How to Cultivate a Culture of Testing

Testing and Optimization


A/B testing is like putting together a puzzle: you need to test and iterate until you optimize every component of your campaign, including captions, images, and calls-to-action (CTAs). Another popular analogy is the ‘Goldilocks effect.’ Is your campaign too hot, too cold, or just right? You won’t know until you taste test each one, and this is the process for each and every campaign we run at LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

Oftentimes, tests reveal that the smallest tweaks can make the greatest performance impact. We find that our best campaign strategies are gut-led but data informed. However, your gut might not always be right, and while you may be confident in your hypothesis, testing may prove you wrong. It’s happened to us more than once.

In a world where brands like Amazon and Netflix are leading the way by providing excellent customer experiences, marketers can’t afford NOT to A/B test. A recent study by Verint Systems showed that businesses and consumers are both more likely to switch brands after a bad experience than because of a bad product. For example, millennials are 44% more likely to permanently disengage with brands after receiving high volumes of mass generic email communications, according to Aimia Institute. Your buyers’ expectations for personalization and excellent content experiences have changed.

If you’re building a testing culture and aren’t afraid of ‘failing forward,’ you’ll always be in a great position to create great customer experiences. Furthermore, the more you A/B test, the more relevant your content will become to your prospects and customers. Read on for four tips on how to cultivate a culture of testing within your organization:

1. Make Data Your Playground

Being a millennial myself, I grew up in a time where all of the information I could ever want is an internet connection away. Our generation is ready to use data to make our marketing better. After all, the ability to collect data means an obligation to put the data to work, right? If it can be measured, it can be improved. That’s why I encourage my team at LinkedIn to make data our playground.

We use data to:

  • Enhance our creative: Data deeply informs the creation of our content and how we promote it. We can take a few creative risks because, thanks to data, we have a strong hunch our audience will like it. At the same time, we know there’s no substitute for killer content. Data doesn’t replace content, it just makes the content better.
  • Test everythingWe A/B test all of our creative content, CTAs, verbiage, etc. We swap headlines, formatting, social messaging, and images. For example, whenever we launch a new asset or campaign, we create a plethora of images for our paid and organic promotional efforts. Many times, we lift short statistics or quotes out of larger pieces of content to create snackable assets. We are able to quickly determine which creatives perform better, and we use that insight to guide the next round of testing.
  • Amplify and personalize: With the amount of data we have available to us, there’s no excuse for marketing blind. Data-driven targeting is better for marketers because it creates a better experience for our audiences. We can focus on the people who are most likely to convert, and we can avoid bombarding people with irrelevant messages.

At LinkedIn, my team built a Propensity Model for our email marketing. Using data to understand the demographics and behaviors that characterize our ideal prospects, we can send customized content only to the people who are most likely to act on it. For amplification, we know that the best way to get people to share content is to make content they love. So we regularly take a deep dive into audience analysis. We look at who our blog subscribers are, what their interests are, and which posts they found most compelling.

2. Be a Cross-Functional Partner

By all means, get your demand generation team on board! At LinkedIn, I meet with our demand generation team and ad operations team on a bi-weekly basis. We examine which campaigns are working and which aren’t in order to optimize and iterate. What should we create more of? What should we create less of?

We also have spitball sessions to come up with new testing ideas. Coined by LinkedIn’s Jason Miller, spitball sessions are essentially a no judgment zone for brainstorming, where any idea is welcome. When you’re on the same team with shared goals, it only makes sense to have internal buy-in on your A/B testing. These meetings also serve as a good way to ensure we’re walking the walk (not just talking the talk) when it comes to testing a good mix of brand awareness, lead generation, and thought leadership content.

3. Be Fearless

Typically, people only challenge their current way of thinking when they are in crisis mode. But unfortunately, at that point it’s too late. This is why experimentation and ‘failing forward’ is so important. Failing forward is the concept of getting ahead by not being afraid to fail. Instead, fail in an effort to improve. Fail for the sake of being proactive rather than reactive.

In an increasingly noisy space, the need for bigger, braver, and bolder content has never been so vital. It’s okay to allow yourself to take data-driven intelligent risks. Unless you’re a marketing supernova, not every piece of content you put out will be a home run. But I bet you’ll learn something from every campaign. And if you’re not continually learning as a marketer, you will soon become obsolete.

4. Document Your Strategy

Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProf’s 2017 Content Marketing Benchmarks reveal that the most effective content marketers understand what successful content marketing looks like and document their marketing strategy. In fact, 63% of the most effective B2C marketers and 53% of the most effective B2B marketers have a documented strategy.

At LinkedIn, we document every test we run in order to help inform our future content strategy. We even took it one step further and formally compiled all of our findings from LinkedIn Sponsored Content A/B tests into an ebook of best practices. Remember, the best content is what our team has coined as ‘fist-bump content.’ In other words, you want to create genuinely helpful content aimed at alleviating your audience’s pain points.

My hope is that you take these tips back to your marketing team and adapt them to develop a strong culture of testing. Commit to ongoing improvement because each piece of data you get from testing will help you understand your audience just a little better, and in turn, improve your results. And remember, you don’t need to be a millennial to approach data like one.

Are you building a culture of testing in your organization? Share your own tips in the comments below!