Anne Holland

SherpaBlog: Branding vs A/B Testing

June 9th, 2008
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I’ve worked for brand-driven companies and for A/B test-driven companies. Each was equally snooty and disdainful of the other.

To summarize, brand marketers thought A/B testers were pointy-headed geeks, while A/B testers thought brand marketers were bubble-headed blondes. Luckily, the twain didn’t often meet … until now.

Instead of relying on “fuzzy” data from focus groups, awareness studies and Nielsen ratings, brand marketers now are inundated with detailed numbers from every campaign that touches the Web, email or mobile in some way. Once you have numbers, testing to improve results is the logical next step.

As for A/B testers, the plethora of cheap, do-it-yourself online response vehicles has lowered the barriers to competition. Now anyone can launch a direct response campaign to your marketplace without first investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in printing, postage, fulfillment and media costs. Suddenly, a strong brand is the only safe harbor to launch your merchant ships from.

In practical terms, this means political battles are beginning to rage in marketing departments across America. Whichever side you’re on — brand vs A/B — someone else on your team is evangelizing the other direction as the best way to beat the recession.

Who’s right and who’s wrong? Hate to say it, especially as a chief proponent of measurement in marketing, but brand should always win.

Brand is so critical, in fact, that every company must assign a Chief Brand Evangelist who has *veto power* over any and all proposed A/B test ideas. Test all you want, but never test outside of brand guidelines … unless you are considering changing your entire brand positioning as a result and the CEO has been brought into the picture.

It’s that serious.

You see, I’ve worked for A/B testing companies and brand-driven companies. The brand-driven companies could sell almost anything within their brand far more easily than the testing companies could. The brand’s fans would line up to buy anything that brand had going. You could A/B test your brains out from here to kingdom come, but all those incremental gains year after year would never add up to the sole selling power of a strong brand.

Of course, the gold is having a strong brand with a team that’s able to A/B test, within guidelines, to improve results for it. That’s a company worth investing in.

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