A/B Testing Is (Politically) Powerful

Published August 18, 2012

We are great believers in the power of “testing and learning” when it comes to measuring and optimizing digital marketing performance.

Certainly, we’ve seen A/B testing work very effectively for clients looking to identify their most valuable content and most attractive product offers.

But we didn’t realize how important A/B testing was to the Obama campaign in 2008, until we read this piece in Wired.

How Political Campaigns Use A/B Testing

Here’s an excerpt from Brian Christian’s piece on how Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign utilized A/B testing:

The new-media team already knew that their greatest challenge was turning the site’s visitors into subscribers—scoring an email address so that a drumbeat of campaign emails might eventually convert them into donors.

Their visit would start with a splash page—a luminous turquoise photo of Obama and a bright red ‘Sign Up’ button. But too few people clicked the button.

For the button, an A/B test of three new word choices— ‘Learn More,’ ‘Join Us Now,’ and ‘Sign Up Now’—revealed that ‘Learn More’ garnered 18.6 percent more sign-ups per visitor than the default of ‘Sign Up.’ Similarly, a black-and-white photo of the Obama family outperformed the default turquoise image by 13.1 percent.

Using both the family image and ‘Learn More,’ signups increased by a thundering 40 percent.

In the past, we learned about how one national campaign used geo-reporting capabilities to measure the effectiveness of local television and radio ads in reaching potential voters and registering volunteers for upcoming campaign stops.

With the call-to-action being an online registration, the campaign, based on geo-based registration tracking, could evaluate the effectiveness of the ads, allowing them to optimize timing and content as the campaign progressed.

Now, with the tremendous growth of social networking in the last four years, campaigns, like most companies, have been forced to learn how to optimize for even more channels, from offline to online.

Campaigns are trying to reach audiences that are fragmenting as individuals fan out across the media landscape and spend more time on new platforms and channels.

Using Analytics to Understand Political Audiences and Reach Voters

With the right toolsets, campaigns can gain real insight into the location and geographies of potential voters and volunteers and target ads toward registrations and rallies. They can also use various online offers and content to support offline advertising interactions.

The bottom line? It’s a much more complex audience and media ecosystem, which means the analytics challenge is even tougher.

Political campaigns offer a clear illustration of how relatively straightforward and efficient testing programs can provide a real boost to any Web site or online property. Note the connection between clear objectives (getting users to sign up) and the precise measures of each variable’s impact against the target goal.

The Wired article goes on to note that testing upended a number of other assumptions – that video would always outperform photos, for instance – and put the team on a continuous improvement path. The team came to see testing as a standard procedure and “way of life,” not a one-off experiment.

You can see more about how and why testing should be an essential part of effective analytics even for organizations just getting started. And it will be interesting to watch how it shapes the upcoming Presidential campaign.

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