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How to Establish a Testing Environment to Support Your Marketing Efforts

testing environment

Marketers are familiar with the pressure that comes with making decisions. The resulting stress is part of the reason CMO turnover is at an all-time high with the shortest tenure in the C-suite clocking in at just over four years.

The pressure to deliver results is high, and as a result, risk measurement has become a critical component of a campaign launch. Will the campaign have the results your business is expecting? Will the campaign provide the necessary return on investment to justify the effort? If the risk is too great or the return on investment is too low, chances are good that the campaign — and, by extension, the marketing team — will flop. Marketers have to tread carefully in order to succeed. This is why creating a testing environment is critical to success.

What Happens When Caution Is Thrown to the Wind

This, of course, hasn’t kept companies from running risky marketing endeavors. Some campaigns operate in what’s best described as a “guessing” environment, having only loosely defined KPIs or trying to measure things that a campaign can’t impact.

I once inherited a campaign for a tool that our clients could use to gather information about their business operations. In similar use cases, this tool would be gated using an email capture or multistep form, which would have given us valuable insights to show how our marketing plan was working. But this version was ungated, which meant it gave me hardly any information — the best I could do was judge page traffic and interactions. It did nothing for lead generation or running brand lift studies. Not a great campaign.

Sure, the tool was useful to the target audience; it was just useless to me, at least when it came to meaningful metrics. That tool was just an expensive awareness piece to try pulling people to the site for retargeting purposes. Long story short: That campaign was more guessing than testing.

In a more pressured environment, that could have spelled disaster for the marketing department. That’s why it’s so important to make your marketing work smarter with a testing environment. It takes the guesswork out of marketing decisions.

Calculated Risks

For starters, running tests on engagement with messaging, branding, or user experience design can be an efficient means for determining whether a campaign is on the right track. You can test the same message with different personas to see how different audience segments might perceive or respond to content.

With UX, you can test for optimization by moving forms around the landing page, testing out links versus buttons, comparing engagement multistep versus single-step forms, etc. You can also combine UX testing with branding to see how different combinations of copy, color, imagery, or placement impact user behavior. When you’re meaningfully tracking all these results in a testing environment, you’re arming yourself with more information to eliminate risk in your campaigns down the road.

The ultimate goal with a testing environment is to keep learning, iterating, and optimizing for success. And don’t be afraid to fail — it could provide the inspiration you need for your next big win.

Establishing a Testing Environment

The first order of business is to determine which channel you’d like to test (website, social media, email, etc.), and then make sure to do the following:

1. Agree on timing, and be quick.

Consumer expectations are ever-changing, and as such, successful marketers have adopted a more agile approach. Develop and test a wide breadth of assets to see what resonates most with a target audience. That way, you always have something on deck to test, iterate, and launch, even in the middle of a campaign.

To be truly agile, you and your team need to agree on the timing of the testing process. Will it take a week? A month? A year? If you’re new to the testing environment, find what you can test quickly and start there. The ultimate goal is to develop a constant loop of creating, testing, and optimizing content.

2. Identify the available resources.

There are hundreds of possible metrics to use in measuring the impact of your marketing efforts, making it critical to choose the right tools for the job. While there’s a plethora of strong candidates, the most popular is Google Analytics, largely due to the amount of information it makes accessible.

But depending on the benchmark, audience, or group size you’re testing, you might find CrazyEgg, Optimizely, or SurveyMonkey just as beneficial. It’s all about knowing the resources available to you when testing a marketing campaign, measuring engagement, and validating the data collected — not to mention choosing the right metrics to determine what consumers want in content.

3. Establish a documentation process.

If you don’t create a process for documenting results, it becomes nearly impossible to act on the information — at least not in an informed manner. In fact, research from CoSchedule found that such a process improves the rate of success by nearly 540 percent.

Look for the most effective ways to document your results, making them more actionable. If you don’t have your results available and organized at a moment’s notice, you’ll be wasting precious time when you’re preparing your next campaign.

Campaigns are made by how you choose to use the data gathered in a testing environment. So gather the troops, decide on what to measure, and create a process to disseminate the results. That’s the first step for moving from guessing to testing. What you do with the information is entirely up to you.

If you were to go from guessing to testing, what would your first step entail? I’d love to hear about it.

Sarah Fruy

As the director of online marketing, Sarah Fruy leads the strategy, goals, and road map for Pantheon's public-facing website and online programs. Fruy is a Certified ScrumMaster® and joins Pantheon with over 10 years of experience in the marketing, digital publishing, and online advertising industries, along with marketing strategy and digital marketing certifications from Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management. Previously, she worked at emerging media companies, such as Say Media, as well as heritage brands like the San Francisco Chronicle.
Sarah Fruy