5 Steps to Major League Optimization
Managing an optimization program has parallels to running a professional baseball team. To be successful, it requires a coordinated effort by many, all with a common goal, as well as acknowledgement that to reach the pinnacle of success, your team must navigate what amounts to a marathon and not a sprint.
In this case, having one “star player” who’s an expert in optimization simply isn’t enough. You need the right internal support within your organization, including executive backing, proper funding, strong analytics data and test coordination to be properly structured for success. You also have to know what your goals are, and have agreement on what’s most important – it’s important to prioritize and have a rock-solid plan.
The most successful optimization programs are backed by a strong team of committed company stakeholders. Below are five steps to consider when implementing a comprehensive optimization program worthy of the major leagues.
1. Assess Your Current Program
Just like the transition from the minors to the big leagues, an immature optimization program needs help to reach the next level of maturity or it can suffer from lack of support, poor planning, and less than desirable outcomes. Even mature programs may benefit from assistance in building an optimization roadmap, which can help delineate actions the organization must take to reach the next level.
In order to assess your optimization program, answer the following questions: Are you testing now? If so, what are you focused on and what are the goals you’ve set for the program? Who in the marketing organization is testing or may be interested in getting involved? How would you rate your optimization maturity – from ad-hoc testing to a data-driven marketing organization?
2. Secure An Executive Sponsor
This is the most critical and also challenging step. Start by seeking out a company executive who understands optimization and the benefit of testing, believes in making decisions based on data, and encourages experimentation.
If your executives don’t “get” optimization yet, identify one who may be willing to listen and learn about the benefits of a strong optimization program. (Hint: those most likely to engage will have responsibility for profit and loss across multiple channels, and a sense of urgency to improve results.) Once you’ve identified the right executive sponsor, set up quarterly (or better yet, monthly) meetings to discuss challenges and engage executive participation in getting people and practices aligned with goals.
This process may require some work as you will be asking your team to give up some control and allow test results to determine the outcome, not executive opinions. True progress is not made without risks, and the team will have to become comfortable with holding back some online traffic in order to expose the rest to the test.
3. Start Testing
The best way to learn how to test is by testing. Begin with high traffic, high impact locations on your site and expand optimization from there, moving quickly to more dynamic areas like mobile, social, and display ads.
Testing is fundamental throughout the optimization process and goes hand-in-hand with targeting: delivering the right content to the right person at the right time. Repeatedly refining the customer experience based upon the available data defines optimization; it is an iterative process.
Optimization can help remove friction and create greater efficiency from a customer standpoint, while also assisting in measuring a marketer’s creative approach to engagement that will maximize business performance.
If your organization is just starting out with optimization, you might need some small wins under your belt before securing that executive sponsorship you need to build out the program. By demonstrating initial wins and communicating the value of your optimization program by annualizing the impact, it should be easier to land the ongoing support and resources you’ll need to be successful.
4. Test & Improve Processes
Just as testing improves marketing results and customer experience, it can also help improve your processes, skills and alignment. Processes should be considered experimental for the first year of an optimization program, and should be continually modified to improve results.
If your current campaign development process doesn’t include testing, it may feel like ‘rocking the boat’ to interfere with established processes. However, by sharing test results and encouraging creative teams to ‘test their best,’ this step should be a welcome addition to the optimization process. (This is also where having that executive support you worked hard for will come in handy.)
5. Measure & Report Progress
Every program should have quantitative success criteria that reflect the executive sponsor’s business goals. Performance should be reported to executives regularly, including plans and status, success criteria, and results. Reporting should be consistent across campaigns, geography, and business units. To build a culture of optimization, engage your audience by coming up with creative ways to share results.
For example, expose the company to campaigns through ‘lunch and learn’ events where you can share different versions of your creative and ask people to vote on their favorite. Then tell them which version actually won and how much money it’s making for the company – bringing the project to life.
Successful Optimization Programs
Every company will inevitably encounter its own unique internal challenges when implementing an optimization program for the first time, but these steps provide the fundamental structure, support, and ongoing measurement needed to track, prove and share success. Managing a successful optimization program takes structure and long-term discipline; but if done correctly, it can also be non-threatening, fun and highly profitable – resulting in the equivalent of a parade of high fives and fist bumps following a Grand Slam.
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