Test your marketing for a bigger payoff


Organizations are always interested in how well their marketing is performing. Staff often monitor KPIs such as website visits, ad clicks, contact forms, social media comments or webinar registrations. These measurements, however, are conducted after the investments have been made, when the smartest measurement might be taken before the marketing assets are launched.

Next time you prepare to roll out a rebrand, conduct a major promotional campaign or introduce a new product, consider testing your marketing assets before you determine which concepts to take to market.

When to test

It makes most sense to test marketing if one or more of these factors exist:

  • Marketing to a new customer segment 
  • Marketing in a new geographic location that is not similar to current markets
  • Significant changes in your customer base, overall market or industry
  • The marketing spend is large
  • Creative is supporting a significant rebrand 
  • Creative is introducing a new division or important new product/service
  • There is disagreement internally or between agency and client over the best approach 

When your campaign is mostly digital, you could handle testing live in field with A/B/C testing. The same applies to direct mail and email campaigns. It makes sense to reserve any formal testing budget for major brand campaigns and assets for promoting key products and services. 

What to test

The exact questions you ask when testing your marketing assets will depend on the type of asset and the industry/product/service. Here are a few examples of attributes we commonly test:

  • Distinctiveness
  • Visual appeal
  • Relevance to prospect’s life or business
  • Believability
  • Persuasiveness or motivating to consider

Other aspects you can measure include how well the concepts communicate the intended key marketing messages or reflect the brand identity. Sometimes, we ask if there is anything objectionable about the asset to make sure the campaign is not perceived negatively by a customer segment. 

You may also want to gauge how well the assets convey your intended brand identity. Examples of characteristics you might test:

  • Sophisticated vs. casual
  • Traditional vs. innovative
  • Welcoming vs. exclusive
  • Expensive vs. affordable
  • Expert vs. novice

Make sure to include at least one open-ended question in your test. This feedback can help reveal specific aspects that are working well from different concepts. It might be that the visual in one concept is appealing while the messaging in another option drives home your key points. 

How to test

The right method depends on what type of assets you are testing, when you need results and where you are in the creative process. Options include:

  • Online or in-person focus groups
  • Online or in-person individual interviews
  • Test product placement in stores or online
  • Surveys
  • A/B/C testing for digital ads, email campaigns, or direct mail

Qualitative research is well suited for testing in the earlier stages of development. It allows for probing, exploration and idea creation. If you need a final decision among two or three concepts, a survey will give you quick feedback from more people. Just make sure you are testing as few variables as possible. If you are most interested in which visuals are appealing, test a few options but keep the same copy. If you want to validate the most effective messaging, test different copy with the same visuals. 

One last tip: If you are testing names or logos, include at least one that is different from your favorites. You never know what will resonate with consumers or buyers.

Linda Kuster is president at Vernon Research Group, based in Cedar Rapids. Contact her at or lkuster@vernonresearch.com or (319) 364-7278, ext. 7104.