Back to Testing Basics, & a Really Cool Website Redesign Method


By Sue Brady

AOL Roms

I am proud to say that I used to work for AOL. This was back in the day when AOL was experiencing phenomenal growth. I worked with some Class A marketers while I was there, and I learned an incredible amount about the importance of testing. All marketers know that testing is key to continued success, but somehow not everyone is diligent about practicing it. There are some real basic Marketing 101 type things to keep in mind as you continue (or start!) your testing program:

Offer is important
Audience (aka targeting) is important
Creative is important (though perhaps not as important as #1 and 2 above)
Testing one thing at a time is important

Offer is key because it’s what will bring your reader in. At AOL, we started with a ‘10 hours free’ offer. The offer kept going up though, with tests around more hours and multiple days being a part of it. The number of free hours kept expanding. Why? Because response was greater, including conversion to a paid subscription once the free trial was over, and even when taking into account the cost of the extra free time. Free is a powerful word and should be tested as a part of your offer strategy.

Audience is really about knowing who will buy your product and understanding where to find them. Are you targeting the 25-40 crowd? Then your advertising probably shouldn’t show 50-year olds. Try not to fall into the trap of “everyone wants my product.” You need to be more specific than that. Figure out what really defines your various customer segments. You need to analyze your database to really understand this, and it’s worth doing (and should be redone frequently).

Creative is fun to test, but do so wisely and as always, learn from your tests. I’ll use AOL again as an example. We found, through repeated testing, that putting a person’s picture on a CD package lowered response. We tested parents, kids, grandparents, couples, singles. And we reached the conclusion that showing people didn’t work so great for selling AOL. Perhaps it was because the person looking at the CD couldn’t identify with the person in the picture. I don’t really know the reason. But, it wasn’t a hard and fast rule as it turned out. The person in charge of Hispanic marketing decided to test a photo of an Hispanic person and guess what? It won! And not just in that one test. It continued to win through roll-out and for a long time after that. The key takeaway is to realize that different segments of your audience may respond to different images.

Testing one thing at a time is the best way to figure out what is impacting your increase or decrease in response. I read a really interesting article about website redesign. The author, Chris Goward (@chrisgoward), explains a ‘new’ method called Evolutionary Site Redesign. He talks about using an iterative approach where you test one component of your site at a time to gradually redesign the site as different approaches/offers/layouts work. They’ve had dramatic success with some of their clients with this approach. It makes so much sense!

A Peak into the Coffee Cup: Brand Advocates and Starbucks


By Sue Brady

StarbucksBrand advocacy. It means championing your brand. It means social proof. Sometimes customers become brand advocates, and importantly, sometimes employees become brand advocates. Did you know that according to Nielsen, 92% of consumers trust brand advocates?!

I recently met up with an old friend who holds a fairly senior position at Starbucks. He travels all over the world and interacts with Starbucks’ employees globally. He was telling me about one recent overseas trip where he was in a Starbucks talking with one of the baristas and I made a comment something like: “I bet he went out of his way to make his corporate visitor feel special!” His response was this: “Nah, I’m down a rung on the ladder. The number one focus of all of our employees, including the baristas, is the customer.”

That comment really gave me pause, because he really meant it. It wasn’t just corporate-speak. He gets to hobnob with the Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, quite a bit, and he said the whole company culture starts with Howard. The customer is #1, always.

Mind you, making their customers #1 is not an easy value to instill when you have over 21,000 stores in 65 countries. I believe that at least a part of Starbucks’ success is in how they treat their employees. They have a fairly amazing benefits package. Employees who work more than 20+ hours a week get health and other benefits. Same applies to tuition reimbursement (source: They support social causes and community.

And all this brings me back to Brand Advocates. After I met with my friend, I really had a whole new impression of Starbucks. I am not an avid Starbucks’ customer. I visit Starbucks primarily when I’m in an airport. But I can honestly say that after listening to my friend talk about how much he loves the company and how the corporate culture is so customer obsessed, my impression was swayed. He is a great brand advocate for his company. And that’s what we all need our employees to be.

Related post about Customer Obsession: The Customer is Always Right.

Make Me Care: The Power of the Story


By Sue Brady


If I asked you to click on one of the three ‘first sentences’ below, which one would you choose?

“It was just a faint glimmer really, so faint that I wasn’t sure I’d actually seen anything unusual. Very slowly I started to push the door open.”

“The weather was perfect, we had a full picnic basket, and the children were happy. What could possibly go wrong?”

“After effectively running my first webinar, I decided to give SlideShare a try.”

I’m guessing your choice would not be the third option. Why? Because everyone loves to read a good story. If it’s interesting/engaging/compelling, people will read it.

But sometimes, you might say, it’s hard to tell a story when I’m just trying to sell a widget. And that’s where you’d be wrong. Let’s say I had to sell Internet service (something I did for several years!). I could take this approach:

“Internet Service XYZ lets you connect to the Internet and enjoy faster upload and download speeds. Our unique service uses nano-technology to allow you to stay connected while enjoying the fastest speeds available. You can look at pictures, connect with your friends and shop online from the privacy of your home! We’ll even provide you with 5 email addresses and 10 gigabytes of storage.”

Or, I could use this one: “Sally Jones won the science fair contest four years in a row. She showed how photosynthesis worked, studied the impact to plants of clay in the soil, evaluated projectile speed as related to the arc of a trebuchet and studied the effect of salt on wood. When Sally grew up, she created a line of children’s science games. As a 100% online business, her Internet connection was her lifeline and eventually helped her earn her first million dollars. We are so proud that xyz company played a part in Sally’s success. How did we help? …”

See what I did there? Rather than telling you about what my product does, I showed you what it does by relating a story that showed how it’s used.

As a marketer, it’s your job to tell your story. As with all content marketing, the trick is to make it interesting, relevant to your audience, and engaging. Tweet that! You want them to read what you’ve written, and perhaps come back for more as they proceed through their buying cycle.

Gini Dietrich, founder of her own communications firm and author of the SpinSucks blog, is really good at storytelling and provides some great tips on how to write a great story here. She talks about the five essential parts of a good story: Passion, the Protagonist, the Antagonist, the Revelation, the Transformation. She explains how you can tie those pieces together to create your own brand’s story. It’s a great guide for you as you try to start writing stories your audience will want to read.

You can find many other lists on the Internet of the components that make a good story. The good news is, they’re all similar:

  • Know what you want to convey
  • Use your own experiences (or that of your customers)
  • Have a problem
  • Have a hero
  • Resolve the problem

Famous filmmaker Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Toy Story) did a Ted Talk on storytelling a couple of years ago. One of his key takeaways was the importance of “making me care.” If your audience doesn’t care, they won’t listen to your story. Set aside 20 minutes and give this a watch. And then I challenge you to tell a story for your next marketing campaign.

It was a dark and stormy night…

More stories!

ROI From Social Media? Is that Possible?


By Sue Brady


ROI is a key performance indicator (KPI) that most marketers hold near and dear. Why? Because most brands use marketing to generate product/service sales. And typically, a marketer will spend fully in the most efficient resource before allocating funds to the next channel. I know what you’re thinking: My campaign wasn’t about sales, it was about ‘likes’ on Facebook. And to that I would ask: Why did you want likes? And you would say: To get sales! So there you go.

The standard definition of Return on Investment, or ROI, is ‘dollars made’ minus cost divided by cost:


$$s generated – investment (to generate those $$s)

Basically, what did you get for what you spent, and was it worth it?

For social media this is admittedly a difficult task. It’s hard to track the steps involved that moved your customer to the final click. But it’s not impossible. I wrote this post last year on attribution, and the field is ever changing. Earlier this year, Google bought an attribution company called Adometry and they’re now happy to help you determine what steps your customer took in their buying journey.

Attribution modeling is probably the trickiest part of figuring out your social media ROI, but it’s really important. Let’s say someone saw your ad while they were on Facebook and clicked. They read your landing page but decided they weren’t ready to buy. The next day they saw a tweet that you or a fan posted and clicked on that to continue with their research. But they still weren’t ready to buy. Then perhaps they saw an email from you, they clicked and made a purchase. Attribution companies can tag each of those touches so that they can tie them together. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than giving all of the revenue attribution to the email campaign.

To figure out what your social media is worth, you’ll want to track the purchase behavior from those who ‘liked’ your page, the click/purchase behavior from those who clicked through on your tweeted link, buying behavior from those who watched your YouTube video, and any other action you have prompted. As you can see, it’s much more complicated than figuring out your ROI on that last direct mail piece you sent. And speaking of direct mail, that can also impact your social ROI, along with TV advertising, radio etc. etc. etc. Some things you’ll be able to directly track, and some things you won’t.

Story: I used to work for a company that ran a lot of TV advertising, and also sent steady direct mail. Over time it was clear, even to management, that if we had to scale back the TV, the direct mail rates would suffer. So we were eventually able to establish how much the ‘halo’ of TV was worth. It improved the ROI of our TV ad campaign.

Your first step is to figure out what you hope to gain from your social media, and then make sure you can measure and track it. Do this by tagging your media, making sure your coupons offered via Facebook are coded, tracking all clicks from that consumer and having analytics in place.

And even though I said at the beginning of this article that it’s all about revenue, I realize that sometimes your content really is not about that. If that’s the case, know what the goal of your content is to determine if you’re achieving what you wanted to achieve. This might be engagement via answers to posed questions, or it may be shares…or in fact, it may be revenue.

“The Customer is Always Right”


By Sue Brady


“The customer is always rigCustomer is Kinght.” This slogan has been attributed to a few different people over time, but the crowd favorite seems to be Harry Gordon Selfridge, Founder of Selfridges, a store Harry opened in 1909 in England. Somewhere along the way, marketers and brands moved away from the meaning behind this way of thinking…until now.

The ‘refreshed’ phrase that I’ve been hearing a lot more over the past several months is Customer Obsession. Why the resurgence? My opinion is that it has everything to do with social media. In today’s world, if you serve your customers well, they’ll talk about it… a lot. They’ll share their experience on Facebook or Twitter, or they’ll share their opinion when someone posts: ‘Buying a car, running shoes, adopting a pet. Can anyone recommend a dealer, shop, adoption agency?’

Being customer obsessed is how it should be, now more than ever. It seems so obvious: Grow your business by listening to your customers and providing them with what they are asking for.

There are multiple advantages to getting in line with this way of thinking:

You’ll become more in tune with your customers

Being more in tune with your customers means you’ll develop products that your customers want, you’ll modify existing products to better meet unfilled needs, you’ll be able to head off potential disasters. This means you really have to listen to what your customers are saying. Listen in your call centers, listen in social media, listen to your sales team.

You’ll create customer advocates

Customer advocates = social proof. Tweet that! Social proof is the best kind of advertising there is. Consumers care about the opinions of their friends and colleagues. And, reviews from others sway the decision to buy. It’s a proven fact. In a Dimensional Research study conducted last year of consumers who read online reviews about local businesses before purchasing, 90% were influenced by positive reviews and 86% were swayed by negative reviews. The survey also revealed that positive reviews are most often seen on Facebook (44%). Social media matters.

Customer advocates can help you generate new business. This is different from social proof, though closely related. Customer advocacy refers to proactively engaging with your customers to create advocates and letting them help you sell. Here’s an example of how that works. I went to a marketing seminar a couple of months ago that was put on by Oracle. I knew there would be a sales element to it, but several of the sessions sounded so interesting, I wanted to go anyway. The speakers were senior marketers at their companies, and they all used at least one Oracle product to make their efforts successful. And the sessions were informative. The speakers were all Oracle customer advocates. They loved the Oracle tools that they used and in a broader marketing sense, they freely discussed how these tools made their lives easier, improved their marketing programs, generated more sales etc. etc. etc.

And once you have a group of customer advocates, you can make them feel special by asking them to speak at a seminar, asking for feedback on your planned marketing campaign or feedback on the latest product enhancement. People love giving their opinions, so let your advocates tell you what they think!

A Story. I once worked for a company that produced printed airline flight schedules. This was in the age of the dinosaurs, when the Internet was not mainstream. There were some really smart people who worked there who designed a sort of real-time version of the product. It was DOS-based and pretty cool. You could use it to look up flight schedules online! The problem was, travelers weren’t ready to get their information in that way. It had been worth a shot, but the product was shelved. And here’s where that company went wrong. They didn’t listen to their customers when Windows became a thing and the Internet started growing and becoming more available. They missed the signs because they were product focused and not customer obsessed (and I take partial responsibility since I was in Marketing). And only a couple of years later, Expedia and Travelocity were born and became hugely successful practically overnight.# 1

There’s a lot to this customer obsession idea.

Do you make your customers #1?