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Best practice or testing – What’s best for marketing?

By Bernt Elkjær, Senior Marketing Architect

Should the marketing department use best practice and rely on experts or should experience figures decide? This question is hotly debated in all marketing circles.

Let’s be honest: How often do you test different variants of a new landing page or email, or optimise old content for better conversion by testing new variants? If you’re like the majority of marketing professionals, this isn’t something you do in practice. Most people simply don’t have the time or resources to test everything – but is that a problem?

Is using best practice wrong?

If you talk to supporters of the testing process, they’ll say it’s a waste of resources to just work in the dark. Conversion guru Michael Aagaard captured this sentiment concisely:

“I don’t care much for Best Practice – I care about conversions. That’s why I test.”

The idea of this post isn’t to make you feel lacking if you’re among those that don’t make testing a large part of your daily life. The vast majority of marketing departments fall into this category.

The optimal versus the possible

There can be no doubt that thorough testing is the best way to proceed. Online marketing is constantly changing and it can be difficult to assess what will get the best results. This depends on your target group, your industry, the channels you use and many other factors that are difficult to identify. In fact, tests are actually the only way of finding out what works best in your situation.

The flip side is that testing is also the most comprehensive method, which is why marketing professionals prefer to talk about them rather than do them.

You’re on a journey

The reality is that you’re on a journey where testing is the final destination. And that’s where best practice comes in.

If you can’t test, it’s always better to use best practice than to guess or use your own preferences as a guideline. We have previously written about the danger of marketing professionals relying too heavily on their own knowledge of the target group, because of the tendency to mistakenly project their own preferences on the target group. Read the article here.

Even professionals like Michael Aagaard use best practice, even though they test everything. You have to have a hypothesis to be able to test and this hypothesis comes from your previous experience. If you don’t have this experience, that’s when you need best practice.

Evolutionen i marketingbeslutningerThe evolution of marketing decisions

All of this is part of the evolution of the marketing professional’s decision making process:

  1. To start with you just do what is easiest or make random decisions. This is generally excused by the fact that the most important thing was to get to market as quickly as possible.
  2. Quite soon you start using your own attitudes and preferences to make decisions, and this is when many people unfortunately start to believe that they already know their target group. But this is still better than making random decisions.
  3. Some marketing professionals recognise that they haven’t got the required insights to make the right decisions and they’ll use the experiences of experts, also known as best practice. It’s not certain that this matches their target group 100% but it’s preferable to relying on personal tastes to make decisions.
  4. The final stage in this evolution process is to test variants of your own experiences, preferences and best practice and work towards finding out what converts best.

Let’s take a simple example: What colour should the conversion button be on your landing page? This is a question that generates a huge number of answers and opinions. To find the right one, you have to test. But if you’re forced to make a fast decision, it’s better to stick to best practice and make the button green instead of red.

The conclusion is that there’s nothing wrong with using best practice. Testing is still best but if the alternative is just making random guesses, best practice is a much more valuable method.