marketing with a/b testing

The rise of A/B testing has transformed marketing. Marketers can now instantly test and adapt messaging based on live data. A change in something as minor as the color of a call-to-action button can lead to performance improvements though the whole marketing funnel.

Yet sometimes marketers follow the data blindly. Sometimes the data cart can lead the creative horse. This can cause friction in the creative process between the “Mad Men” and the “Math Men”.

Google has a clever acronym for how most companies make decisions — listening to the “HiPPO” (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion). We now have data to clearly prove the most effective approach. There’s a movement to expand the role of A/B testing far beyond its roots in direct response to brand-building marketing.

A few year’s ago, one of Google’s first designers left Google and shared some of his frustrations about relying too much on data in the creative process.

“Reduce each decision to a simple logic problem. Remove all subjectivity and just look at the data. Data in your favor? Ok, launch it. Data shows negative effects? Back to the drawing board. And that data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision, paralyzing the company and preventing it from making any daring design decisions.”

“Yes, it’s true that a team at Google couldn’t decide between two blues, so they’re testing 41 shades between each blue to see which one performs better. I had a recent debate over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide, and was asked to prove my case. I can’t operate in an environment like that. I’ve grown tired of debating such minuscule design decisions. There are more exciting design problems in this world to tackle …

“I won’t miss a design philosophy that lives or dies strictly by the sword of data.”

Marketers today clearly have to be data-driven. But I think we also need to be creative-driven. We need to appreciate the role of big ideas and creative intuition.

A/B Testing won’t generate breakthrough thinking. It doesn’t replace the creative process. But optimizing with A/B testing can make our messaging even more impactful.

Marketers today need to be both “Mad Men” andMath Men”.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

  1. Michael says

    What I believe we need to remember is that behind every cookie is a person. To live by data is to ignore some of the most common truths about advertising. To paraphrase Howard Gossage, “People don’t read advertising, they read what interests them.” If you’re lucky it’s your ad. But most definitely it’s not the CTA, the offer language or the “lifestyle image” that affects performance. It’s the spirit and idea of the ad…and how interesting it is.

  2. Ted Simon says

    True dat, Tom!

    I hear that Einstein fellow was pretty good at math, but I don’t recall reading or hearing anything about him A/B testing his theories that reshaped science and our understanding of the universe forever. Maybe there’s something to be learned from that.

  3. David Bawden says

    Hi Tom,

    It’s an interesting dichotomy in marketing between creative and data driven at the minute. I think the lack of faith in marketing’s effectiveness most famously summed up by John Wanamaker, ‘Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, the trouble is, I don’t know which half’ has led to a back-lash that has seen marketers under increasing pressure to provide measurable, solid data that proves how everything they do feeds the bottom line (both rightly and wrongly).

    With this has been the dramatic rise of the data-driven marketer and phrases like ‘big data’ and ‘growth hacker’ have become cool buzz words that everyone wants to be a part of.

    But as you point out, data is only one part of a marketers arsenal and if you allow it to dictate every move you consider making, you risk paralysis by analysis and risk missing out on first mover benefit.

    Maybe what marketers need to adopt is the build-test-fix model of fast-growth startups like Instagram and Pinterest. Have your creative idea, put it out there, test it, fix it, build it until it’s perfect. With the joy of the internet and A/B testing theres no reason you couldn’t do this with advertising campaigns!

  4. Michael K says

    We analysts must sometimes be reminded that truth lies not only in DATA but in the lack of DATA: a user who doesn’t engage with our web properties is still in our market, even if we couldn’t capture any behavior in any of our precious tools.

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