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.