Several years ago I was speaking at a marketing conference and had to follow NASA icons Gene Kranz and Jim Lovell, from the historic Apollo 13 mission that never landed on the moon. Mr. Kranz repeatedly used the phrase "failure is not an option" when describing his days running mission control and most certainly the story of Apollo 13. "Failure is not an Option" is also the title of his book that he was promoting at the time. As I listened and contemplated how I was going to follow these two American icons and pivot the audience from exciting space stories to discussing the need for relevant marketing, it occurred to me that; "failure must be an option." So I got up to the stage and reminded the audience that I was from Jupiter and knew nothing about bringing men back safely from the moon, however, that for us as marketers, we are one of the few professions where failure is not only tolerated, but actually is a necessary ingredient to optimizing programs. Failure is an element of testing; even simple A/B tests are predicated on the notion that one part will outperform (succeed) the other part, which is a degree of failure.
At my firm, we do a lot of survey work and market research, and recently we completed a survey that had some staggering findings. In a survey last month of 368 U.S. marketing executives, we asked them to identify marketing tactics that they regularly utilize (at least once a month). The data revealed that just 31 percent of the executive respondents stated that they conduct A/B testing for their email marketing campaigns. When we asked about more sophisticated types of testing methods, those results tracked even lower. Perhaps the real failure here is that so few email marketing executives are using testing as a scientific tactic to optimizing mailings; instead, most are simply guessing about which elements would optimize the performance of their mailings.
Granted, employing testing does increase production time and often requires more labor resources, but embarking on a new segmentation scheme without properly testing it is a futile exercise that wastes resources. Additionally, I did a research study way back in 2004 that proved that email marketers that were regularly testing had higher conversion rates than those that did not. Testing can make a real difference to your program and here are some suggestions on how to get started with the basics.
While email marketing is not rocket science, marketing does necessitate some science. Be thankful that you are a marketer and embrace that notion of optimization that a little bit of failure is a necessary part of the practice of scientific marketing. Better to test a small bit of your list and experience some small failure, then launch a mailing to your entire list and experience failure in a massive way. Test early and test often and make it an element of your production process.
Until next time, keep on mailing.
David is off today. This column was originally published on June 20, 2011 on ClickZ.
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For more than 20 years, David has been an industry proponent. Direct Magazine said David is "one of the most influential experts in email marketing, if not the most influential." Co-author of "Email Marketing An Hour A Day," David has held senior level positions at Forrester and JupiterResearch, Apple, Anthropologie, MacWarehouse, Proteam, and retailers that dotted the early days of CompuServe. David advises many industry organizations including the OTA, DMA, eec, and has been a contributor to the Weekend Today Show on NBC. Learn more about connected marketing and download free research with registration here. Follow David on Twitter @emaildaniels and learn more at www.relevancygroup.com.
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