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.