A/B Testing: How to improve already effective marketing (and win a ticket to Email Summit in Vegas)

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This blog post ends with an opportunity for you to win a stay at the ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas and a ticket to Email Summit, but it begins with an essential question for marketers:

How can you improve already successful marketing, advertising, websites and copywriting?

Today’s MarketingExperiments blog post is going to be unique. Not only are we going to teach you how to address this challenge, we’re going to also offer an example to help drive home the lesson. We’re going to cover a lot of ground today, so let’s dive in.

 

Give the people what they want …

Some copy and design is so bad, the fixes are obvious. Maybe you shouldn’t insult the customer in the headline. Maybe you should update the website that still uses a dot matrix font.

But when you’re already doing well, how can you continue to improve?

I don’t have the answer for you, but I’ll tell you who does — your customers.

There are many tricks, gimmicks and types of technology you can use in marketing, but when you strip away all the hype and rhetoric, successful marketing is pretty straightforward — clearly communicate the value your offer provides to people who will pay you for that value.

Easier said than done, of course.

How do you determine what customers want and the best way to deliver it to them?

Well, there are many ways to learn from customers, such as focus groups, surveys and social listening.

While there is value in asking people what they want, there is also a major challenge in it.

According to research from Dr. Noah J. Goldstein, Associate Professor of Management and Organizations, UCLA Anderson School of Management, “People’s ability to understand the factors that affect their behavior is surprisingly poor.”

Or, as Malcom Gladwell more glibly puts it when referring to coffee choices, “The mind knows not what the tongue wants.”

This is not to say that opinion-based customer preference research is bad. It can be helpful. However, it should be the beginning of your quest, not the end.

 

… by seeing what they actually do

You can use what you learn from opinion-based research to create a hypothesis about what customers want, and then run an experiment to see how they actually behave in real-world customer interactions with your product, marketing messages and website.

The technique that powers this kind of research is often known as A/B testing, split testing, landing page optimization or website optimization. If you are testing more than one thing at a time, it may also be referred to as multivariate testing.

To offer a simple example, you might assume that customers buy your product because it tastes great and because it’s less filling. Keeping these two assumptions in mind, you could create two landing pages — one with a headline that promotes that taste (treatment A) and another that mentions the low carbs (treatment B). You then send half the traffic that visits that URL to each version and see which performs better.

Here is a simple visual that Joey Taravella, Content Writer, MECLABS created to illustrate this concept: 

 

That’s just one test. To really learn about your customers, you must continue the process and create a testing-optimization cycle in your organization — continue to run A/B tests, record the findings, learn from them, create more hypotheses and test again based on these hypotheses.

This is true marketing experimentation, and it helps you build your theory of the customer.

 

Try your hand at A/B testing for a chance to win

Now that you have a basic understanding of marketing experimentation (there is also more information in the “You might also like” section of this blog post that you may find helpful), let’s engage in a real example to help drive home these lessons in a way you can apply to your own marketing challenges.

To help you take your marketing to the next level, The Moz Blog and MarketingExperiments Blog have joined forces to run a unique marketing experimentation contest.

In this blog post, we’re presenting you with a real challenge from a real organization and asking you to write a subject line that we’ll test with real customers. It’s simple; just leave your subject line as a comment in this blog post.

We’re going to pick three subject lines from The Moz Blog and three from the MarketingExperiments Blog and run a test with this organization’s customers.

Whoever writes the best performing subject line will win a stay at the ARIA Resort in Las Vegas as well as a two-day ticket to MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2015 to help them gain lessons to further improve their marketing.

Sound good? OK, let’s dive in and tell you about your client:

 

Subject Line Contest — Craft the best-performing subject line to win the prize

Every year at Email Summit, we run a live A/B test where the audience helps craft the experiment. We then run, validate, close the experiment and share the results during Summit as a way to teach about marketing experimentation.

We have typically run the experiment using MarketingSherpa as the “client” website to test (MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa are sister publications, both owned by MECLABS Institute).

However, this year we wanted to try something different, so we interviewed three national nonprofits to find a new “client” for our tests.

We chose VolunteerMatch — a nonprofit organization that uses the power of technology to make it easier for good people and good causes to connect. One of the key reasons we chose VolunteerMatch is because it is an already successful organization looking to further improve. Here is a case study explaining one of its successful implementations: Lead Management: How a B2B SaaS nonprofit decreased its sales cycle 99%.

Another reason we chose VolunteerMatch for this opportunity is that it has three types of customers, so the lessons from the content we create can help marketers across a wide range of sales models.

VolunteerMatch’s customers are:

  • People who want to volunteer (B2C)
  • Nonprofit organizations looking for volunteers (nonprofit)
  • Businesses looking for corporate volunteering solutions (B2B), to which it offers a Software-as-a-Service product through VolunteerMatch Solutions

 

VolunteerMatch design of experiments

After we took VolunteerMatch on as our Research Partner “client,” Jon Powell, Senior Executive Research and Development Manager, MECLABS, worked with Shari Tishman, Director of Engagement and Lauren Wagner, Senior Manager of Engagement, both of VolunteerMatch, to understand their challenges, look at their current assets and performance, and craft a design of experiments to determine what further knowledge about its customers would help VolunteerMatch improve performance.

That design of experiments features a series of split tests, including the live test we’re going to run at Email Summit as well as the test you have an opportunity to take part in by writing a subject line in the comments section of this blog post. Let’s take a look at that experiment:

 

The Challenge

VolunteerMatch wants to increase the response rate of its corporate email list (B2B) by discovering the best messaging possible. In order to determine that, MarketingExperiments wants to run an A/B split test.

One issue is that the B2B list is relatively smaller than the volunteer and cause list (B2C), making it harder to test in, gain statistical significance and determine which messaging is most effective.

So we’re going to run a messaging test to the B2C list. However, this isn’t without its challenges because most individuals on the B2C list are not likely to immediately connect with B2B corporate solutions messaging.

So the question is:

How do we create an email that is relevant (to the B2C list), without asking too much, that simultaneously helps us discover the most relevant aspect of the solutions (B2B) product (if any)?

 

The Approach — Here’s where you come in

This is where the Moz and MarketingExperiments community comes in to help.

We would like you to craft subject lines relevant to the B2C list that highlight the various benefits of the corporate solutions tool.

We have broken down the corporate solutions tool into three main categories of benefit for the SaaS product. In the comments section below include which category you are writing a subject line for along with what you think is an effective subject line.

The crew at Moz and MarketingExperiments will then choose the top subject line in each category to test. Below you will find the emails that will be sent as part of the test. They are identical, except for the subject lines (which you will write) and the bolded line in the third paragraph (that ties into that category of value).

 

Category #1: Proof, recognition, credibility 

 

Category #2: Better, more opportunities to choose from

Category #3: Ease-of-use 

 

About VolunteerMatch’s brand

Since we’re asking you to try your hand at crafting messaging for this example “client,” here is some more information about the brand to inform your messaging:

VolunteerMatch Identity 

 

VolunteerMatch Core Values

10 Things VolunteerMatch Believes:

  1. People want to do good
  2. Every great cause should be able to find the help it needs
  3. People want to improve their lives and communities through volunteering
  4. You can’t make a difference without making a connection
  5. In putting the power of technology to good use
  6. Businesses are serious about making a difference
  7. In building relationships based on trust and excellent service
  8. In partnering with like-minded organizations to create systems that result in even greater impact
  9. The passion of our employees drives the success of our products, services and mission
  10. In being great at what we do

 

And now, we test

You must leave your comment with your idea for a subject line before midnight on Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015. The contest is open to all residents of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Canada (excluding Quebec) 18 or older. If you want more info, here are the official rules.

When you enter your subject line in the comments section, also let us know which category you’re entering for (and if you have an idea outside these categories, let us know. We just might drop it in the test).

Next, Annette Promes, Chief Marketing Officer, and Cyrus Shepard, Head of SEO and Content, Moz, will pick the subject lines they think will perform best in each category from all the comments on the Moz blog, and the MarketingExperiments team will pick the subject lines we think will perform the best in each category from all the comments on the MarketingExperiments blog.

We’ll then give the VolunteerMatch team a chance to approve the subject lines based on their brand standards and test the subject lines. We’ll report back to you through the Moz and MarketingExperiments blogs which subject lines won and why they won to help you improve your already successful marketing.

So show us what you’ve got. Write your best subject lines in the comments section below. I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

 

You might also like

If you’re interested in learning more about marketing experimentation and A/B testing, you might find these links helpful:

A/B Split Testing — How to use A/B Split Testing to Increase Conversion Rates, Challenge Assumptions and Solve Problems

Don’t Fall Into the Trap of A/B Testing Minutiae

A/B Testing: Example of a good hypothesis

Multivariate Testing: Can you radically improve marketing ROI by increasing variables you test?

Marketing Campaign: Landing page optimization can help improve the return on your media spend

Landing Page Optimization Online Course

Online Testing Course

Beyond Marketing Kaizen: How a CMO gaining line of sight into the testing-optimization cycle can drive triple-digit ROI improvements

Online Marketing Tests: How could you be so sure?

A/B Testing: Split tests are meaningless without the proper sample size

Here’s a look at a previous subject line writing contest we’ve run to give you some ideas for your entry:

Are You a Copywriting Hotshot? Test Your Skills in an Email Marketing Duel

A/B Testing for Fun and Profit [Subject Line Writing Contest]

Announcing: Winners of the Email Subject Line Contest

Email Marketing: What elements of your offer get people to click? [Subject line contest winner announced]

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