How to A/B Test Ad Creative Even on Offline Media


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Online platforms have long benefited from the A/B testing options that generate consumer behavior insights – and the profits that come with them. Despite the imperfections, A/B research has proved to be a useful tool for website design, ad campaigns and other e-commerce applications tied to ROI.

What’s less clear is how A/B testing creates the same advantages for ad buys and brick-and-mortar stores offline.

What’s true in both scenarios – at the physical store, in online sales and in the omnichannel world that’s evolving to encompass both – is that performance tracking data is the key to achieving higher conversion rates. With the evolution of mobile connectivity and the bandwidth to support it, have come oceans of data adrift in new customer experiences both seamless and immersive.

The A/B testing model for studying those consumers is tagging along with exciting offline options, but it’s hard to know where to begin with the right ad tools and techniques.

The same optimization principles apply

The good news is that the marketing basics you already know about A/B testing stay the same when you research your customer preferences offline. Good study design doesn’t change, so beginning with your benchmarks holds true for customers when their shopping carts have wheels.

Planning your test still calls for taking a comprehensive look at the data you have, understanding the strengths and limitations of how you’ve gathered it, and then asking the questions that will deliver the market insights you seek.

That means identifying the variables and reducing the change to one, as you would with online ads. For the creative team, that may mean small font or color changes in logo design, or a more significant shift in voicing a digital ad. It also may mean thinking through the physical space – vertical or horizontal? facing the aisle? – in a challenging departure from the online environment.

Location video displays that bridge the gap

The traditional advantages of the point-of-sale display and the captive checkout audience hold true, with some exciting possibilities. Customers aren’t reading tabloid headlines in the checkout aisle anymore, because video display screens provide a more compelling experience. The format is flexible enough for traditional ad displays or rotating billboard-style messages, but the point-of-sale screen offers content marketing capacities or even a sponsored interactive experience.

The alternative creates a twofold advantage for advertisers: the improved visibility means your messages get noticed, and solutions for offline A/B testing deliver the reliable metrics you need to evaluate those messages that have remained so stubbornly elusive offline. As the technological barriers are removed, the deep data insights provide clarity on consumer behavior.

“What we can measure now, without being intrusive or disrupting the testing model, are physical markers tied to customer attention and interest,” said Dominick Porco, CEO of Impax Media, a tech platform designed to display ads at checkout counters. With the Impax proprietary solution, the metrics and analytics tied to consumer response and conversions help evaluate the ad’s efficacy. Performance data, including biometric information, is fine-grained enough to run meaningful A/B testing on ads.

Additional solutions for consideration

Other tech scenarios might include tablets or wall-sized touchscreens used in retail, to share both information and personalized experience with a customer whose attention is drawn to both the screen and a sales associate. Or the advantages of Google Tango and similar solutions, which enable augmented reality options in the store or the home, all of which are collecting high-quality user data about consumer preferences and products.

Even low-tech offline ads can include branded hashtags, QR codes or auto-forwarding URLs. These solutions are limited in terms of the metrics they may deliver, but do offer some insight into an ad iteration’s performance. But even with that data, the research is only as good as the quality of your methodology and the rigor with which you apply it. Keeping the qualitative data clean will keep the A/B test valid; applying the data to the hypothesis at hand keeps it meaningful.

All in the strategy

Above all else, A/B test results are only as good as the people who apply their results. Once you have the insights about customers you need, develop the strategy to act on what you learn and then implement it to create the customer experiences and the sales results you seek.

Laureen Fagan
Ugly Dog Media
Laureen's expertise includes 15+ years as an award-winning media and PR professional, specializing in thought leadership on business and technology, international affairs and intersections with a sustainable future. She received her MSJ from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, with additional graduate study at University of Notre Dame. If Laureen's not writing, she's reading. If she's doing neither, Laueen is outside gardening, watching the sky, or with the dog. Probably all three.


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