, they sold more widgets, but at the discount level they offered, they also made far less profit.

I suggested an A/B-laden drip campaign offering no discounts, and instead providing links to testimonials, case studies, demos of their product, book-a-meeting links, and other inbound content. In this way, we were changing their position from asking for the business to earning the business. While I admit this usually lengthens the sales cycle, it also means money is not being left on the table unnecessarily.

For this client, the change in approach was simply too dramatic and they found they couldn’t stick with it long enough to gather the data needed to make long-term business decisions. The limited of data they were able to collect in the first few emails did show, however, an inbound approach deserved strong consideration by their organization.

Not all A/B testing need be this dramatic—we could have started them off with a less-committed approach. My takeaway was: You don’t have to learn it all now; A/B testing can be integrated in a small way. Whether you go all out or an occasional test, A/B data is useless if you do not set measurable goals. Measurable goals mean you will establish:

  • Required return on investment
  • Vehicle (email, direct mail, other)
  • What to test
  • Audience
  • Time frame
  • Testing protocol
  • How to integrate what you’ve learned into future campaigns

If your email application does not support A/B testing, you can use a more automated approach. Simply create two versions of your marketing campaign and divide your list randomly in half—unless, of course, what you’re testing is something within your list, such as gender or locale.

I often am in search of information well beyond opens, clicks and visits, so I turn to Email on Acid for email heat maps and Crazy Egg for landing page and website heat maps. While these are effective on live pages and campaigns, it’s not required you deploy A/B testing to a live audience. Testing can be just as effective with a small focus group, just be sure it’s not a focus group of one.

Automated Marketing: Drip vs. Nurture

Yes, Virginia, there is a difference. Earlier this week, I was interviewed by a reporter doing an article on nurture campaigns and was surprised that she did not differentiate between drip and nurture marketing. In fact, I know many seasoned marketers who also do not follow separate protocols for these two disparate approaches to marketing. So, while you may well disagree with me, here’s how I see it and how we develop campaigns for our clients

Yes, Virginia, there is a difference.

Earlier this week, I was interviewed by a reporter doing an article on nurture campaigns and, as I had been in so many conversations before, was surprised that she did not differentiate between drip and nurture marketing. In fact, I know many seasoned marketers who also do not follow separate protocols for these two disparate approaches to marketing. So, while you may well disagree with me, here’s how I see it and how we develop campaigns for our clients.

Blast
Blast campaigns are not automated, though you might well schedule a blast to deploy automatically. A blast email is a single event—think of your weekend sale, your newly released demo, or your new YouTube video. You’ll send out a single email making this announcement. Let’s suppose, however, that you have a podcast series and each episode posts early Monday morning. Now, we’re talking automation.

Drip
Drip marketing is designed to keep you top of mind when your recipient is ready to enter or reenter the sales funnel—gentle reminders. These emails or direct mails are of a similar design and usually based upon a branded template or theme. The message is general and is sent to a general list. Of course, personalization and segmentation will ensure that your message is targeted and better received even when using a general list, but the message is sent on a predetermined schedule. We often refer to this as the passive path.

Think of the drip-irrigation system, from which this campaign style acquired its moniker. The water drips at a consistent rate regardless of whether or not the plant is thirsty. Drip, drip, drip. Your campaign should do the same.

In order to determine the frequency of the drip, or touch, you will need to test or survey your audience. If you are a nationwide pet food supplier, you might find that twice a week is the right pace. If you’re selling enterprise software, perhaps it’s more like once every two weeks. The span of time in between drips does not change the definition or purpose. You are regularly pinging your constituents with a cue describing an existing relationship and providing information that, in the long run, will contribute to their buying decision.

Eventually your recipient will receive a message from you—either at exactly the right time or of the ideal offer—and they will engage—click to watch, download, or take a test drive. Now it’s time to get your nurture campaign involved.

Nurture
Unlike the drip campaign, the nurture campaign fires off at will each time your recipient engages. When you send a drip event offering a preview of your new video and the recipient clicks to view, your nurture campaign should automatically deploy a message thanking them for viewing the video and offering up a link to something that nudges them to the next step in the purchasing process. Perhaps this is a white paper or a demo. It might even be a meeting with a sales person.

To build your nurture steps, give consideration to your current sales process: You acquire a lead, qualify the lead, nurture the lead by providing additional information as needed, and at some point close the sale. It’s critical to sit with your sales team and discuss their current process for closing sales. Along with management and your creativity, you should be able to architect a campaign that is a digital (or, if direct mail, a physical) representation of the sales team’s approach. Here’s a rough sketch of what that might look like:

  1. Acquire a lead
  2. Welcome the lead – for your first touch, consider a blast email that simply proves deliverability. If the email successfully makes it to the inbox and/or is opened, clicked, or not deleted, shuttle the opened and non-deleted emails to your drip segment (until such as time as they too engage and become a member of your nurture segment) and the clickers to your nurture segment.
  3. Qualify the lead – this might be an email that simply provides links to your social-media accounts, a YouTube video, a resource download, or high-value areas of your website.
  4. Auto-respond appropriately to the lead – With each specific type of engagement, automatically send a prepared message (called an auto-responder) that acknowledges the engagement, thanks them for the engagement, and offers an accelerated engagement (the next logical step in the sales process). For example, if they watched a video, now might be the time to offer them a white paper on the same subject. For someone shopping for dog food, you might offer them first a video on the benefits of this brand, if they watch the video, the next auto-responder might be a coupon on that brand, if they do not redeem the coupon, the next auto-responder might be a coupon with a higher-value discount and more urgency (shop until midnight tonight and get free shipping). If they still pass on the coupon, consider a video on another brand.
  5. Rinse and repeat. For each engagement, respond appropriately, and offer an accelerated engagement acting as a nudge in the right direction – your shopping cart or offline purchase.

If you’re using a CRM, each event can and should contribute or deduct from your lead score. For instance, if a lead unsubscribes, you can deduct from the lead score and if they open the email, follow you socially, watch the video, download the resource, or visit your website, you can add to your lead score.

We call the nurture campaign the active path because your recipients are actively engaged.

Automated and manual monitoring of your engagement in blast, drip, and nurture events is important. It ensures that you do not continue to email messages that are missing the mark and enables you to move drip recipients into the nurturing path at the appropriate time.

Recipients in the nurturing path that show no signs of life should be kicked back to the drip campaign and those in the drip campaign who are without a pulse should be retired so as not to adversely affect your sender reputation.