For the marketing professional, building the foundation for and growing a digital marketing program can be a difficult undertaking. Often, the hardest part of the process, beyond developing effective test design and understanding the correlations between your data, can be organizational in nature. Low funding, lack of internal buy-in, and misperceptions about marketing content testing and optimization can create roadblocks when trying to build optimization into your digital marketing strategy.

How do today’s marketers move past these obstacles to successfully create a solid foundation and incremental growth in their program? In a recent series of discussions with users of the Adobe Target solution, we explored just that. Marketers from numerous companies of various sizes shared their stories of success and failure, imparting knowledge and best practices on how to get buy-in for their respective optimization programs. Below are a few of the tips they discussed.

Set Realistic Goals

A recurring theme involved the setting of realistic goals and managing expectations. Although testing can be a powerful tool in determining the most effective redesign elements, starting your program with the goal of overhauling your entire online presence creates a staggering amount of work and can quickly set up the effort for failure.

Developing hypotheses focused on a clear conversion event and key performance indicators, and supported by previous results or analytics, you create an achievable result that can be realized in a relatively short amount of time. This lets you quickly show positive results from your activities, which in turn shows the potential ROI from your program and encourages stakeholders within the company to adopt your program.

When setting goals for your test, it’s important to ask yourself several questions: What exactly is your objective (i.e., what do you want to determine from the results), and how you will measure whether you have met it? It’s important to keep in mind that the accuracy of your results relies on how well you can identify outliers and other factors that can skew your data.

Understanding these basic concepts will allow you to use the results of your initial endeavors to guide the design and deployment of subsequent tests. The ultimate goal is a feedback loop in which previous successes are combined with new ideas to continually justify, expand, and increase conversion from your digital marketing efforts across your digital properties.

Learn How to “Fail”

For every experience or piece of content that is identified as being a “winner” from your testing program, there are many other pieces of content that “lose” or do not have a positive influence on your conversion goals. It is critical to understand and promote the concept that failures are also successes. Content that “loses” provides valuable insight into the preferences of a diverse population of visitors to allow for more accurate future test hypotheses and targeting, as well as providing time and cost savings by avoiding creative content  that is not optimal to your visitor’s experience. Marketers today will also “test to learn,” which involves targeting a specific subsegment of your market with particular content to try out new concepts or to build deeper knowledge across your consumer base.

Although the overall goal is to increase revenue, it takes time to gain a full understanding of the marketplace. Finding what doesn’t work is just as important as finding what does, which means that all tests and content provide insight into how the company can improve the effectiveness of its marketing. A truly successful marketing program is built upon participation across the organization, and building awareness of the value of all aspects of the tests can reduce internal pushback.

Evangelize Your Wins

One of the most important things to do in the beginning stages of a testing and optimization program is to promote the program’s successes. Send periodic emails or newsletters that identify these successes. Engage department managers in periodic conversations about new test opportunities in their areas. Identify departmental evangelists who will participate regularly in a training program and who will then train others in their department and promote participation from their group.

Not everyone in the company will be delighted with what may seem like increased scrutiny of their work. Many designers and content generators feel threatened knowing that the effectiveness of their content will be rated. This is where it is important to reward test ideas that are particularly innovative or effective. Finally, promote the program by exposing test results and inviting people across your organization into the marketing cloud for regular updates on tests that matter most to them.

Challenge Convention

Significant advances have been made in the way businesses can build customer knowledge from digital marketing. It is important to question common and traditional assumptions about how marketing should be done. Many companies have long-held beliefs, or “gut instincts,” on who their customers are, what types of marketing they respond to, and how that relationship should be tested. Challenge those beliefs through process and analysis and constantly refine how you market based on your results.

By experimenting with new ways of engaging customers, you can gain unique perspectives on what types of content they do or do not respond to. The more you test, the more you’ll learn, and testing on the edges of customer segments can provide understanding of cross-market buyers or other elusive subsegments of your marketplace. Deep knowledge of your customer base is critical, and can only be built by pushing the limits of your testing and filtering your results by top level or more granular segments for identifying distinct preferences, even within a single test. By running these tests and understanding the variation in results by segment you can gain a complete understanding of the marketplace and deliver exponential growth in terms of conversion and revenue lift.

Art and Science

Implementing an effective digital optimization program is a marriage of art and science. The art lies in the fact that marketing is based on people and their preferences. These things are in no way defined, or even stable. The marketplace shifts constantly, and knowing what type of marketing is most effective on any given day is not easy. The science is in the data. Regardless of what someone might think resonates with a group, or subgroup, of your customer set, accurate targeting and testing of your content will tell you what works and what doesn’t. So what works for you? What obstacles have you experienced and overcome in your efforts to implement targeted marketing?