Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A/B Testing For Everyone

The folks over at the phenomenal Marketing Experiments Blog had yet another post about A/B testing that reminded me of some consulting work I did in the past. Often, I have found that organizations think you have to be a gigantic company to do A/B testing. The reality is that a company of any size can A/B test just about anything, sometimes to dramatic effect. And a small company can apply very sophisticated marketing analysis very inexpensively in this age of free, high-powered statistical languages.

When I worked for Strategic Energy, management believed we couldn't just send our customers a contract and re-sign them for three years of electricity usage. I said, "What's the harm in trying?" We sent a hundred customers a thank-you for letting us serve them along with a new contract for service. About 35 of them sent us back a signed contract. How much did that test cost? About $300 and half a day of work. After that experience, Strategic Energy started sending every customer under a certain size a renewal contract, saving tens of thousands in sales costs per year for those that responded.

We then sent out postcards to the remaining customers plus about 200 more asking them to contact us about their contract renewal. On one postcard, we put an existing customer photo and an inspirational message about saving their business money. On the other postcard, we put a funny beach photo and a message to the effect of, "Wouldn't you rather be spending your time on the beach than renewing an electricity contract?" We assigned customers randomly to one or the other. To our surprise, the beach one got a statistically significantly better response. Simple A/B test done. Learning learned.

I applied this kind analysis to the funding solicitation work of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh to equally powerful effect. In this case, some simple linear regression showed that of the greatest factors influencing the size of the gift was whether the gift was given online (even when holding donor age constant). Pushing customers to the website to donate increased the size of the gifts, and some tweaking to the website itself increased gift sizes even further. All that we needed to complete this analysis was a history of donations and some basic information about the donors and when they responded.

The barrier to basic A/B testing usually lies in company culture, not in cost or capabilities. Companies need to get wired for a "learning culture" that emphasizes marketing science over gut feel. This change must emanate from the senior executive team, and they have to understand how powerful data management and analysis can be to improve marketing response rates, revenues and profits.

As analysis professionals, we need to bring these smarts to the executive team so that they can bring culture change to the rest of the company. I try to remind myself of this goal periodically when I find myself tiring of yet another explanatory meeting with the VPs. Although sometimes repetitive and tiresome, the meetings to explain what we are planning to do after we test result in the executive support necessary to internalize the learning from the testing over the long term.

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