Marketing can, at times, be part art, part science, part intuition. Toss into that the fact that traditional market research produces results that are often misleading and sometimes flat out wrong because people don’t tell the truth in the traditional survey or focus group setting. It’s not that they are bad people, it’s that they don’t really know what makes them buy one thing over another. (Check out Buyology and my interview with author Martin Lindstrom for more on this.)
So, what’s a business owner, one’s who is constantly chasing the next brilliant marketing, product or service innovation, to do. Well, you can guess, consult a marketing guru or you can prove that you are indeed a marketing genius by testing every idea in the real world. (Marketing geniuses go with whatever wins the test, otherwise known as proof, and that’s the real genius part.)
Direct marketers have always been great testers, but I’m suggesting that even the smallest of businesses can test just about everything they do and practically guarantee better business and marketing decisions using a few simple tools.
Below are five ways to use some form of testing to make better decisions.
1) Google AdWords
Google’s fabulously popular advertising tool is actually one of the greatest test beds ever created. Any business write ads, bid on keywords and have those ads shown to prospects searching for something. The key though is that you can write multiple ads and have Google rotate showing the ads while recording which one gets clicked on the most. If you want to test a headline or even a product idea, you can have some incredible research from prospects, showing real intent, in a matter of hours for less than $50. I’ve used this method for years as a way to test ad copy that I might use in a print ad. Tim Ferriss, author of the 4-Hour Workweek told me he used this method when deciding on the title of his mega-best seller.
2) Google Website Optimizer
This free tool from Google allows you to test countless elements of a web page to see what gets the desired result. You simply create multiple versions of a web page, changing out an image, headline, call to action, or size of buy now button. Then you load the experiment into your Google Website Optimizer and let Google rotate the pages while keeping track of whatever the desired action is. You can test many variations at once, but keep in mind that the more variations the more traffic you will need to see a result. I’ve seen sites double the number of newsletter sign-ups, for example, by moving the sign-up form on the page or simply adding a more provocative headline. Now you can know for sure what works and keep testing to make it work better. Bryan Eisenberg’s Book – Always Be Testing – is a good place to learn the ins and out of this tool.
3) Marketing Board
This isn’t a technology tool as much as an idea. Go out there and find eight to ten folks in your community who could be convinced to help you grow your business. Clients, vendors, lenders, other small business owners all make great prospects for your board. The only real qualification is that they understand your market and they are motivated to help you.
Put a marketing plan in front of them, ask them to review it, comment, give suggestions on your marketing plans and materials and, most importantly promise them that you will accomplish a set list of marketing goals pertaining to the plan that you will give them an update at your next quarterly meeting.
Feed them some really good bagels or wine and send them home. Then get to work on revising and refining your marketing ideas based on their input and get ready for your next meeting.
4) User Testing
Web folks have been employing something called usability testing for years. Essentially this is putting a prospect in front of your site and having them talk their way through navigating towards whatever your goal is. This is a very powerful, and frankly, necessary step for any website to be truly successful. The problem for the typical small business is that it can also be rather expensive. One inexpesnive online solution is usertesting.com For just under $100 you can get some tremendous feedback about the user experience of your website.
Here’s how it works:
- You sign up for user testing, specifying the demographic profile of your target audience and how many user testers you want (one user costs $19, five users cost $95).
- Users record their screen and voice as they use your website, speaking their thoughts as they browse.
- You watch and listen to them use your site. Each user’s session – mouse movements, clicks, keystrokes, and spoken comments – is saved as a Flash video for you to watch.
- You read their review and make improvements based on real-time experiences.
You could also apply a similar approach to marketing materials and product packaging.
5) Beta Launch
The software industry created the idea of launching products before they were finished, in a “beta” mode, with the notion that users would agree to provide input, bug fixes and feedback for the right to try it first or free.
You don’t need to be working on a web application to employ this powerful tactic. If you are creating a new product or service, why not build beta launches into your plan. By advertising a service, for example, as a test you can launch quicker, spend less getting going and gain insight and marketing research that can tell you
- If there is a demand for your offering
- If you’ve explained how to use it well enough
- If you’ve got the right price
- If you need to add or remove features
- If test subjects get the desired outcome
In addition, this approach can create a bit of demand for a product or service from those early adopter types that like to play this role. If you create a product or service that’s a hit, you’ll also get needed testimonials, buzz and success stories from these early users. The community building and collaborative nature of this approach is something that I’ve seen a great demand for and something that social media participation has fostered as a bit of an expectation. It’s also a great way to get a product rolling. By giving the first buyers a chance to get a special price you build some momentum with the product or service.
I applied this approach to a recent product launch and I can’t tell you how much better the product became from the suggestions of a handful of early beta testers.
Image credit: Jose Kevo