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How To Adopt A Test-And-Learn Approach To Marketing Messaging

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A test-and-learn approach to marketing messaging starts with making an assumption, testing it and then letting data prove whether it's the best solution. 

Cheryl Boehm, Director of Copywriting
June 1, 2020

Across the states, stay-at-home orders are lifted. Virtually all businesses are opened back up. And life is returning to normal. The question on everyone’s mind: what does “normal” even mean anymore?

That’s the million dollar question most marketers are trying to understand.

Recent buying behaviors have gone through extremes. We’ve witnessed panic buying of toilet paper, disinfectants and hand sanitizers. Plus, detect an emerging generation of risk-averse supersavers. 

So how do marketers develop messaging that today’s consumers and business buyers can relate to? That’s where a test-and-learn approach to messaging comes in.

What Is A Test-And-Learn Messaging Approach?

With a test-and-learn approach, the key to success is failure. You make an educated guess or assumption about what messaging will resonate most with buyers. You then set up a mini test and let the data prove whether your assumption is right or wrong. 

With a test-and-learn approach, the key to success is failure.

We’ve all been taught not to fail, so this approach to messaging isn’t easy for everyone. But failure is often the fastest way to gather critical insights and data. You must be open to failing fast, learning from it and quickly moving on to the next iteration.

1. Make Assumptions From What You (Think You) Know

This isn’t about taking a shot in the dark. It’s about making a smart, informed and educated guess.

You’ve done the customer research. You have personas. You mapped out the path to purchase. So take all of that pre-Coronavirus knowledge of your target buyer. Then, layer in your understanding of how COVID-19 has impacted their specific business or industry.

At Tenlo, we did this exercise for a compliance company who provides safety plans to small businesses. We had a theory that one of the following messaging approaches would be an effective purchase motivator:

  • Speed – Emphasize the ease of completing and buying documents that are a grudge purchase 
  • Fear – Remind prospects of the stiff penalties imposed on businesses without a safety plan
  • Trust – Highlight our client’s long track record and customer testimonials in the saturated space

Once you have a few messaging ideas, you’re ready to move on to the next stage to prove at least one approach will resonate.

2. Execute & Iterate A Mini Campaign Test

All too often, marketers have an idea about what messaging will resonate with buyers … and they just run with it. They often discover, at the end of the campaign, that the messaging was a flop.

Remember, it’s okay to fail. It’s just better to learn from failures before you’ve blown the timeline and your entire marketing budget. That’s where the mini messaging tests come in.

This approach is similar to A/B testing. You try several different messages in one or two digital marketing tactics, like paid search or social media ads. Plus, you test on a small scale, such as with one of many audiences, in only one sales region or for one product in a larger portfolio.

For the compliance client mentioned above, we conducted an A/B/C test with our three different messages—fear, trust and speed—using paid search ads. The ads drove interested buyers to corresponding landing pages. And we promoted only one product in a portfolio of hundreds. 

Because digital marketing tactics are so fast, easy and cheap to execute, continue reiterating your messaging and gathering data. For instance, if the “Trust” message isn’t generating many clicks, try dialing the trust signals up and down to see if it makes the messaging more relevant.

3. Scale Your Winning Messages

One of my favorite things about a test-and-learn messaging approach is that you begin to see patterns right away. Two to six weeks after your mini test kicks off, you’ll see a clear messaging winner.

Now that you have the proof to back up your assumptions, it’s time to scale out the winning messages. You can use it across all of your on- and off-line marketing materials, expand it nationally to include all sales regions or use the messaging to promote all products in the lineup.

For our compliance client, we discovered that the “trust” messaging resonated top-of-funnel, while “speed” drove final bottom-of-the-funnel purchase decisions. We took this knowledge and have begun to scale out the messaging across the entire portfolio of products.

Read Full Case Study: A 4-Week Test To Improve Lifetime Value

*****

Test-and-learn is the perfect combination of agile thinking and data-driven decision-making. It enables marketers to quickly pivot and adjust messaging as a buyer’s mindset shifts. Best of all, the decisions are backed by data—not gut feelings, intuition or subjective observations. Test-and-learn is a modern messaging approach where learning through failure and iteration leads to success.

With 20+ years of marketing experience, Cheryl strives to clearly understand client goals and user needs. She then helps plan, develop and deliver relevant, high-value content that brings the two together.

Cheryl Boehm, Director of Copywriting

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