Launch­ing a suc­cess­ful opti­miza­tion pro­gram is chal­leng­ing. Plain and sim­ple, it’s tough to do and even tougher to sup­port through the ups and downs that inevitably ensue. It requires lock­ing down ini­tial stake­holder buy-in, ensur­ing that inter­nal resources are in place, and edu­cat­ing every­one from the top down. And once that’s done, you’ve got to think about scale, scale, scale, and how what started as your own per­sonal opti­miza­tion ini­tia­tive now needs to per­me­ate every cor­ner of the organization.

Despite these chal­lenges, test­ing and opti­miza­tion are crit­i­cal to the suc­cess of any orga­ni­za­tion that plays in the dig­i­tal sand­box on any level, and needs to be a pri­or­ity every day, from day one—or from today, if you’re a lit­tle late to the opti­miza­tion party. They’re essen­tial pieces of any suc­cess­ful organization’s dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing and cus­tomer align­ment strat­egy and, for most, they cut even deeper across broad strate­gic goals and initiatives.

Because of this, we’re going to tackle “How to Scale Your Opti­miza­tion Pro­gram across Busi­nesses and Brands” head-on at Adobe Sum­mit 2014, with a ded­i­cated ses­sion co-hosted by Mar­riott Inter­na­tional. The company’s over­whelm­ing suc­cess in grow­ing, evan­ge­liz­ing, and spread­ing its own pro­gram has been an inspi­ra­tion to us at Adobe, and I know it will be just as pow­er­ful for atten­dees. Mar­riott grew incred­i­bly quickly and deftly, and the com­pany has big plans for future growth, designed to serve each hotel and hotel brand indi­vid­u­ally. It’s impressive.

But back to your busi­ness. For starters, test­ing and opti­miza­tion are no longer aspi­ra­tional. Gone are the days of hav­ing to be a big com­pany with deep pock­ets to do it right. The first step in any suc­cess­ful opti­miza­tion pro­gram is to think about testing—how you’ll test, what you’ll test, and what hypothe­ses you’ve devel­oped based on your sig­nif­i­cant expe­ri­ence. Depend­ing on the type of test­ing and resources required, oper­a­tional buy-in could be a major piece of the puz­zle at this point, or it could sim­ply live within your imme­di­ate group. In other cases, you could be a one-man show—you’re the test­ing and opti­miza­tion island for now.

I won’t go into too much detail about how to select a test type and chan­nel. For more on this, check out my post from Decem­ber, which speaks to the key capa­bil­i­ties and con­sid­er­a­tions for online testing—but most orga­ni­za­tions start with fairly straight­for­ward A/B test­ing or mul­ti­vari­ate test­ing. The main dif­fer­ence between the two comes down to the abil­ity to test one fea­ture at a time ver­sus mul­ti­ple simul­ta­ne­ously. A/B test­ing is a good option when you’re just start­ing out, or for sit­u­a­tions where you just need to tackle the basics on your site or dig­i­tal plat­form first. Usabil­ity test­ing is another option, though most opti­miza­tion new­com­ers find it a bit more chal­leng­ing, time con­sum­ing, and costly.  

Once the tests are in motion and the data starts trick­ling in, the next step is to evan­ge­lize. Talk about your wins and suc­cesses, your key learn­ings, and what’s next. And, of course, talk about how the pos­i­tive momen­tum emerg­ing from these tests is dri­ving increased ROI and other key per­for­mance indi­ca­tors (KPIs). Talk to every­one who will lis­ten, every­one who is—or could be—involved, and every­one whose sig­na­ture stands between you and greater insti­tu­tional buy-in. And ask them what they’d like to see tested. Get­ting that level of engage­ment, espe­cially from exec­u­tive deci­sion mak­ers, is all but your assur­ance of future align­ment and resource allo­ca­tion. This is also a great time for Test­ing & Opti­miza­tion 101, edu­cat­ing every­one so all are on the same page. Although the terms are tossed around, the true level of knowl­edge is often sur­pris­ing, even among mar­keters and stakeholders.

Now how to take it to the next level? That’s the mil­lion dol­lar ques­tion. There are five suc­cess fac­tors that, together, sig­nal more mature opti­miza­tion orga­ni­za­tions. As you’re evan­ge­liz­ing and align­ing essen­tial per­son­nel with your test­ing and opti­miza­tion hopes and dreams, it’s impor­tant to keep these ele­ments in mind, and work toward gain­ing expe­ri­ence, insight, and effi­ciency in these aspects.

Test­ing veloc­ity. The most suc­cess­ful opti­miza­tion orga­ni­za­tions make test­ing an ongo­ing, iter­a­tive process, in which one suc­cess informs the next set of tests, and the cycle con­tin­ues and improves with each round. Opti­miza­tion veloc­ity increases because value can be clearly demon­strated. The more they achieve, the more they can get their hands on. Momen­tum increases, and achieve­ments soar.

Breadth of strat­egy. As you do more, you achieve more and you get a big­ger appetite for more. Strate­gies expand and a greater tol­er­ance for “fail­ure” emerges—not every­thing is going to be a home­run. Opti­miza­tion teams gain the free­dom to try more and tap into a vari­ety of strate­gies to get the job done. A quick fix here, ideal for new or new-to-optimization com­pa­nies? Look for a quick win—it’s a great con­fi­dence builder and boost to start inte­grat­ing addi­tional strategies.

Types of data lever­aged. You’ve heard me say it time after time: Data-driven insights are essen­tial, and “gut” sim­ply doesn’t hold water in today’s opti­miza­tion envi­ron­ment. Be all about the data, and lever­age it to inform your test­ing and opti­miza­tion efforts. The best opti­miza­tion programs—like Marriott’s—tap into as much vis­i­tor data as pos­si­ble to cre­ate the high­est value for their con­sumers. A consumer-centric approach is key, and per­son­al­iz­ing to cre­ate an expanded degree of rel­e­vance is a great way to move in that direction.

Reach. This one’s all about scale. How far do your opti­miza­tion efforts reach? How much have you expanded and extended your pro­gram? Most start with a land­ing page but, to truly achieve scale, that’s sim­ply not enough. Think email, social, and apps, cross­ing orga­ni­za­tional lines and get­ting other teams on board. At the end of the day, all high-value loca­tions and core dig­i­tal chan­nels should be aligned, which means addi­tional teams, mar­keters, and non­tra­di­tional per­son­nel mov­ing ahead with you.

Democ­ra­ti­za­tion. In the vein of reach, democ­ra­ti­za­tion is essen­tial to grow­ing scale and opti­miza­tion across the many busi­nesses that make up your brand. The eas­i­est way to launch your democ­ra­ti­za­tion efforts is to bring in mar­keters from out­side of the core opti­miza­tion team, encour­ag­ing them to test out their ideas and expe­ri­ences across cus­tomers crit­i­cal to their end of the busi­ness. Let­ting them drive will cre­ate an organic buy-in and under­stand­ing of the process, and what they can do to make it a success.

We’ll explore plenty more on the consumer-centric front, as well as all stages of the opti­miza­tion process—how to start, how to grow, and how to con­tinue scal­ing based on the suc­cesses you’ll no doubt achieve. This ses­sion will also tap into Mar­riott directly, and the incred­i­ble work they’ve done with Adobe Tar­get to meet and exceed their goals—and how they’re con­tin­u­ing the for­ward momen­tum. Bring your test­ing ideas, opti­miza­tion goals, and what you’re already doing, and let’s dis­cuss. There’s plenty to gain from revis­it­ing and reimag­in­ing those processes and it will be inter­est­ing to see some con­crete examples.