Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Sophie Strong: Using testing to go great lengths

Sophie Strong is Managing Partner of Media Experience at PHD UK and NDA’s monthly columnist.

Whilst the headlines have been *slightly* more positive about the recession, claiming it isn’t going to be as bad as we think, we are still facing a challenge. We need to do more with less. We need every penny we spend to sweat as much as it can and deliver a significant return.

Couple that with the ever-changing landscape and unprecedented change in our industry, it does feel like we are having to re-write the rule books a bit. Now, what makes our industry so exciting is the fact that it is always on the move and the pace of change keeps us on our toes. Ultimately meaning we are in a constant state of test and learn.

But why is this important to us today? Testing and accurate measurement betters our understanding. As an example, successful A/B testing can bring a 50% increase in the average revenue per unique visitor for ecommerce sites.

So, let’s get up to speed with what’s at play right now. Ad tech regulatory updates (past and future) are rippling through our industry creating greater gaps in the data. That’s everything from Apple’s iOS14.5 update, to Chrome’s impending deprecation of the 3rd party cookie. Neither of this new news, but the impact is being felt. Everything from drops in algorithm efficiencies to the constant rise of new ad tech solutions.

Couple this with the rise of further fragmentation in the landscape, or spinning it positively, new ways to connect with consumers, just on a smaller scale. Alongside constant evolutions of AI technology, changing audience behaviour and an economy in crisis. It does feel never-ending, right?

Testing is imperative as we evolve our understanding of what good looks like. However, we can only really do that when we have good measurement in place. This is because good measurement goes beyond looking at the superficial CTR metrics and helps us review our strategies against the bigger picture objectives, business profit, increased market share. It is important we understand the role our media and creative plays on shifting the dial on these ultimate goals.

Packaging this together ultimately will allow us to have confidence in our approach as we face into an uncertain future. So, to capture this there are two key areas of consideration for building a rigorous test and learn approach for the year ahead.

First, measurement remains critical for developing our learnings, and needs to come first when considering testing – as it sets the standard for what good looks like. Within this we mean a few things.

  • Define your north star and point towards it. Off the back of this you can then translate the business objective into a corresponding marketing objective, then trickle that down to media KPI’s
  • Next think about the tools that you need in place to help. I once heard someone coin the phrase “a touch of old with a sprinkle of new.” Really, this means different tools play a part, and macro tactics such as econometrics remains as important as ever for helping guide the overall shape of performance across the plan. Whilst in-platform solutions will allow for real-time learning and optimisation.
  • Don’t forget to ensure that those tools are aligned with the latest updates, this means making sure that they are future fit. Consider a move to server-to-server from pixels, or make sure the latest Google upgrade is in place (e.g. GA4)
  • Finally, make sure you have a plan in place to analyse the results. Create a framework which shows the role the different technology and tools play, and when you will use the results from those tools to guide performance.

Secondly, a considered approach to testing and learning is key to finding the gaps which could drive incremental growth.

  • Start with an audit of your current set up. It will also create a baseline of performance and media maturity so you can track progress.. Doing this will quickly highlight where the gaps lie, but also if there are any commonalities across your media mix, finding new ways to make things better. For example, is your client utilising 1st party data within their strategy, and if not what is preventing utilising this. Another example would be looking at if you are following platform best practice, for example, is your video creative optimised in length and format to the environment it is in. 
  • Create tests that have a purpose and plot them, looking at effort vs reward, and then work through where tests will be most appropriate to launch throughout the year. Always make sure your hypothesis dictates what success could look like so you have something to benchmark against when reviewing.
  • Size is imperative. Ensure your tests have sufficient scale to feed into your measurement set up so you can truly understand the impact.
  • Log everything. It shows you what to adopt as BAU and what to park.
  • Don’t over-test. Think about testing cadence and phase them out. If you have three tests live at one time and see a sales uplift, how can you ever truly say with confidence which test drove that outcome.
  • It’s cheesy, but don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is still a win, as it shows you what not to do in the future.  

The media landscape is always on the move. And whilst change is inevitable, accelerating the pace at which you face into it is imperative. It is important to face into this uncertain future by having a rigorous testing framework coupled with clear measurement, to allow us to model the commercial impact of different marketing outcomes, to ultimately drive growth in this crazy economic moment.