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 omniture.com. Who knows, you might become my next blog post :)