Test, analyze & optimize your way to results

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Kaizen has been a buzzword in the corporate world for decades. It's a Japanese philosophy of continuous, incremental improvement and is engrained in the cultures of top companies like Toyota. Volumes have been written on this subject, but simply taken on its surface it's very powerful and inspiring.

After all, who doesn't strive to always get better at everything they do? In e-mail marketing everyone wants to continually improve the effectiveness of their loyalty, acquisition, remarketing and lifecycle campaigns. A focus on testing, analyzing and optimizing is a solid foundation of your quest for continuous improvement. Here are some ideas to help light a fire under your efforts to get started.

First, test. Many companies have a phobia of testing for a variety of reasons – lack of time, difficulty and perceived risk are commonly cited. But the reality is that today's technology makes testing a breeze, so it doesn't take much time at all.

As for risk, tests should be done on a small scale and rolled out only once they prove themselves. Statistical methods can compare results of a smaller test cell to a larger control group to learn results with a high confidence level.

Inevitably, someone will say that testing drains time and poses a risk to your tried-and-true tactics. This is short-term thinking, and the appropriate reply is that you can't afford NOT to test. It's rarely the case that doing the same old thing works indefinitely, and today's tests are laying groundwork for tomorrow's high-performing campaigns.

Next, analyze. You can't know if you're getting better unless you analyze the results of your tests. It's often the case that marketers scramble to get their campaigns out the door, hope for the best and move onto the next one. But this mindset won't provide the long-term gains you're looking for. So, make it a point to dive into your analytical data routinely.

Create meaningful reports using data about opens, clicks, bounces and so on from your ESP and data on site behavior from your Web analytics provider. Use analytics as a weapon to evaluate your current tests so you can prepare for the next step, optimization.

Finally, optimize. Subject lines, creative, timing and frequency should all be constantly optimized and rolled out via tests. Leverage the knowledge you gain from your analysis to come up with new ideas to try.

For example, if you find that your current click-through rate on a certain campaign lags compared with industry averages, you might increase the prominence of your call-to-action. You'll be surprised at how seemingly small changes can provide strong lifts in performance.

The beauty of kaizen is that it applies to sophisticated and novice marketers alike. No matter what your starting line — ultra-sophisticated triggered lifecycle messages or simple one-off campaigns — there's always room for improvement. The one downside is that there's no finish line, because you can always get better.
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