B2B Growth: Your Daily B2B Marketing Podcast
B2B Growth: Your Daily B2B Marketing Podcast

Episode 1656 · 3 months ago

A/B Test Your Way to Success with Tim Rickards

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

In this episode Benji talks to Tim Rickards, Managing Director, Social & Content Strategy at Hearsay Systems.

From micro to macro, A/B testing allows us to explore resonance and what truly matters to our audience. Tim provides practical insights regarding the use of story vs data, and we discuss how to be effective in a highly regulated industry like finance.

Conversations from the front lines and marketing. This is be tob growth, this is Bob Growth. My name is Benjie Block. I'm your host and joined today buy a new friend, Tim ricords. Tim, thanks for joining us here on be tob growth today and my pleasure. Thank you for having me. Absolutely so, Tim. You are the director of social and content strategy at hearsay systems, and that sort of encompasses quite a bit, but maybe tell me a little bit of of your background in the work that you do. Absolutely so, and here's say we are a company that focuses on last mile engagement for companies that are selling. We specialize in social selling. We are social media platform. We also do compliant texting and individual sites for firms in the financial services industry. So it's integrated experience selling suite of products that we provide and my job is to do outreach to our customer base with about anything related to their social strategy or their content strategy within social and that is, to be more specific, what we call organic social so nonpaid social selling, typically in the insurance and Financial Services Wealth Management Industries. Prior to that, I worked for a really long time at Charles Schwab the Ro Corid here in the United States. Yeah, I started as a copywriter in their inhouse agency and I ended up as a director of marketing for client engagement for their retail brokerage business. So, folks who are investing for the future, for the retirement fantastic, and we're going to tap into some of your wealth of knowledge today on ourganic social on a be testing and excited to do that. But when we were having our conversation offline, I had this image kind of pop into my head that I think sets up where we're going to go, and I imagined that you kind of like just someone, just you win two tickets to like a fight of the year and too boxers, to top boxer. You kind of hop on this flight, you pick picked up in a limo, go to like Caesar's Palace and Vegas or something. And if you're like me, you're not super into boxing. So maybe I don't even know who's on the card and then I like get there, in one corner the only boxer I know. It's Mike Tyson. He's in blue shorts. In the other corner, red shorts, it's Mike Tyson. Like what the heck, it's to Mike Tyson's, but they're just slightly different and that's where they starts to break down a little bit, Tim. I'll tell you. But the reason I bring that up is because I think that sets up AB testing. Slight differences, right, little things that we test, little things that we change, we pin them in two different corners and then we say which one ends up kind of winning the fight in a sense. Does that make sense to you, Tim, when we start to kind of discuss a be testing here? Absolutely, I mean, I think so from a broad perspective.

You know, anytime you're testing you've got two entities going against each other in a given context. And to take the fighting analogy a little bit further, oftentimes we're testing stuff like I'm going to have Mike Tyson fight Toyota Corolla. Right, we're testing is it don't really the same. They may not even be striving for the same goals, and so you're going to get a result that maybe isn't useful. Yes, you dig down a little bit and maybe we are indeed testing to individuals who are boxers. But one person isn't a boxer, is a chef, for example. You might figure out how the boxer can inflict physical pain on the chef, but the chef can cook a really good meal. HMM, you've identified a difference there, but it hasn't helped you move forward. So with AB testing at its most top level, you know, you're essentially, in our world anyway, taking two different types of marketing assets, or in this case social posts, and you're letting them out into the wild. Then you're seeing which one did better based on how you're measuring your performance. Yeah, with a bee. As you move farther down the road, you're the two assets or the two items you're testing become much closer and much more similar to each other, because you're really trying to dig into a single thing or a small group of things that are making the difference. So there are people who specialize in testing from have science backgrounds, and they're those people listening to this podcast will probably be cringing to my so of these terms. Keep it. I'm a marketing communitions person, but I think the general principles apply. By comparing items that are similar, that's the way you can really dive into finding out what might actually be producing better or worse results. Yep, Yep, what makes you so passionate about this topic? Maybe do you see it often done wrong? I'd love to know where that passion comes from. Sure from a passion perspective. So what's interesting about the setting up a test is you have to make some key decisions that are often not made in a very strict stance when in the marketing profession. Is because a person in that profession. Yeah, so when you're going test something, you really have to decide what is the desired outcome of this campaign, or what does the desired outcome of this series of social posts? Sometimes in the real world the desired outcome of a marketing campaign is simply to run the marketing campaign. Sometimes that's the top goal. You know you need to do this thing, you know that if you do this thing you're going to get some results and you can measure those, but really you're not super clear on what you're trying to drive. When you go down the road to testing, it forces you to be way more specific. So, to use an example, if you are going to run an organic program for your podcast, you may think back and decide, okay, of all the items that I want out of this, could be grow my net work right, could be...

...get the online engagement, likes and whatever, shares, retweets, or could be visits to your website for some sort of lead form activity. I'm not sure. Well, if you're going to test, you to decide which one of those most important, and it doesn't necessarily mean that in some huge value judgment perspective, one is ultimately better than the other, but is what's more important in this particular moment for this campaign. So that kind of focus is really valuable because it helps clear away a lot of the distractions and actually helps you make better decisions, because when you're reviewing the creative, and for those of you who not be failing with that term, that's the pictures and words and all marketing, like, most of the time for marketing gets spent in arguing over the creative, which you know is the most subjective of all things. But as you're reviewing your creative and as you're reviewing your distribution plan, you always can go back to okay, well, are we driving the most important thing here? Yeah, we'll make decisions easier. It gives you an objective framework for that. So that's why I'm passionate about it, because it helps cut through a lot of the noise that we create for ourselves and try to make these complicated decisions. And then, you know, what's also great about it is that you can test these items and get a result that you feel is important and from there it gives you a wonderful set of decisions to make to move forward. If one thing was better than the other, do we want to revalidate the test and recreate it? Do we want to take the results and then take the winning item and test that? I get something else. So your your program then, is moving forward like from an evolutionary perspective, versus simply being Oh, we're going to do some marketing now, put some stuff out there and then we're going to rest because that was really hard. Then we're going to put more stuff out. It gives you a nice road port towards seeing actual improvement. It optimizes it. It does it's all about optimization. I think that, especially in social media, you know, what gets press, what people notice, are things that go viral and the reality is really hard thing to chase, not worth chasing. Often right it's not. I don't think you can't. It's sort of like, oh, how am I going to create a black swan event, and that's the whole point, is that you don't know how that works. That's why it's a black swan of it. So unless you're in a situation where you have such an online following and influence or you're using an influence or who can you know has a higher capacity to drive virality, you're better off focusing on this slow, steady, thoughtful, optimized approach. It gives you those small incremental improvements that over time, have a huge have a huge impact. As you're doing this and you're trying to optimize, do you see certain channels right now that you think are best for a be testing? Does it depend campaign to campaign? What do you think is when it comes to actual channels for this? Well, that's a really interesting point. So if we're talking about marketing channels in general, I think where you're going to get the best testing results is where you have the most control totally. And so the way you get...

...control is you either own the control or you buy the control. So although supposedly email died ten years ago, it's still here and still valid. When you own people's email addresses, you control which audience sees your communications. So that's a really good way also, if you're going to buy media, so and let's just say that you're going to buy online media, you're going to buy banner ads and such, the agencies from whom you're buying. They will help you understand who you're targeting and you have a higher sense of control. With organic social you have less control in many ways because it's the algorithms of the social media networks that decide if you're opposed to seeing and by whom, that you can do things to increase the visibility of your posts, but you have a lot less ability to dictate that they're going to be seen. So it makes it a little bit trickier. When I think of a be testing, I think of it in the micro and the macro. Sometimes you can do big changes, sometimes it's just as small. As I was saying, to start right, just the color slightly different. Let's go small here. So to give us what you would be considering, or what someone running in Ab test would be considering when they go to the micro. And what types of small changes are we testing? Sure so like, for example, take your own channels. Let's take your website or the destination page that you're marketing your marketing leads to. So you own that entire experience and I've had results on projects I've worked on where we just change the color and size of a button. Everything else was the same. That's the famous Google result that they've tested their home page, I don't know, a bazillion times to optimize how well it works right, and you'll notice that it doesn't get more complicated over time, unlike maybe what a traditional marketer in control of the Google home page would have created, a giant thing of texting, images and worring becomes a NASCAR car. Exactly what we have is a box, essentially, and they've messed around with size and color. So that's a really small test, but it can have incredible results. We did some work, I'm in one of my prior positions where we had a destination page and the team that own that page moved a button from one position of the page to the other other position of the page and increased the clicks and conversion by like over a hundred percent something by making that more visible. So that's like a small thing. You can also be pretty small in terms of images. So does a certain type of image matter? Just certain words matter, and from there you you get, you get more complicated and you add more variables. So, from where you sit, you're not the one actually running these tests, but you have you know, you're advising your consulting, you're thinking through these things. Who Do you see in these gating that conversation? Is it someone that's at the...

...design level going, hey, we should just try to move this button over? Is it someone from a consulting perspective going hey, tried this? How do those conversations take place? It's a really interesting question. I think the answer is that it's highly variable. Typically, the idea to test comes from someone who who owns the results in some shape or form. So if you're the project or product owner or if, in this case could be on this podcast, the business owner, you may be thinking, I understand why people are dropping off my page. Maybe I might. Adobe data tells me that they start entering stuff into my form fill and then they abandon or I have a really high bounce rate. So Gee, that to me that's a problem to be solved. How can I start to understand how to solve this problem? I should consider testing. Likewise, from my perspective, sometimes I'll work with the one of our clients and they'll say, hey, would you just take a look at our program and I'll look at their program and notice that maybe performance is low for a specific topic area, and then I look at the creative units and they may look very similar, and then that's really easy for me to look smart. there. I'm like, well, why don't we consider taking the same topics but changing the way that those posts are constructed and see if we can get meaningful results? So anyone really throughout the entire kind of creation chain of a of a project should have the ability to say I think we should us to see if it works better. But sometimes it just depends on the company itself. You know, who has who has the juice to say we need to stop and test, or who's the most who's the most implicated in the success? Yeah, obviously this is going to vary a little bit project to project. But when you think of even the website, example, and you're running a test, do you see there being like an optimal time frame that you would suggest long enough? Obviously you're going to need to gather some data. So what do you think when it comes to time? So this brings up kind of a funny story from my past. You know I would often, when I was in marketing, out work with the data science team and be a couple of people that I worked with all the time on my particular slice of the business and their data science people. So they would have a specific number of impressions in order for the test to be statistically valid, and that takes time and so I would always have this conversation like yeah, I don't need statistically valid, I just need directionally correct and the kind of Wowlee. Over time we got to a good midpoint. So it really depends on how much exposure you have. I don't know the exact number, but like sure the Google home page, they can probably run test all during the day because I have enough people hitting it. But you need to make sure that it's a it's a significant number that you based on like your normal response, right. You want to make sure that you're getting you know, if you have a hundred, if I had a hundred hits to a page and a day, I'd want to test that thing over several days because the more you test, the more you can smooth out any of...

...that kind of randomness and statistical noise. With something like an email. We used to put it out in the market and then we would wait a week to ten days before we started counting, just to give a chance to be in the open if you're thinking about your social media activity, if you're the person who's controlling the post. So I do little experiments myself with my own Linkedin, instance, and sometimes on instagram. I will put a post out and then I won't really think about how will it did for at least several days. Give it a chance to be out there, and so then I can afterwards, I can come back and have a sense that's enough. The thing that's important to not do is to just draw conclusions too early, and that can be challenging because, you know, especially have a lot of energy behind a test, people want to know did it work? Yeah, I am guilty of that, especially on social right like the quick give it, yes, give it a minute, walk away. Sure, social wides nature supposed to be instantaneous. Way To instantaneous. Things are funny. Like recently did some testing on Linkedin for myself and I had a post that was still generating additional responses weeks later, so which really surprised me. I hadn't run into that before. So you have to give things some time. One way to kind of deal with that impatience is that if you if you're running tests on a regular cadence, you're always going to have some things that you think are, quote unquote, done enough to allies and I can help. It's really hard when you test one thing and then you're in a vacuum waiting. It's like toast. Hey everyone. If you've been listening to be to be growth for a while, you know that we are big proponents of putting out original, organic content on Linkedin, but one thing that's always been a struggle for a team like ours is easily tracking the reach of that linkedin content. That's why we're really excited about shield analytics. Since our team started using shield, we've been able to easily track the reach and performance of our linkedin content without having to manually log it ourselves. It automatically creates reports and it generates dashboards that are incredibly useful to determining things like what content has been performing the best, what days of the week are we getting the most engagement and our average views per post. Shield has been a game changer for our entire team's productivity and performance on Linkedin. I highly suggest checking out this tool. If you're publishing content on Linkedin for yourselves or for your company, you can get a ten day free trial at shield APP DOT AI, or you can get a twenty five percent discount with our Promo code be to be growth. Again, that's shield APP DOT AI and the Promo Code is be the number two be growth. All One word for a twenty five percent discount. All right, let's get back into the show. Yeah, what do I do until...

...this test is over? But when you got a backlog and you know the next thing you're going to iterate on, you got time to rethink. Okay, so that's micro level. Span out. Let's go to macro. So then when we start talking at a macro level, we're talking about things like you might go a product ad versus a story based add there's several things we can do when we get to the macro. Talk me through what you're thinking through Tim when you think of macro a be testing. Sure, so, just as in a hypothesis, let's say that I've created a new GIZMO that's going to help you with your posture, and I'm taking a non financial services example, just because then we don't have to talk about legal or compliance. Right, we'll just we'll just go to a product that that doesn't have a ton of regulation behind it and is that is probably a little more kind of day to day. So let's say it's a thing that's going to help you with your posture. All medical compliance and legal to the side. So you may want to think it first. Well, I don't really know. I haven't seen this before in the market place. I'm not really sure what story about this item is going to attract people's attention. I have, however, focused down the group I think is interested. So what we're going to take different audience groups and set that aside. We're going to assume we've got an audience define right. So a very pragmatic way to move forward is to say, okay, well, let's start. On one hand, let's talk about what the product is and does and use that Lens, and then on the other hand let's talk about what it does for people. What is the effect on the individual? So there's a whole school of thought, which I think has been pretty validated, that when you talk to people about something that solves a problem for them, if you can identify the problem to be solved and you talk about how that problem is solved. You typically have good results, but that's not always the case. It could be that that this particular product is so unique in and of itself that people get Trans Transfixed by the story. But if you created those two different ways and you could go out and test that, like something like let's say you're going to do some I don't know, paid social on Instagram, you might run these two different creative sets and then see which one gets better results. And that I'll give you valuable information because you can think, Oh, if, assuming you get you get clear enough indication at one's better than the other, then you can just say well, this horse one. Let's continue to ride this horse right, see if we then then okay, now we're talking about the story, about the product, what it's going to do for someone great. So I have that. HMM, what can I change there that's different to see if it works better. And maybe that has to do with certain words or maybe it has to do with certain images. It could be a variable in your ad by and your at placement, a bunch of different things, but the ideas just then take one other item and test against that and then keep moving forward in be to be and in finance, I'm sure at we we are very prone to not going story based. Luckily, I think there is a movement to get away from just the stats driven stuff and understand people our story base.

Huh, it can be hard. I mean, I think you want to show efficacy and the way we do that typically is with numbers. What I think, though, is so fascinating about be to be is that for a long time we just kind of assume that because it was business, it wasn't about people. And it's absolutely about people. It's absolutely about the person who's making that that buying decision. So if you can figure out a way to present your product in a light that says, this is how I can solve a problem for you and make your life easier, this is how I can contribute to your success and you have more, more success. And just talking about the numbers. Years ago, Oracle used to do these ads on the back of Economist magazine that literally were like just numbers. It would be an oracle does point nine seven percent better than sap. That was it and I never understood and I guess it must have been successful because they kept doing it, but part of me wondered if maybe it was just successful because it was a giant placement that said Oracle on the back of the economist right. I just that message never occurred to never seem to solve a problem for anybody other than the implicate this is better. Yeah, so I think it's great if you can understand your market and have that quote unquote, conversation with them through your marketing and really you get down to the person and and you know, we'll probably trying to solve for them. How is what you offer going to help them succeed? The value of AB testing to is if you have a boss who is leans heavier into the number side and you want to run a test, you can just show them in one test that the bar is low for the where you have to start. You can just try one thing, you suggest one thing. So I love the the ability there to to tweak into to try. You brought something up earlier that I wanted to touch on because you bring in compliance and regulations. So for that example we put that to the side. But the truth is that's not where you work right. You have to constantly be thinking through compliance and regulation. That makes things complicated. Walk me through how that complicates things and then how you have additional things you've got to be thinking about. Sure. So let's take take something like financial advice. HMM. So there are many very important regulations and considerations that need to be reviewed before you public publish something about financial advice. And you know the origin of those is a totally different story. But the end, whether or not it's a pain in the neck because a different story. The driver behind the regulations is a good driver. You're trying to not missleap people totally. You need to be fair and balanced. So when you get into marketing, where sometimes people, let's say, might stretch the truth or maybe take the truth and try and presented in a little different light, you have to hit the happy medium where what you're saying is follows the regulations but still...

...places yourself or your your product in a good light. So what it really forces you to do, I think you know, if you're a creative person trying to come up with messages and images, it actually makes the job more challenging. It's a bigger challenge. It hampers a little bit what you can do, but I think probably that's a good thing in the end result, because it forces you to dig deeper and get to this core problem to be solved for the audience. From a collaboration standpoint, it really requires you to work closely with a bunch of different partners, so the people who specialize in compliance and legal, your creative your strategists, even your data people, because they have a hand in deciding what's going to be tested or not. Honestly, you know, it's always easy to throw darts at regulation and requirements, but I think even if you had a product like the back Gismo I was describing, or or, I don't know, something that's going to improve you your physical appearance, if you think about these requirements and guidelines as as a way to get to what's honest, you should have those for your product anyway. Right you should be talking about yourself or your product in a way that's honest and truthful because, especially these days, if you're not, you will be discovered. Authenticity matters. It does. It may not. Maybe your short term play and you're just trying to move a bunch of gismos or do dads and then you're going to disappear, but I mean if you're trying to build a at anable business or or grow your reputation. You need to make sure that you're grounded in authenticity. So that's just required authenticity and it adds a little extra again, difficulty level of difficulty to the communications and requires more collaboration. But the other thing is it does provide some good guard rails and then you're able to work from within those. What it does not do is hamper your ability to think innovatively about how you talk about your product. So let's say you're an assurance agent and you have your own franchise or your own business. What your products are, that's defined by the companies who provide the products, but the service you provide and how you present yourself and how you connect with your local community, that's completely up to you. So that's a very big broad cameras from which you can work and then try and, you know, test and experiment your way to what you think is a most authentic for you and be that works the best within that framework, because organic socialist something that clearly works and it's something that your you're thinking about and consulting advising on how you make sure that you're doing that effectively while also within these guard rails. Wells, you know, for many of the most, if not all, the customers that we work with right their financial services firm. So they have their own internal and legal departments that review all of the social posts before they go out, or least they the content. So those are the...

...guard rails. Therefore, what, quote unquote, what we can and cannot say? So that checks that box where the the white space is okay. Well, how are we going to say this? How is the how will the image or the Post be constructed? And then when will we encourage people to put the set that free in the social networks and how can we train them then to take advantage of the response that it that it generates? So these firms all have dedicated groups that make sure that things are compliant, and I served both as a creative talking to the compliance people, trying to explain what we're trying to do and having those conversations, to being the marketer having those conversations, and I was also a series twenty four, which meant I actually was the final say on yes no for publications. I got kind of a broad experience in it and if everybody comes with a good attitude and your respectful of other people's concerns, it's it can be good. You can actually sometimes it makes things better than they would have been before because you're acting in a more authentic way and you're making sure that everyone is is properly protected, the firm, the individuals and also the consumer. Do you have any maybe example of like a complex product or service that you're offering that you guys explained in a in a story or you really hit at the heart and the why we're able to translate that effectively that maybe you could you could share or think of? So in just in my experience, I think the most typical thing that I had to try to communicate was financial advice. It's not a product per se, it's a service, but it's something that can be devilishly difficult to quantify and in this particular case, you know the it's Opaque's confusing. The level of trust in general is relatively low. So in one instance, the way that we wanted to communicate this particular advice offering, which was for people with higher levels of assets and a more higher level of service, more attentive, more customized. We and this was many years ago. At the time it was as this. I'm going to date myself, but at the time this was kind of a big deal. So we ended up shooting videos of clients talking about their lives and then we made those available. And so what we're trying to do is translate all of these intangible things that the service provided and give them life in somebody else's story. And what that did is it it gave space for the viewer to see themselves in the people we were portraying, and we thought that that was a better, more visceral way of connecting than giving them a bullet list of all the things they would get and saying and saying. The worst is that, when you're kind of trapped in you're saying all of the things that everyone else says, because companies tend to copy each other and also in a highly regulated environment, you end up with...

...a shortlist of things you can actually say. So we felt like that was was really successful. Another way we worked around that problem was we tried to focus in on the fact that people who have higher portfolios have a tendency to take a chunk of that money and want to invest it based on their own strategies and then take a chunk of money and have someone manage it for them. And so we were very up front and recognizing that you were going to do some of this on your own, which is great, but in order to free you up for that task, would you not want expert help to take care of the other components? And you can see this across financial services industry. I mean it is the famous New York life disclosure, a customer of ours, but they had a famous ad campaign where they were selling insurance. But really what you saw on the screen with somebody holding a baby. I don't know if it's been distilled any better than that. Sure. So those are those are powerful ways to do it and it's a little more difficult than having a physical product. But if you take someone like Nike, who took tennis shoes and turn tennis shoes in a in a method of self expression and also a social signal of the fact that I'm athletic, right, that's the alchemy right there make that transition. Well, there's a lot that I'm taking away from this conversation. Tim I'd think of micro and macro in a be testing, and maybe this is just a little prompt for our listeners on to is episode to go test something and do it just slight and variation for the next little bit and see what comes in it. Maybe it's in your personal social strategy. You want to try that, or for your company. What's a test you could run right now and get you think it outside the box. And then I love the value of story right. I think we come back to that on be tob growth pretty often because we want to push be to be specifically SASS companies, but we want to push you guys to really adapt, adapt and adopt stories into your marketing strategy. Well, let me because like I just thought something so we can spice it. I wanted to see on not note. One thing we see in social is that levels of engagement are higher in BTB than there and BTC, which might be counterintuitive but it's actually not. And the social activity there in the BEDB space is not just informational. It tends to be more informational, but it's also personal, or it's about me within my job. So it definitely works in the BETB segment. And you had mentioned stories and that's what it is. You're describing to people what motivates you to do your job or what you're passionate about, and that works. That will create engagement and it follows along with everything else we've been discussing. Fantastic Tim for those that want to stay connected to you and the work that you're doing. What the best way to do that and hit on me what the company's doing as well? One more time for us, sure. So, if you want to connect with hearsay systems, you can just look for our company page on link dinner visit our website.

I'm on Linkedin as well. I'm always open to talking to people and connecting. And if you are very interested in social selling and how to improve your last mile engagement with customers and prospects, definitely visit our heirsay site. We've got sweeter products and subject better experts like myself and other people who can really help you reb that engine. Love it, but we're always having insightful conversations like this here on be to be growth. We want to help fuel your innovation, so never miss an episode. Subscribe to be to be growth. Wherever you're listening to this right now, you can connect with me on Linkedin as well. Just Search Benjie Block and keep doing work the matters. We're always excited to have conversations with leaders on the front lines of marketing. If there's a marketing director or a chief marketing officer that you think we need to have on the show, reach out email me, bene dot block at Sweet Fish Mediacom. I look forward to hearing from you.

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