It's no secret that it's hard for large organizations to create meaningful, harmonious digital experiences for their customers.

The constraints of legal, PR, YBO (Your Boss's Opinion) and sometimes plain old bureaucracy are, for many companies, incredibly limiting.

New ideas, new marketing initiatives, new advertising channels, new technologies - they can't compete with the sluggishness of organizational transformation. Even fixing old, bad habits is borderline impossible.

But there is hope.

Learn how the concept of Incubation can equip you with the information - and the evidence - you need in order to drive meaningful digital transformation at scale.

In this unapologetically-long post, we’ll discuss data-driven marketing, testing frameworks, and three marketing tactics you should incubate immediately.

Aim small, miss small: What is incubation?

It’s a simple idea, really: Ask a question, figure out how to get the answer, then start with one small slice of what it would take to find the answer.

Example:

“How do we know which digital media is successfully bringing ROI?”

In order to determine the answer, you have at least a few choices in front of you:

  • Advertising analytics.
  • Advanced website analytics tracking.
  • Attribution.

'Advertising analytics' is as basic as it sounds: ensuring you’re tracking all possible key metrics provided by digital media publishers, whether Facebook or Adwords or a display network.

'Advanced web analytics tracking' would involve a bit of leg-work, editing all links used in every ad creative so they are tagged according to a comprehensive taxonomy for source, creative, campaign, etc. This is UTM code tracking.

'Attribution' refers to the very powerful, usually black-box methods for tagging digital ad content, identifying users cross-device and cross-channel, and algorithmically weighting the contribution of each channel and campaign towards a conversion.

Attribution is by far the most complex here, but also the most robust solution for measuring ROI. But you don’t have to start there.

Start small. Even something as simple as overlaying the analytics results from all your digital campaigns in the same chart as your conversions could be enough to tell you which ones correlate with conversion trends the most.

It won’t be enough to fully answer the question “How do we know which digital media is successfully bringing ROI?” 

It will, however, be a very quick, inexpensive first step - and it will get you part of the way to the answer.

Marketing incubation & data-driven marketing go hand-in-hand

In our last example, we wanted to figure out which digital channels drive ROI.

We had a hypothesis that three different methods (ad analytics, UTM tracking, and attribution) would provide different levels of insight.

Validating or disproving this hypothesis for each method requires data: at a certain point, the evidence will likely point in one direction as to whether one of these methods can help you determine ROI by channel. 

Measurement is at the heart of incubation.

Let’s use another example: trying a new digital advertising channel. You’re a B2C retail fashion brand, and you’ve yet to try Instagram Advertising through Facebook. You’re not sure where to start.

Most creative agencies walk in the door proposing a minimum several hundred thousand dollar campaign - like launching an artillery barrage and hoping you hit your target.

Sometimes it works. But you just read this blog, so you think: “What if we can test and prove efficacy on Instagram Advertising?”

You start small, using the core audience you identified from similar advertising activities on Facebook.

You know this audience (let’s say it’s 18-25 year-old men who drink liquor) loves your brand, based on how well they convert through Facebook Ads.

You assign a small budget, using creative you’ve seen perform well on Facebook Ads. You use UTM code links.

Now you’ve created your Minimum Viable Campaign. It won’t be enough to drive huge sales volume, but from this you will learn whether Instagram Advertising works similarly to Facebook Ads in terms of effectiveness.

After a two-month campaign, you decide to test another audience against this core audience (26-34 year-old men who drink liquor).

You control for all other variables (as in, keep other audience aspects the same, along with the same budget and creative) in order to develop a robust experimentation framework.

In other words, if you want to figure out which audience responds best, all other variables (budget, creative) must remain the same, or else you can’t reliably claim which variable change was responsible for better or worse performance.

Recap: 

  1. Form a hypothesis from what you know.
  2. Test that hypothesis with an MVP (Minimum Viable Product or, in some cases, Campaign).
  3. If your test isn’t successful (maybe that older male demographic on Instagram hates your product), then revisit the original hypothesis, and start over.
  4. Once you’ve proven a hypothesis, give it more money. It’s much easier to get budget approval when the data points clearly in your favor. 

Three marketing tactics your organization should incubate today

1. Cross-departmental audience analytics

“Do you know the demographic breakdown of your customers?”

“I think someone in our organization has that data, but I don’t have it.”

This is a conversation I’ve heard several times between marketing execs and vendors. It’s imperative that marketing, customer service, sales - every department responsible for gaining or retaining customers - all have access to this data.

Start simple by making sure all past customer insights reports are available in an accessible storage location. Send reports around and present on key findings to decision-makers in each team.

But to really enable data-driven decisions across all customer-facing organizations, I recommend developing a cloud-hosted dashboard visualizing audience insights.

Marketing teams, for example, would then be able to better inform, test and validate assumptions they regularly make about customer demographics, particularly when it comes to audience targeting for paid campaigns.

2. Social advertising

The level of detail available in social advertising targeting is astounding. Just about any popular interest, school or company can be selected.

Facebook alone has over 1,200 explicitly-stated targeting options, many of which are drawn from third-party data vendors.

Both Facebook and Twitter have B2B audience targeting (thanks to DLX), which, although less detailed than LinkedIn, provides an alternative to LinkedIn’s unreliable self-serve ads platform.

Facebook also offers incredible levels of detail in its Audience Insights platform, including persona categories (like “Apple Pie Families” and “Metro Mix”) from Personicx.

Income, net worth, devices, language, politics, travel behavior, spending habits, major life events, television viewing preferences, people connected to a Facebook page, and so many more.

I’ve heard many marketers say “our audience isn’t on Facebook” - and so far, I’ve never been unable to prove them wrong.

After all, Facebook does have data available on over 85% of the US population over age 18.

Not only that, but tools like AutomateAds.com use programmatic real-time bidding to save you sometimes up to 40-50% of your ad spend. Really.

3. Retargeting (remarketing)

If you have any amount of web traffic at all, retargeting is worth a shot. It can be expensive (as much as five or 10 times the CPC of direct advertising), but you’re reaching people further along the awareness funnel towards a conversion.

Display, social and SEM ads all have methods for retargeting. Programmatic retargeting, although more expensive, uses massive user databases to provide multi-touchpoint targeting for your campaigns.

If you need somewhere to start, try implementing Facebook’s new universal pixel, customizing the conversion tracking code for a couple product pages (or, if you’re B2B, for a more detailed info page, such as a service description).

From within Ads Manager, you can create an ad targeting a Custom Audience - one that Facebook has been creating based on who goes to your website. The rest of the setup is like any other Facebook ad.

Incubation: A mentality, not a gimmick

Incubation is a weird word to use. But it points to a mental framework that uses data and knows how to avoid “boil the ocean” perspectives that try to solve everything at once, and end up solving nothing.

With data-driven marketing incubation, your business can begin to explore the full possibilities that digital media offers.

Evan Dunn

Published 16 December, 2015 by Evan Dunn

Evan Dunn is the 14th most influential digital marketer on Twitter and Director of Marketing Services for Transform, Inc. in Bellevue, WA. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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