Spoiler alert: marketing costs money, and marketing dollars are limited. According to HubSpot's State of Inbound 2017, for example, "securing enough budget" was the third most pressing challenge marketers faced last year.
According to that same report, however, there is something marketers can do to stare down this challenge. They can demonstrate to those who hold the purse strings confidence and success in the strategies they employ.
To Test or Not to Test?
For an increasing number of marketers, that confidence comes from sound split testing. It's one of the reasons 60 percent of businesses now believe A/B testing is "highly valuable" for conversion rate optimization, and 71 percent of companies now conduct at least two such tests every month.
So, What Are They Testing?
The lion's share of those tests, about 77 percent, are on company websites. Coming in second are landing page tests (60 percent), followed by email (59 percent) and paid search (58 percent). What doesn't get even a mention in this Invesp analysis are tests on ad creatives.
That's unfortunate, because the same testing protocols which are effective for email and landing pages can optimize color schemes, display layout, images, headlines and ad copy, as the following 4 brands unequivocally demonstrated:
Coloring within the Lines
Harry's sells razor blades online. Hoping to increase sales with display advertising, they first settled (through A/B testing) on a winning tagline ("Should an 8-pack of quality blades cost $32?") and call-to-action ("Try Harry's"). Now it was time to settle on the most effective color scheme in which to place those elements.
Harry's decided to test 4 colors: dark grey, red, white tiled and orange. They ran all four ads over a period of several weeks. The results were clear: users preferred dark grey and red over white tiled and orange, and Harry's was ready to launch. Those color scheme tests (along with some innovative influencer marketing) are one of the reasons Harry's now boasts over 1 million online customers.
2. Grand Canyon University
Laying It Out Right
Grand Canyon University (GCU) is a private, Christian higher education institution offering undergraduate and graduate degrees both online and at their physical campus in Phoenix, AZ. Their emphasis on career-oriented education is captured in the pitch on their homepage to "find your purpose." Their brand, in other words, is rooted in the ability to take students from where they are to where they want to be in the most convenient format possible.
Among their 9 schools is the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions. To boost enrollments in their Nursing Master's program, they tested 4 display ad layouts. Each featured a female nurse (a smart move, as ads with people typically do better). Of the 4, only 1 showed a nurse immersed in her job. That ad also featured the least copy and simplest call-to-action ("Master's in Nursing: Learn More"). Those decisions make this layout the clear winner, garnering by far the largest number of impressions.
Marketo is among the leading sellers of state-of-the-art marketing automation software. They got to that position by demonstrating thought leadership through powerful content, like their recently launched "Definitive Guide to Digital Advertising." To boost consumption of their new Guide, Marketo decided to release a digital ad.
They tested two versions. Each contained just 3 elements: their name, introductory copy ("discover new and cutting-edge digital advertising strategies for PPC, display and social media. Get advanced targeting and testing tips"), and a single image. The only difference between the two versions was that image. The first was a picture of the Guide. The second was a group of marketers in a conference room. Even the experienced marketers at Marketo were surprised at the results. The guide image garnered a click-through rate of .11%; the people image scored a CTR of .64% – an almost six-fold increase.
When It Comes to Headlines, Is Shorter Better?
With multi-channel marketing all the rage (and still a bit confusing to many advertisers), Marketo decided on another piece of content, this time their "Multi-Channel Marketing Workbook." Once again, they tested two versions of a display ad.
In this A/B text, the image remained constant. What changed was the headline. Best practice strategy suggested that, when it comes to headlines, shorter is usually better. In this test, however, the shorter headline ("For Multi-Channel Marketing, how can you ensure that each piece of the buyer's experience is consistent and complimentary?") underperformed, scoring a CTR of .19%. The longer headline, which included language about the importance of a multi-channel approach, had a CTR of .28%. The takeaway for Marketo: instincts and "best practice" don't cut it nearly as well as solid testing.
Does Branding Trump Benefits?
Norton provides award-winning antivirus and security software for PCs, Macs and mobile devices. To tout its recently launched "Norton Security" product, the company decided on display advertising. The tested 4 ads: two highlighted the product's benefits (including Norton's "100 percent guarantee; the only difference in the two ads was the first used their logo, while the second used a computer icon). The other two featured branding promises (such as "a virus protection promise only Norton can make").
For Norton's marketing team, this was a test of what happens when branding goes up against benefits. For this advertising campaign, benefits won out. Consumers cared more about protecting their data than the company's promises, in other words.
If you know how to test the emails you send and the paid ads you post, there's no reason you shouldn't be testing the ad creatives you design. The process is essentially the same, and the results are equally consequential. Before you commit a substantial part of your marketing budget to a display ad campaign, use A/B testing to find out what works, and what doesn't.