August 12, 2020 | Anup Patel | Evan MacLeod | Stephanie Ostermann

In-Market Agility: How to Optimize For Successful Outcomes

When it comes to meeting your marketing outcomes and driving business goals, your marketing needs attention and nurturing. There’s no such thing as set it and forget it. You must review your results with the most up to date information as possible, draw insights from the data and make adjustments as you go. Approaching your optimization efforts from a learning stance can help you be a scientist, reviewing your metrics with an analytical eye, and not getting too distracted by positive results while ignoring negative ones.

Whether you’re working with an agency or you are an agency, agile optimization is a team effort. Starting from a solid marketing outcome plan, every member of the team can take ownership of marketing results. 

Preparation is Key

Optimization hinges on an understanding of what success will look like. Without this, you won’t know if the tactics you’re employing are working, and by extension, you won’t know which tactics need to be optimized to work harder. Before we do anything at WS, we work with our clients to determine desired outcomes. These outcomes are measurable and ladder up to business goals. 

Everything can be measured . It’s easy to assume that you can’t measure traditional formats, like print, OOH and radio. However, there are creative ways to measure the performance of those mediums. Consider using things like specific search terms, customized landing page URLs, or QR codes (yes, QR codes are making a comeback) as methods to track impressions and engagements earned by more traditional forms of media. These won’t be as accurate a measurement as your digital tactics provide, and often work well when used in combination of more than one measure, but it will give you some idea of how your chosen tactic is performing.

Optimization needs to be governed as closely by process as your marketing deliverables are. Click To Tweet

It’s also important to remember that not all data is important. Having more data won’t make you more likely to achieve defined marketing outcomes. Take the time to understand what you want to measure, why, and how, and then test to see if it actually works and is accurate.

When designing your deliverables, design with flexibility in mind. Designing for optimization includes considerations like clearly delineating key messages into content “chunks” that can be easily moved around on a landing page. Template banner ads to allow for quick copy adjustments that remain true to the brand guidelines. Batch create social media creative in multiple sizes and variations. Allow enough space to play with button design on an opt-in form. Designing for optimization will remove the friction that can prevent your optimization team from being truly agile. 

Develop An Optimization Process That Works

You’ve maybe been in this meeting before:

The team comes together to review results midway through the latest campaign. It looks great. Most items are tracking to the outcomes, the KPIs are strong, and you’re all feeling pretty good about yourselves. There are a few items you could stand to strengthen, and so you spend an hour discussing the best way to optimize them. The team breaks and heads back to their respective desks (or in this time of remote work and Zoom meetings, logs out of the call and puts their Deep Focus playlist back on), and finds themselves with a new stack of work on their desk. At the next regroup meeting, those great ideas are still just that – ideas. 

Optimization needs to be governed as closely by process as your marketing deliverables are. What does that mean?

  1. Determine how often you will meet, how many optimizations you will make in a given timeframe, and when you will revisit those changes to measure effectiveness. Be realistic, both about how much time your teams have to make changes, and how much time it will take to see results. 
  2. Establish an optimization process. Ideally, this process is built for speed and clearly outlines who needs to be aware of a change. For most optimizations, this usually includes your QA person, proofreader, and data analyst, at minimum. Making adjustments can sometimes require tracking tools to be adjusted in tandem. 
  3. Identify priorities in optimization. It’s important to validate your optimizations before moving to the next one. It can be tempting to try to change multiple things at once, but that will make testing them much harder. Change one thing at a time. 
  4. Clearly define your hypothesis, your testing method, and in-market timing for the test. 
  5. Invite a client service team member to the meeting – or designate a liaison who will take detailed notes (tactic, change to be made, due date, etc.) to communicate to your client service team. 
  6. Empower your optimization team. Optimization works best when it’s not hampered by multiple layers of approval, which sometimes become more about opinions than data. Determine what type of optimizations can be done without express approval (for example, adjusting the targeting on a social media ad, or redesigning a button on a landing page that isn’t getting clicked) and which will need to be vetted (redirecting budget away from a tactic entirely, changing a creative concept, etc.).
  7. Share your results. Celebrate wins with the team, and debrief on the losses. Often, you’ll be able to identify why your hypothesis was wrong, refine it, and try again. 

Knowing What to Optimize and When to Do It

It might be obvious, but your optimization decisions need to be driven by and supported by relevant data. This means you’ll need to have a method for interpreting data, forming a hypothesis to test and testing that hypothesis. Trending metrics are important. Real-time dashboards can help teams make decisions quickly and with the most up to date metrics possible. 

Sometimes a tactic that looks “broken” just hasn’t had the time it needs to gain momentum. Click To Tweet

Don’t move to make changes too early in the process. Sometimes a tactic that looks “broken” just hasn’t had the time it needs to gain momentum. While this varies by tactic, we generally recommend waiting for at least two to four weeks before optimizing. 

So what if you log into your dashboard and everything looks perfect? Remember: optimization isn’t always about fixing a problem. You can and should optimize for improvement on tactics that are already performing well. And while optimization can help identify and “fix” problems, ideally that’s not what you’ll be doing during those meetings. Your problems should be identified and solved as part of your QA processes. If you’re sending out marketing automation emails that didn’t go out the first time due to an error, you’re not actually optimizing anything. 

It’s also key to understand when to pivot, and how much to pivot. Ideally, you should strive to make small changes that deliver big returns. 

Placement Matters – An Optimization Mini Case Study

In early 2019, WS launched a marketing plan for an innovative agricultural product. As part of the multi-channel initiative, a series of automated emails were designed to move leads along the path to purchase. 

In our first optimization meeting, we saw an issue on our live performance dashboard – email #3 had an unusually low CTOR, just 7.1%, less than half of the average CTOR* of the other three emails. Our team began to toss out theories – a weak or ineffective call to action might be the culprit. Perhaps the email was just a little too good at answering the lead’s questions. Or maybe they just didn’t care about the content as much as we thought they would at that stage in their journey. The team then identified what we felt was actually causing the low result. The CTA button was low and offset to the right, making it look like part of the email footer. Other emails had inline links in the body copy, or buttons placed centred in the main body of the email template.

Before we made any changes, we dug more deeply into the data and confirmed that people were in fact clicking through most often on CTAs placed in the main body of the email. With that, our optimization hypothesis was born: Could we improve CTOR of email #3 by adjusting the placement and design of the CTA button?

(Spoiler alert: Yes!)

The change was small and quick to make (ideal for optimization), and resulted in a CTOR that more than doubled to 15.6%.

*Wonder why the CTOR for our emails was lower than “industry” average? We prefer to measure against our own historical benchmarks with specialized target audiences, especially when reaching the agricultural audience, one that is typically understudied. This is why it’s important to understand your audience as well as you possibly can.

Is your marketing working as hard as it could be? What’s in your optimization plan? We’d love to help you drive more successful marketing outcomes. Hit us up on Twitter @simplyws_ or contact us to optimize your marketing efforts.

Anup Patel

Anup Patel is a data analyst at WS. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.

Evan MacLeod

Evan Macleod is the Associate Creative Director at WS. Split hairs over the difference between interactivity and functionality with him by connecting on LinkedIn.

Stephanie Ostermann

Stephanie has eight years of experience in content strategy across all channels; specializing in content creation, execution and deployment, social media scheduling and community management. She holds her Bachelor of Arts in Professional Communication from Royal Roads University. Stephanie wonders how communities define and redefine themselves both on and offline. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.