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A/B testing has its limits PHOTO: Diomari Madulara

For modern empowered customers, expectations for their digital experiences with a brand are always evolving. So it stands to reason that companies looking to compete for those empowered customers must keep up by constantly improving the digital experiences they provide.

Yet when it comes to defining exactly what a so-called improved customer experience looks like, decisions — and confusion —abound. 

Should you change the navigation on your brand’s website? Should you add rich media to your social channels? Are your customers more likely to use your mobile app if the home screen has a different layout? Which digital asset will be the most effective call to action on your blog post?

Traditional Testing Methods Have Limits 

To answer such questions, many digital marketers still use the traditional champion-challenger method — also known as A/B testing — to evaluate new offers. It’s relatively easy to execute and can be quickly scaled up. But it has severe limitations: only a few offers can be tested at a time, low-variance regression results may not be meaningful and it’s hard to identify which individual variables actually caused customers to respond.

Modern marketers can only achieve insights like those through a broader testing and experimental design approach — a digital intelligence process that uses customer data and analytics to develop insights that can be used to optimize digital interactions on a continuous basis. Multivariate testing and analytical optimization routines are two examples of this approach.

Taking an experimental design approach massively increases the variables that marketers can test simultaneously — website design, messages, incentives, timing and location of digital ads, landing page imagery, calls to action and so on. That lets companies determine the effect of all these variables by testing several combinations and then using algorithms to model the impact of every possible combination.

Focus on Your Customers Using Holistic Testing

But such statistical approaches, while incredibly thorough, don’t necessarily capture the complexity of the purchase journeys most customers take. That’s why taking a more holistic approach to testing digital experiences can put test findings into a larger context and result in improvements to the digital experience that are more likely to resonate with customers. 

Three basic principles should guide such a holistic testing approach: 

1. Refine customer understanding based on each and every new insight

As customers interact with digital touchpoints, measure their behaviors when you probe questions like: How did my customers arrive at these touchpoints — organic search, paid search or ad campaigns? What did they do at those touchpoints, based on time on page, page views or click paths? 

Companies must also collect relevant contextual data for their customers such as location, search query, previous interactions, last content accessed or current activity. By updating and analyzing existing customer information, together with current and new data points, marketers can gain new insights to refine future tests. 

2. Optimize customer interactions continuously by improving marketing treatments

With using those fresh insights, refine and improve the treatments you deliver in future customer interactions. For example, to optimize checkout experience, you can test the placement of your shopping cart, the impact of adding a same-day delivery message or customer reception to offering an additional payment option such as PayPal.

Modifying a wide spectrum of treatments for each phase of your customers’ digital journey lets you use analytics to help test those treatments across the entire customer life cycle. 

3. Transform overall DX by connecting and optimizing interactions

Customers’ overall impressions of your brand are governed by the sum of their individual experiences in such areas as purchasing and product support. 

That’s why you need to test not only the consistency of the digital customer experiences you provide but the continuity of those experiences as well. Continuously optimizing those interactions from one contact point to the next based will add to your ever-evolving understanding of what your customers want and allow you to create superior overall experiences.

Dos and Don’ts for Maximizing Testing Success

To boost your organization’s overall comfort level with testing — and thus, its effectiveness — try these strategies:

Start small before scaling to continuous optimization

Simple optimization approaches such as A/B testing can deliver targeted and tangible value quickly. Partner with other business unit, ecommerce or product management colleagues to deliver short-term, high-value pilot tests but be sure to develop a clear testing calendar and set of communication channels between your various teams to avoid confusion.

For example, a test that adds a shipping price calculator to a check-out page could well influence a test varying the color of the call-to-action button at checkout if the two tests are run simultaneously. 

Use segmentation to target optimization tactics

Marketers who neglect to segment their audiences prior to applying optimization techniques often fail, particularly if they alienate their most valuable customers by treating them just like everyone else. 

So before rushing to optimize your overall interactions, start your testing program by analyzing the behaviors of your digital visitors in the context of their engagements to create digital segments that are truly relevant to your business.

Extend testing to later phases of the customer journey

Remember that testing isn’t just for customer acquisition. Extend your testing programs to later stages of the customer journey by enhancing customer support and delivering new products and services based on your data-driven testing results. 

For instance, the auto insurance industry analyzes and tests drivers’ behaviors to provide real-time pricing and premium adjustments that reflect their most recent driving behaviors.

Keep your eye on ROI and the bottom line

As the surge of mobile devices and the shift to digital advertising has galvanized marketers to focus on ROI and financial results, it will literally pay to focus your testing on customer experience variables that will dramatically influence product demand and brand preference. 

Using a holistic testing approach to reveal those variables will tell you how your customers want to search, select, purchase and engage with your brand and help you design higher-performing digital experiences. Bottom line? Translating those digital experiences into competitive advantages for your brand represents the true advantage of holistic testing.