Optimizing the “Sub-Optimal”


I graduated from college in the mid-90s. When I started my first job at Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, everything was about the TV ad. Sure, we did newspaper, magazines, outdoor and direct mail. But those weren’t as sexy. And the Internet was hardly a blip on the radar.

So it really was all about the TV ad. The agency old joke was, “A prospective client walks into the room. The agency guy says, ‘The answer is a 30-second TV spot. Now, tell me what the problem is.”

But TV spots were very expensive to produce. They took a long time to develop. And when you were only producing two or three spots a year, the stakes were very high. You couldn’t afford to get it wrong. And if you did get it wrong, there was a good chance your client would be looking for another ad agency.

So agencies would spend months crafting the perfect strategy. Validating that strategy through exhaustive research. Developing the creative concepts based on that strategy. Continually researching and testing throughout the process. So, by the time you finally produced the ad and started running it in-market, you knew that it had a pretty good chance of working.

Today things have totally shifted.

You can literally change your advertising message on the fly. You can have multiple messages in-market that target different audiences. You can test and learn in real time.

I recently went to a digital marketing conference and attended an entire workshop on call-to-action buttons. I learned that there are all kinds of CTA buttons. Big ones. Small ones. Square ones. Round ones. Blinking ones. Colorful ones.

While there was a lot of conversation about how a CTA button can help you optimize your campaigns, there was very little conversation about how to develop the overall messaging that will drive better business results.



And that’s where I think the new generation of digital marketing ninjas need to take a page out of the old-school marketing playbook.

The fact is that messaging still matters. A compelling marketing message can help move your business forward.

If you’re just obsessed with eking out an extra .0025% in your click-through rate, you might be missing the bigger point. What’s the impact that your message is having on the 99.9975% who don’t click on your ad, but nevertheless are still seeing a message from you that makes an impression on them?

So before you go crazy with A/B testing, ask yourself this: Is your message as good as it can be?

If the answer to that question is “no,” “probably not,” “not sure” or “maybe,” here are four tips for developing more effective messaging:

  • Talk to your customers. You can’t create effective messaging in a vacuum. Enlist your customers to help you understand their problems so you can create a message that positions your product as the right solution.
  • Talk to your sales force. Sales people throw a lot of stuff against the wall to see what sticks. They’re a great sounding board for your messaging.
  • Look at competitive messaging. Your messaging has to be compelling and unique. Make sure what you’re saying is clearly differentiated from the competition.
  • Do appropriate research. Once you’ve drafted your messaging, take some time to test it. I don’t mean testing through your online ads. Test the message the old-fashioned way, through qualitative and/or quantitative research. It will help you validate and refine the message.
  • Be consistent. Once you have your message, stick with it. It takes time for even the most effective messaging to resonate. See my previous blog about this topic.

Once you’ve developed optimal messaging, then it’s time to go crazy with the call-to-action buttons and A/B testing. Otherwise, you’re probably just optimizing an advertising message that is sub-optimal.

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