We recently put together a social media marketing campaign for a client. When I reviewed the ads with her, she (very nicely) let me know that while she loved half of them, she didn’t think much of the other half.
I wasn’t surprised. I hadn’t expected her to like them. But I also wasn’t about to throw them in the trash. And here’s why: we’d deliberately put together ads that didn’t look like all their other marketing efforts to test if they might work better to get the attention of potential new customers. Those “different” ads were our way of making sure we weren’t making biased assumptions about what her customers would like.
Because, frankly, the best way to fail at marketing is to assume you always know what people are looking for.
This is especially important with smallish businesses, most particularly those that have grown organically from the ground up. Many smaller businesses have never done any market testing on their visual brand or their messaging – because they didn’t/don’t have the money (good market testing can be expensive), or because they never thought of it. In the end, their brand is a representation of their taste, and their messaging is often simply what appeals to them.
But – and this is a huge BUT – unless your target customers are exactly like you, what appeals to you might fall completely flat with your target market. As a business owner, it’s imperative to get away from your own preferences and put yourself in the shoes of your customers.
Even if you’re one of the lucky few that are selling to people a lot like you, you may want to check in every once in a while to make sure your tastes haven’t diverged over time. For example, if you started a kid’s shoe store when you were a young parent in the 90s, at the time, your interests and tastes probably matched your clientele’s pretty well. But now, 30 years later, your clients are of a completely different generation… and unlikely to have much in common with you.
How to test your marketing
There are two main ways to test your marketing efforts. One, run market research and study groups to ask people about it directly. Big brands do this all the time. Before you see that Super Bowl ad, you better believe it’s been run through study group after study group of target customers to see if it resonated with them (as surprising as that might be, considering some of the ads that passed muster, apparently – but hey, we’re not the target market for all of them).
The problem with market testing is that it’s usually out of reach for companies that aren’t in the Big Marketing Spend arena. Sure, there’s some do-it-yourself market research platforms (we like Pollfish) that are good for testing concepts and slogans, etc, but be prepared that hiring a market research firm to do really thorough research will often run you into the tens (or more) of thousands.
That’s not really a practical number for smaller brands, and definitely not practical for testing ad copy every time around.
The second way is to use the power of digital marketing to test ideas and copy for you. Digital marketing is set up so you can track practically everything. This means you can run two different ads side by side and see which performs better. You can test different imagery, different copy, different delivery methods, and different offers. All while actually marketing your product. Who wouldn’t love that kind of efficiency?
And if you’re not 100% sure of who your customer is, you can even use digital marketing to test customer groups. You can run ads to different ages, interests, geographic locations, household income levels, and more, and find out which groups leads to the most sales.
By testing, you can hone in closer to your ideal message for your ideal customer.
Of course, in order to really test effectively, you need to lose your preconceived notions of what “will” work and what “won’t work”, and just put the ads out there to be judged in the court of digital advertising. It can take some practice to do so, and yes, you’ll build some ads that you may not really like. But? You might surprise yourself – and end up with more effective marketing.
Oh? That client? It turned out that our alternate ads far outperformed the ads that felt more comfortable to them.
And that’s something we would never have known if we hadn’t done some marketing testing.