In ye olden days of marketing— you know, 20 years ago— it was of paramount importance for advertisers to get everything right. If your company was sinking a big chunk of money into a prime-time TV ad, all the details had to be just so; the messaging, the timeslot, the creative, everything. Getting even one detail wrong might have rendered the whole ad ineffective, more or less just a giant waste of money.

Though it may sound odd to say so, it’s no longer that important to get everything right. The reason for this is simple: Marketing is no longer about making big bets. You’re no longer putting all of your chips on the table for that big, splashy prime-time ad campaign. Instead, marketing today is more about making smaller bets, collecting data, then optimizing accordingly. It’s a much more iterative process: You put something out there, see how it works, then revise your approach and do it all again.

Today’s companies grow by finding out where their customer group is located, honing in on exactly what kind of product/content/messaging those customers want, and providing it to them. This process doesn’t require you to have everything right on the first pass. Instead, you just need to focus on being as right as possible.

Indeed, an argument could be made that today’s marketers and advertisers are rarely, if ever, going to get things down perfectly. A more realistic goal is to always be moving in the right direction, and to be willing to test and improve along the way.

Many Ways to Test

There are a number of ways to test. Advertisers can test their messaging, their branding, their product features, their marketing channels, their target groups… the list goes on and on.

But really, I think all these different forms of testing can be placed into two categories, which I’ll call Testing to Optimize and Testing to Discover.

Testing to Optimize is more commonly known as A/B testing. This is the kind of subtle data-gathering and experimentation that you engage in when you know what you need to do and want to make sure you’re doing it as effectively as you can. For example, maybe you know you need to be running paid ads on Facebook but want to use A/B testing to try out different calls to action, different images, or different targeted user groups.

Note that Testing to Optimize is not just for digital marketing. A lot of small businesses still get a lot of value out of direct mailers, and you can A/B test those, as well, trying different headlines, color schemes, and branding, or simply testing your results when you mail to varied geographic regions. Again, the goal here isn’t to uncover a new strategy so much as to fine-tune a strategy to which you’re already committed, perhaps having already found it to be effective.

The other category is Testing to Discover; I also like to call it Battleship Testing, referencing the classic board game of naval warfare. Essentially, this is all about trying new things to see what works… taking a shot in the dark and seeing if you score a hit. In Battleship Testing, you may be trying that Facebook ad or that direct mailer for the very first time, just to see if you get any results.

Striking a Balance

One final point to make is that most companies are going to benefit from both kinds of testing; however, the ratio may be different from one business to the next. A disruptive company that’s entering a young market won’t have as much marketing data to fall back on, so 90 percent of their testing may be Battleship Testing. For a more established brand with a well-oiled sales and marketing machine, a greater investment in Testing to Optimize may suffice.

It’s important to always be testing, inching further and further down that right direction. The hard part can be finding the right balance between these different kinds of testing. To chat with us about what that balance might look like at your business, reach out to Lenses and Levers any time.