I love com­ing across sto­ries of peo­ple using test­ing and tar­get­ing in unex­pected indus­tries and appli­ca­tions. I recently heard a story on Pub­lic Radio’s Mar­ket­place about the new busi­ness mod­els that news­pa­pers are adopt­ing in order to sur­vive. The story focused pri­mar­ily on the Jour­nal News, a com­mu­nity news­pa­per cov­er­ing the sub­ur­ban coun­ties north of New York. Its edi­tor spoke about the dif­fi­cul­ties they’d faced, and how the task was not nearly as sim­ple as just tak­ing the print edi­tion and throw­ing the arti­cles up on a site. Instead, they had to find ways to cre­ate online com­mu­ni­ties around their con­tent. He described the process as trans­form­ing from a local news­pa­per to a “hyper-local” news­pa­per. In essence, its edi­tors had to become online mar­keters! They tested dif­fer­ent ways of sur­viv­ing in today’s cross-channel land­scape by inte­grat­ing social mod­ules such as forums, bul­letin boards, com­ments, and votes. In doing so, they were able to increase read­er­ship and sell ads across both print and online chan­nels.

What was even more inter­est­ing to me though, was that the dia­logue they cre­ated with their read­ers enabled them to bet­ter under­stand the true shelf life of sto­ries. They found that some sto­ries they would have stopped report­ing on in print con­tin­ued to cir­cu­late in con­ver­sa­tions online. They also found that the sto­ries they might have guessed to be more sig­nif­i­cant didn’t gen­er­ate the expected inter­est. It made me think about retail­ers and the prob­lem of deter­min­ing when hol­i­day pro­mo­tions become most impor­tant to their cus­tomers. We’ve all had the expe­ri­ence of shop­ping in the heat of sum­mer and see­ing all win­ter cloth­ing on the racks. But what if we could instead dic­tate the cutover date by state, region or even city through our real-time shop­ping behaviors?

This story is a great exam­ple of the value of test­ing & tar­get­ing in an unlikely appli­ca­tion. It also speaks to the value of being agile. These days, our roles and the tasks they entail often seem like mov­ing tar­gets. What does it really mean to be an online edi­tor vs. an online mar­keter? With the increas­ing use of AJAX, Flash, and other tech­nolo­gies span­ning client and server, will there con­tinue to be a sep­a­ra­tion between back-end devel­op­ers and front-end devel­op­ers? Should there be a clear delin­eation between an email mar­keter and a site mar­keter? I had this con­ver­sa­tion just last week with a direc­tor of mar­ket­ing at a large com­pany where their mar­keters are grouped into dif­fer­ent chan­nels. He wanted to under­stand how he could imple­ment a cul­ture of opti­miza­tion when his mar­keters are focused on dif­fer­ent objec­tives.

In an econ­omy that is rapidly touch­ing cus­tomers across mul­ti­ple chan­nels where attri­bu­tion mea­sure­ment is fuzzy at best, how can we keep these chan­nels mov­ing toward the same com­mon goal? How can we encour­age col­lab­o­ra­tion when chan­nel mar­keters are incented for com­pletely sep­a­rate actions? Too often, I see the mar­keter that is focused on acqui­si­tion care only about get­ting traf­fic to the site. At that point, they wash their hands of the vis­i­tor and the site mar­keter takes over. Now this site mar­keter is focused solely on con­ver­sion. If the site mar­keter is lucky, they’re able to run tests on their site and deliver a rel­e­vant, tar­geted expe­ri­ence. This rel­e­vant and tar­geted expe­ri­ence, though, can only come if these two mar­keters speak to each other. Oth­er­wise, the ban­ner ads, PPC ads, direct mail pieces, and email blasts will always have chang­ing lan­guage and pro­mo­tions that aren’t reflected any­where on the site.

Return­ing to the Mar­ket­place piece, I loved the way it ended, with a source say­ing, “Even when it becomes clear what a win­ning model will look like, don’t expect that to last more than three to four years. The new model for the indus­try is the need for con­stant inno­va­tion and per­pet­ual rein­ven­tion.”

A light bulb went off in my head after hear­ing that because we at Test&Target are always talk­ing about how there is no per­fect land­ing page, home­page lay­out, or over­all site. And now not only are the same prob­lems encoun­tered, but also the same tac­tics employed at a com­mu­nity news­pa­per! Wouldn’t it be inter­est­ing to have the paper’s edi­tor sit down with a mer­chan­diser from Best Buy, an ana­lyst from eHar­mony and a UI designer from Bank of Amer­ica, and see what comes out of the dis­cus­sion? I think we could all ben­e­fit from a lot more cross-vertical and cross-role col­lab­o­ra­tion. I’m inter­ested in learn­ing more about how com­pa­nies are using test­ing and tar­get­ing, espe­cially in ways that may not be as obvi­ous. I’d love to hear from the read­ers in the com­ments and feel free to email me directly at lchiu at omni​ture​.com. Who knows, you might become my next blog post :)