Leave No Test Unturned

Before a television commercial is aired, it undergoes thorough testing to ensure that every second is effective and that the advertiser’s message will be understood by viewers. Testing is not only conducted before commercials go to air; it continues afters ads have hit the screen. “So what?” I hear you protest. “Market testing has been going on for decades. That’s standard.” And you’re right.

Hollywood adopts the technique, subjecting major movies to viewer-testing processes and thus ensuring optimum commercial popularity for highly tuned blockbuster productions. For example, several endings might be produced for the same movie just so plot variations can be evaluated by test audiences.

You know where I’m going with this, don’t you? Every consumer product undergoes market testing; every communication product is launched with the objective of succeeding among an increasingly skeptical consumer group. Seeing that market testing seems such an obvious prerequisite to commercial success, and that probably 9 out of 10 commercials and products are thoroughly tested on consumers, why is it that less than 1 percent of every web site goes through any market testing?

I’m not talking about QA (quality assurance) tests that ensure that there are no bugs or errors in site coding. And I’m not talking about editing, undertaken to ensure there are no spelling errors or incorrect data exposed on the site. I’m talking about brand testing: tests to ensure that the objectives the brand had in going online are realized.

Now, let me ask you a couple of very simple questions. Did you concept-test your web site? Did you brand-test your web site? Did you test your web site’s navigation ease and appropriateness? Did you test that visitors understood your web site and its functions, aims, and purpose, both before launching it and after it went live? If your answers to any of these are “no,” I have to ask you why!

You know that consumers spend longer with your web site than they do with your television commercials; you know they interact with your site, meaning they are more involved with your online presence than with your television presence. So why would your answer be “no” to any of these questions?

My advice is simple. Test your online concept on paper and later on screen-based storyboards. Test consumer perception of your brand. Test what values consumers see your proposed site as supporting. Test consumer response to the online proposition and ascertain how their view of your brand changes after spending time with it online.

Test the harmony between your brand’s message delivery and consumer understanding of the message. Find out if you’re satisfying consumer expectation. If no e-commerce is accessible, test to ascertain whether consumers expect your brand to offer this service. If your brand offers no discounts, test to see if the consumers are alienated by such a policy. Test every bit of the site, just as you test every second of your television commercials.

If you don’t believe me, show me the test results that prove my advice to be in error – that prove testing is unnecessary. I would love to see the results, but you’d have to conduct market tests to acquire them.

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