Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

The Customer Journey Optimization Process: Tips, Steps, and Strategies

Customer journey optimization is designed to help you capture more leads, maximize revenue, and improve customer satisfaction.

To get it right, you need to optimize every touchpoint along the customer journey, from awareness to purchase through to advocacy.

This is no easy feat, given the digital customer journey is no longer “linear”—touchpoints are everywhere (websites, social media, forums, comment sections, instant messages, reviews, etc.). 

Additionally, today’s consumers increasingly shop in “micromoments,” or whenever the mood strikes.

The best way to capture these “always-on” consumers across a sea of channels is to create tailored messaging that speaks to how they feel at every potential moment they interact with your brand.

To do this, you need to run extensive research to understand the context in which your audience shops so you can grab their attention and provide a convenient experience that simplifies their life.

In this article, I’ll help you understand why you need to regularly assess and improve your customer journey. Then, I’ll walk you through nine tried-and-tested steps for customer journey optimization.

Table of contents

The benefits of customer journey optimization 

Customer journey optimization involves regularly identifying, mapping, and optimizing key customer interactions to improve the end-to-end customer experience. 

The goal is for marketers to optimize their touchpoints so that their solution is top-of-mind, easy to find, and simple to interact with at every stage of the journey.

For example, a commercial real estate agency might learn through their customer research that their website visitors are bouncing off their website’s “Contact” page. Using this information, they can run tests to optimize their messaging, reduce form fields, or conduct further research to uncover what seems to be stopping people from submitting inquiries.

The agency might also uncover that their ideal customers ask a lot of questions on forum sites like Quora. Using this information, they might allocate resources to answering questions and point prospects at an optimized landing page (such as an FAQ page on their website).

The point is to make the digital experience so easy for your customers, there’s nothing to stop them from doing business with you.

Here are a few more ways customer journey optimization can help you improve the overall digital experience:

  • Lead re-capturing. Retargeting helps you push previously engaged customers over the finish line. For example, try targeting shoppers that have abandoned their carts and make it easier for them to complete their purchase.
  • Customer segmentation. Segmenting buyer personas allows you to create content that speaks to each cohort’s specific needs. Relevant, customer-centric messaging is more likely to resonate and, in turn, drive action (e.g., clicking on a CTA to learn more).
  • Increased “micromoment” capture. This requires a dynamic, multi-channel approach to examining your touchpoints. For example, if data tells you that a certain group of your audience spends time on social media in the afternoons, a timely targeted ad promoting your real estate business, for example, could be what triggers them to click and start a conversation.
  • Increased revenue. Think of the customer journey optimization process as a cycle of continuous improvements that add up to major bottom line results. The better your digital customer experience, the more likely people will convert and remain loyal customers beyond the initial purchase.

Top Tip: Done right, customer journey optimization allows you to identify friction points so you can improve the digital journey. To uncover those data points, you need transparent insights into every touchpoint from awareness to consideration and beyond. Here’s how to gather the key data that will drive your optimization 🐼

The elements of the customer journey optimization process

The first step in optimizing your customer’s digital journey is to define and map every digital touchpoint. 

Consider this the research stage. At this point, you’ll evaluate what your customers are doing, including:

  • Their most common touchpoints with your brand
  • Where things appear to be going wrong, or where you’re missing conversions
  • Elements in the customer journey that are adding friction

When Spotify began this process, it created a customer journey map that outlined seven stages of the “music sharing experience”:

Screenshot of Spotify’s Customer Journey Map

They further broke down these seven stages (visit, listen, discover, share, discuss, receive, respond) into five different elements:

  • Steps. These are the actions customers take at each stage. For example, a step at the first “Visit” stage would simply be opening the Spotify app on your phone. Steps are often the easiest part of any customer journey to define, as they’re simple to predict and track (there’s really only a few ways a customer can open up Spotify).
  • Thoughts. These are more difficult to define, and represent the reason behind taking a step. For Spotify, a user may think, “I love the curated playlists because they’re a personalized experience.” This thought would align with the “Listening” stage as it’s what triggers them to enter that part of their journey.  
  • Touchpoints. Spotify defines these as the interactions people have with the platform and their network throughout the listening journey. After a person chooses a song and begins “Listening,” for example, they may share it with a friend outside of the app to “Discuss.” This conversation begins a back and forth feedback loop that ends with “Receive” and “Respond.” Defining these touchpoints is key, as they help you understand how people interact with your product or service so you can skew your messaging to support these journeys.
  • Actors. To Spotify, these are the people that talk to each other about their experiences at the latter end of the listening journey. For you, actors represent anybody that interacts with your product or service along the way. Defining actors helps provide more insights into every other element, which in turn gives you ideas around how to position and message your communications. For example, if people interact with each other at the beginning of their journey, and these interactions prove pivotal to continued engagement, you could curate messaging, incentivizing people to share and talk in the Awareness stage of the customer journey.   
  • Emotions. These are the reasons that drive people to progress through the listening journey, in Spotify’s case. For example, they may choose to “Visit” Spotify because they’re eager to listen to music while working and later want to “Discuss” a song with a friend to see if they like it too. Similar to behavior, understanding emotional drivers helps you meet the customer where they are, with content that resonates and inspires action. 

Organizing the customer journey into steps and stages helped Spotify isolate the reasons customers engage at every touchpoint. 

Here’s how you can do the same across four main customer journey stages.

1. Awareness

The first stage of customer journey optimization is awareness. This is when the customer hasn’t heard of you, or perhaps has heard of you and maybe even engaged with an early touchpoint (like visiting your website) but doesn’t necessarily show strong buyer intent yet.

In the digital world, this can be an incredibly complex stage. With access to your competitors at the tips of their fingers, they may be vetting your business against others. Your job in the awareness stage is to capture their attention—and then hold it. 

Those who are ready to buy may quickly move through the next steps by initiating a checkout or contacting your business straight away. For those who aren’t yet in the decision-making stage, you’ll want to focus on helping your audience recognize and recall your brand. 

Here are three ways to optimize this stage of the customer journey:

  • Connection. Use your messaging to establish a connection with your audience. Let them know early on in their contact with your brand exactly how you solve their problem.
  • Consistency. Make sure your brand is consistent across all touchpoints (your social media bios, your landing pages, even your email footers). This will help your audience to recognize and enjoy your brand in multiple places.
  • Content. If your audience is in the awareness stage, they may not be ready to buy from you just yet. Position yourself as an industry expert with regular articles answering their unique problems, and your target audience will steadily become more aware of you.

2. Consideration

The customer engagement process has begun. At this point, customers might be walking down the purchasing path, even if they’re not quite there yet. Think of the consideration stage as the point when the customer thinks of your product or service as a potential purchase.

These are your customers watching your demo videos and engaging with your newsletters. They’ve already made the decision to engage with you. Now, they’re wondering if your solution is right for them.

Here are some examples of where you can optimize the journey at the consideration stage:

  • Service. Though many think of customer service as a post-purchase department, excellent, seamless customer support is critical before the purchasing stage, too. Optimize this stage of the journey to answer customer questions quickly, so you catch them in the moment of need and plant the seeds of a lasting relationship.
  • Social responsibility. Around 55% of customers will pay extra to shop with companies that are dedicated to having positive social and environmental impacts. If you’ve identified that this is important to your customers, one way to optimize at this stage of the journey is to demonstrate how you meet corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals through your email marketing, website banners, or dedicated landing pages.  
  • Reviews. Social proof is a powerful influencer. Use reviews, case studies, and video testimonials to show how you’ve helped similar customers solve their problem.

3. Decision

The purchase is a critical point in the customer lifecycle. It’s when a prospect converts into a customer—and someone who can potentially have a relationship with your business for years down the line.

To help this happen, you need to stay out of your own way. Reduce all friction in this stage to help customers go from A to B as easily as possible. 

For example, Amazon’s “1-Click” technology eliminates several stages of the check-out process for customers who have opted-in. It allows customers who have decided they want a product to initiate the purchase immediately.

There are many ways to optimize this stage of the customer journey, including:

  • Reducing check-out steps. Customers in the decision phase don’t want to go through several stages to make a purchase. Help them give you their payment details quickly by eliminating unnecessary steps.
  • Placing signup or login screens after checkout. If your service requires a login, place this after the checkout can speed things along.
  • Including security badges. Sometimes customers hesitate to do business with new brands, especially when they aren’t sure how you’ll handle their sensitive payment information. Providing payment protection badges and links to your policies can help alleviate some of this worry.

Top Tip: Learn more ways to enhance how your customers experience your brand in our post on creating an exceptional digital experience 🐼

4. Retention and advocacy 

Once your prospect becomes a customer, you’ll want to focus on nurturing that relationship to keep them coming back and encourage them to share their positive experiences.

To focus on retention, consider what and how you are communicating to customers immediately after they’ve placed an order. Depending on your product or service, how often do you reach out to them with new products and feature updates in the future, and how do you tailor that messaging to match their first experience with you?

If a customer has completed a sale and you’ve invested in the retention stage, you’re in a great position to leverage their delight (and create loyal brand advocates).

Respectfully approach customers for reviews, social proof, and star ratings. Consider how you can get your customers to work for you without it feeling like work. If your customer experience has been stellar, they’ll likely be willing to go the extra mile for your business.

There are some individual touchpoints after leaving the checkout page that are key to optimize in this stage, such as:

  • Thank You pages
  • Order confirmation emails
  • Shipping confirmation emails
  • The “unboxing experience”
  • Post-purchase check-ins
  • Product reviews
  • Engaging customers with a referral program

You may not engage a customer at all of these touchpoints, but any time you please a customer can be a unique opportunity to hold their loyalty down the line. 

9 steps for customer journey optimization

Now that you know why customer journey optimization is important and what it looks like from a high level, it’s time to dig into your unique customer journey.

Follow these nine steps to create a customer journey that delights your buyers throughout their contact with your brand.

Step #1: Assess your current customer journey

Your customers’ journey may look entirely different to another business’s journey. To start optimizing your own customer journey, you need data on what that currently looks like. This is the step in which you’ll gather customer data using a variety of tools, including:

  • User surveys
  • Customer interviews
  • Social media interactions, such as Twitter or LinkedIn
  • Experience analytics, such as session recordings and heatmaps
  • Website traffic analytics, such as bounce, conversion, and cart abandonment rates 

Data collection can mean everything from secondhand data (customer journey analytics that examines customer behavior on your website) to direct questions you ask your customers. 

Let’s say, for example, you’re a boutique hotel chain. You’ll want to gather data on the types of customers who stay at your hotels. You can do this through user surveys after the booking online, or one-to-one customer interviews with current, past, or regular guests.

It’s best not to rely on any single tactic. Instead, unify intel from each of the five data gathering methods above to build a comprehensive view of who your customers are and what gets them over the line to the checkout page.

Step #2: Identify bottlenecks and areas for improvement

Once you’ve mapped out your own customer journey, you’ll want to identify the key points of friction. Where do most of your prospects step away from their decision to purchase? 

Returning to the hotel chain again, let’s say you identify a lot of customers as one-off customers. They come, they stay, they report having a nice time in your survey, but they never return. You have identified a potential area for improvement (getting more customers to return).

Why is this happening? Perhaps your hotel is in a holiday destination that doesn’t attract repeat customers, and guests need a push to return (e.g., discounts on hotel rooms, group stay offers, or even partnerships with other local amenities, like spas).

Step #3: Set objectives based on your observations

After you’ve identified your friction points (and why they’re happening), you can now set specific, measurable goals to address them.

SMART goals are a popular tool to put realistic actions in place. According to the methodology’s creator, each goal must be:

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant)
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating)
  • Attainable (agreed, attainable)
  • Realistic (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based)
  • Time-bound (time-based, time-limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive)

The hotel chain above might decide they’re going to track returning customers over the next two quarters. One cohort might receive a discount via email that they can redeem if they decide to rebook within the next month. Another cohort might serve as a control group.

Step #4: Map your ideal customer journey

You’ve audited your current customer journey and identified friction points for your target audience. Now, it’s time to modify your current journey with those pain points and customer desires in mind. This will help you to create the customer journey that will capture and convert your ideal customers.

Some businesses might struggle with the step above, especially if they aren’t able to collect accurate customer data. In this case, you can construct an ideal customer journey. What do you want it to look like when a customer has a completely satisfactory experience? What steps can you eliminate?

Customer Journey Graph

If we take our hotel chain example, they want website visitors to book a hotel or spa stay.

But, they may be neglecting to cater to gift-shoppers. What if you want to book a surprise stay for a loved one? You shouldn’t have to wait until the checkout page to make this distinction.

To make this easy, the hotel may consider adding a “Gift Vouchers” option below the main booking feature to serve those buying spa breaks and holidays for their loved ones. They can then browse the range of available offers and decide whether to pick a date, or let the lucky recipients choose themselves.

Step #5: Create a roadmap of tactics you can build

After mapping your ideal journey, consider a roadmap of tactics you’ll use to execute your strategy.

What order should these tactics be in to optimize your customer journey? What data will you need to gather to optimize these steps? Are there any current existing technology gaps that you’d need to begin optimizing?

The hotel chain’s plan to email past guests with their offer to rebook will take (at the very least):

  • An email marketing platform
  • A copywriter
  • Resources to analyze the data from the experiment

Step #6: Bring the relevant departments on board

Once you’ve formed your plan and gathered your resources, you’ll need the various teams involved to be on the same page. Reduce silos by building new project teams that incorporate leadership from different departments. 

Try to avoid “segmenting” different parts of this customer journey to different departments, as this can hinder communication and add unnecessary friction. Instead, unite different teams by having them each focus on similar KPIs for measurable, specific results.

Step #7: Start experimenting and implementing

With your teams implementing the next steps, now’s the time to set up A/B testing. This is a powerful step in optimizing your customer journey. Small changes can generate big leaps toward goals.

When we worked with Viceroy Hotels and Resorts, we suggested implementing testing. We began with a simple button copy test, which weighed two call-to-action buttons against each other. This included the following options:

  • A: Reserve (this was the existing copy and acted as the “control”)
  • B: Start Your Reservation
  • C: Make Your Reservation
  • D: Reserve Your Room
  • E: Book Your Room

From this iteration, “Book Your Room” won.

But we didn’t stop there. We then pitted this copy against another hypothesis: “Check Availability.” The new button copy won by such a large margin, it increased room reservations by $30,000 each month. This is the power of testing even the smallest variables at each customer touchpoint.

Top Tip: Learn more about how we increased room reservations by $30,000 per month in the full Viceroy Hotels and Resorts case study 🐼

Step #8: Derive key insights from your data

Now that you’ve collected your data, it’s time to ask: “Where are the opportunities for improvement?” 

You can gather insights from sources like:

  • Demographics
  • Purchase history
  • Location
  • How they interact with you (e.g., on a tablet, mobile, or desktop)

When we worked with MIT Sloan Executive Education (MSEE), we asked questions about who the customers were and how their journey could be simplified. 

We used that data to decrease marketing spend and increase conversions by 67%. 

Step #9: Adopt an omnichannel strategy

About 73% of customers use multiple channels during their journey. If you want to maximize your reach, target customers across multiple (relevant) channels that your target customer uses.

It’s also important to ask what your customers are doing on each channel because intent isn’t universal. 

For example, a customer might find your landing page through a search query, but they may not be ready to buy yet. Knowing this can help you create informational content designed to capture this kind of traffic and mold them into potential customers.

Key takeaways

The customer journey is essentially the story of your ideal customer personas discovering your brand, making a purchase, and becoming loyal advocates. Optimizing the customer journey means taking the steps to make that story a happy one.

The best businesses are willing to conduct self-examination. They look honestly at their touchpoints across multiple channels and ask where the customer journey can be improved. What’s causing the bottlenecks? What are the pain points introducing friction? Then, those companies test new solutions until they find those that resonate best with their customers.

The customer journey optimization process is ongoing and never quite finished. Implement habits from the steps above and make it a regular part of your marketing strategy to strengthen your bottom line.


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Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

Split Testing To Gain Critical Insights: How to Approach Your Next Test

When attempting to figure out customer intent, it can feel like throwing a lot of marketing at the wall to see what sticks. But the act of studying what sticks might be more important than many realize. According to McKinsey, companies who pay attention to customer analytics are 23 times more likely to outperform competitors in acquiring new customers. 

So, how do you arrive at analytics that are powerful? One of the most scientific approaches to generating new data is split testing. 

The split test is a scientific approach to marketing, similar to the scientific method you learned about in high school: start with a hypothesis, test it, and weigh the results.

In this article, we will study the art (and science) of split testing and discover the best ways to rigorously test which of your marketing campaigns leave the greatest impact on your customers.

Table of contents

Split testing: Definitions and techniques

Let’s start with a definition: split testing runs two simultaneous marketing methods against each other to see which one works best. In a split test, the two methods—such as two versions of a landing page for the same project—might look significantly different. It’s one of the key ways to generate customer insights so your team can make data-driven decisions.

To many marketing teams, the terms split testing and A/B testing are synonymous. But there’s an important difference here: split testing is but one approach marketers can take during experimentation and testing. 

The right testing method you choose depends on the variables you need to test, as well as the time and resources you have at your disposal. 

In other words, a split test might compare two entirely different web pages. Other forms of A/B testing might compare two identical web pages with one variable (such as a headline) isolated for testing. Multivariate testing, another common form of testing, tests multiple variations of multiple elements in a programmatic and statistical manner.

Let’s dive deeper into the definitions of these three common types of testing to understand when you’d use each one:

  • Split testing. Split testing runs two simultaneous marketing methods against each other to see which one works best. In a split test, the two methods—such as two versions of a social media creative for the same project—might look significantly different. It’s one of the key ways to generate customer insights so your team can make data-driven decisions. It doesn’t require as much time as A/B testing (or patience), but it’s a riskier move. This is because you don’t know specifically what’s driving conversions up—or down.
  • A/B testing. Imagine you’re painting a landscape. If split testing is a big heaping dollop of blue paint to paint a sky, A/B testing is concerned with the details that bring your painting to life. A/B testing measures one change at a time (like a subject line), requiring significantly more time than putting out several changes or an entirely different experience at once. The benefit here is that you know exactly what impacts your metrics.
  • Multivariate test. Think of multivariate testing as a subset of A/B testing, but you’re running two or more tests at a time. This type of testing creates exponential combinations with multiples of different versions, and because of that, it takes time. Multivariate testing also involves a significant amount of traffic, which is why they’re not always run in favor of the other tests.

If you have the resources and the traffic to handle testing multiple options at once, a multivariate test is a handy way to cut to the chase. If you’re optimizing a smaller offering, you might want to start with A/B tests.

On the other hand, you might run a split test to see which style of homepage outperforms the other, for example, before you nail down the specific messaging around your service or product. This is when you’d run a split test.

Top Tip: To find out more about running A/B tests, read our article on optimizing customer experiences 🐼

The benefits of split testing

Split testing helps you understand what your customers are thinking, which every marketer knows is critical to success.

There are plenty of ways to achieve this, of course. For example, you could:

  • Run surveys
  • Hold focus groups
  • Poll your followers on social media 
  • Invite customers to email their feedback 
  • Check your SEO analytics for top visitor keywords

The brilliance of the split test, however, is that it requires none of the above. It relies on observation on what customers do rather than what they say.

You can only achieve so much with focus groups before the data becomes unreliable and non-predictive. This is because of a phenomenon based on built-in biases and poor memory recall that enables people to report different experiences to reality (usually without knowing they’re doing it). 

Audiences might “say” they have certain preferences, but what decisions do they really make when they’re sitting at their computer and considering a purchase?

That’s what split testing asks while mapping actual behavior rather than reported behavior.

Before we dive into how to do it, let’s get more specific about these digital marketing benefits. Here’s what split testing can do:

  • Identify customer pain points. Customers might not know their own pain points until they experience them, which is why split tests come in handy. For example, maybe customers say they love your prices—but when you split test your checkout page or sign-up form, you find that the higher delivery price cancels out this effect. Now you know that delivery price can be just as big a factor as the product’s price itself.
  • Increase conversions from existing customers. It’s not always easy to generate more website traffic. But what you can do is optimize for the foot traffic you already have. Split tests help you choose more impactful marketing messaging to take advantage of the customers you’re already attracting.
  • Gaining customer insights. Let’s take the “delivery price” example again. What if you used this insight beyond one product page? Baking the delivery price into the product pricing and offering “free delivery” can then improve every offer on your site. This helps you later optimize different page elements, dialing in the big changes before you find the small changes that optimize your conversion rates.
  • Branding implications. The chief advantage of the split test? It will tell you what your customers are resonating with. What specific brand message seems to click with people? What does the “winning” asset on your split test tell you about what makes customers want to buy from you? Split testing helps you identify these insights so you can save them for later advertisements and brand messaging assets.

Top Tip: Learn how to turn customer insights into actionable decisions in our article on customer intelligence tips 🐼

How to run an effective split test

In the early stages, a split test might feel a bit like you’re trying a little bit of everything (video marketing campaigns or ebooks, a simplified website UX, new branding, etc.). Even early on, you can run your test to optimize the quality of the data you’ll glean. 

What are your website visitors trying to tell you? Here’s how you find out.

Figure out what you’re testing first

Your first step is diagnosis. Now’s the time to consider a basic question: what do you want to test?

To begin, look at your existing data whenever possible: surveys, heat maps, session replays, website analytics. Chances are, you’re already sitting on a mountain of data. Use these assets to your advantage and find where customers are already pointing you. This will help you make educated guesses about your marketing assets.

Next, define the asset you want to test. Are you testing:

  • Different designs on your web page?
  • A new lead magnet, such as a free ebook?
  • A new website?
  • Introductory emails to your newsletter?
  • Your checkout page? Your checkout messaging?

It may sound like a lot at first, but think of the testing process as a funnel: you’re starting with the bigger stuff and working your way down. Split tests help you test the broad, big-picture messaging at the top. Later, you can use singular A/B tests to nail the details.

Decide on your split testing tools

If you’re feeling stuck, there’s good news: you’re not reinventing the wheel. People have run split tests before, which means there are plenty of online platforms you can turn to. Let’s review some of the tools you can employ once you’ve decided on the asset you’re going to test:

  • Google Optimize. Google Optimize is a free tool that will help you split test an entire website or dig down into details like the site URL as a single-variate test. If you’re editing your website, you’ll especially like the Visual Editor, which helps you create a second version of your site so you can test branding ideas from coloring to logos. It’s also integrated with your Google Analytics account, unlocking the potential for deeper insights into what customers are thinking. Of course, with most free tools come feature limitations, so be sure to check those out before deciding if Google Optimize will meet your split testing needs.
  • AB Tasty. As you can tell from the name, AB Tasty lets you test just about anything in your digital presence, from how your site appears on mobile devices to deciphering which of your customers sees which version of the test. If it sounds like too much, you can lean on their pre-designed templates to kickstart the split testing process.
  • Optimizely. Not sure which hero image to use on your website? Which call to action to publish? Optimizely helps you test it all, providing an entire marketing platform to run both split tests and A/B tests. 
  • NPS. Tools like Qualtrics help you run your NPS (net promoter scores) at the split testing stage. NPS calculates answers to questions like: how likely are you to recommend this product to a friend or colleague? If you’re running massive split tests, you can use NPS as a guide to which experience is guiding customers to the most long-term product loyalty.
  • Heat maps. If you receive enough traffic, heat maps can help you identify differences in split tests. You can also use the test results from these heat maps to identify the A/B variables you want to test next, including CTAs and headlines.

Chances are, one or more of these tools will help you diagnose the specific problems you’re having. You can integrate these tools into a new split test and then sit back and wait for the results. But don’t start that test until you’ve learned some best practices first.

Best practices for split testing

Remember: you’re essentially running a science experiment here. Any good science experiment requires controls and parameters to ensure the quality of your results. Here’s what you’ll have to keep in mind before the split test:

  • Sample size, minimum detectable effect, and anticipated run time. We include these three variables because you’ll want to calculate them before starting your split test. Get a sense of how long this test will run, and how large a sample you’ll need before you’ll determine the results are definitive. Automation will take care of sample size for you—but only if you let it and don’t interrupt the process.
  • Start big, then narrow down. If you’re starting out, now is not the time to test your call-to-action text just yet. A headline is important, sure, but A/B tests and multivariate tests will come later. Your first mission should be to identify the asset or style that resonates with your customers.
  • Watch out for contamination due to testing procedures. For example, if the “control” page is being tested against a variation, it’s not a fair test to just implement a redirect for 50% of the traffic to the new variation. This redirect can cause issues like page flicker, longer page load times, etc., that have nothing to do with the optimization efforts being tested. Instead, set your control up as a redirect so that both the control and the variation are redirects, or create the variation so that it doesn’t require a redirect (e.g., through server-side changes).
  • Wait for your data. If data-driven decisions are your goal, don’t shut down a split test when you like the results. This is why you should sit down and determine the test’s schedule before you launch. You need a scientific approach here: remove your biases and wait for the test to run its course. 

At this point, you probably have a handle on the tools you want to use, the questions you want to answer, and what a split test can tell you. There’s just one remaining variable to separate from the equation: you. 

Split testing takes time to build up a large sample size that will give you statistically significant data. That means, it requires some patience. Set your test and then step away and avoid stemming any decisions from the data until it’s finished.

What if a split test doesn’t work?

Let’s say you’ve run the test after completing all the steps above. You’ve been careful about selecting the assets to test and about the structure of your test. You’ve allowed a large sample size to develop.

Then, when it comes time to review the results, customers seem split. You have approximately a 50/50 balance between the two versions of your asset.

Was it all a waste of time? Not necessarily. Consider the example of Steven Macdonald, who once ran an A/B test and noticed zero influence on his conversion rates. 

In fact, he learned, a test like this does provide you data: it tells you that the messaging you just tested doesn’t have a major impact on customers.

If your tests don’t show you any statistically significant differences, you might conclude one of two things:

  • You need to “zoom out” and rethink your hypothesis. Your hypothesis might have been, for example, that a website focusing on one of your products would make more sales than one that focused on another product. Did it? If not, don’t be disappointed. Even disproving a hypothesis represents a key insight you can sometimes use to discover what your customers prefer.
  • You need to “zoom in” and test new hypotheses. Maybe the statistical insignificance is a sign that it’s not your overall asset that needs testing. Maybe you’re ready to drill down to A/B tests and optimize individual components. 

If it’s the latter, prepare to go granular. You’ve established the baseline, and now it’s time to dive into the details. That’s what Macdonald did, adhering to the principle of “constant improvement.” Macdonald says:

“You cannot expect to replicate these results, but what you can replicate is the continuous optimization of testing winning variations against newer variations based on the data you collect. Just because you run one A/B test, doesn’t mean it’s over.”

In other words, take on a “continuous optimization” mindset. Just because you ran one test and found little statistical variance doesn’t mean you’re done testing. Conversion rate optimization (CRO) isn’t always done with just one test. Now it’s time to zoom in and run a new test.

What if you need to start A/B testing?

To run an effective A/B test, we need to start with a similar question: what are you testing? What makes something “testable” in the first place? For an A/B test, you’ll need to examine elements that are:

  • Repeatable. In other words, you can A/B test different call-to-action buttons because you know customers will keep viewing and clicking those buttons over time. You can also repeat tests for specific variables, such as the button colors on Version B, Version C, and so on.
  • Significant. Before you test how good the borders on your checkout page look, you may want to consider the significant variables that matter: pricing, CTA elements, testimonials, and headlines. Testing works, but only if you test the elements that drive customer impact and drive your user experience.
  • Measurable. What are the metrics you want to aim for? For example, does a larger CTA increase traffic to your purchase page via a higher click-through rate? Great. But what if those new clicks represent a lower percentage of conversions into buyers? Ask yourself the desired result of your A/B test before you sit down to optimize.

Some of the most common elements to test include headlines, headline positioning, colors, page copy length, sign-up workflows, checkout processes, pricing, and email subject lines. You aren’t limited to these elements, but that should give you an idea of what kind of variables meet the criteria above.

Finally, employ the same approach as you did for split testing. By now, you should have some familiarity with the tools possible, such as Optimizely. Many of these tools have features for A/B testing. Get familiar with the platforms and consider testing new colors, new copy, new pricing, and more. 

Continue to engage the best practices here: large sample sizes, and predefined schedules to ensure you stick to a test to give each variation a chance to prove itself.

Top Tip: Everything’s easier with a proven platform to help you along. Learn more about how to turn customer data into great marketing decisions 🐼

Key takeaways

Marketing decisions should be data-driven decisions. Marketers need to understand the buttons or features that keep conversion rates down or drive them up. With split testing, you’ll abandon the “shot-in-the-dark” mentality and take a scientific approach to figuring out what your customers want.

You might not be wearing a lab coat when you run a split test, but your findings will still be impactful. Remember to stick to your plan, gather a large sample size, and let the data show you where your marketing needs to go.


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Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

How to Build Successful Omnichannel Marketing Campaigns

Customers are inundated by brand messages, ads, and sponsorships like never before. Thanks to search and social media algorithms, they’ve come to expect getting the right message, in the right place, at the right time. 

The companies winning brand loyalty today are those that provide the most relevant, personalized customer experiences. To provide this consistently and stand out, brands must take an omnichannel approach to marketing. 

In this article, I’ll share why omnichannel marketing campaigns are so important to today’s customer journey and how to build a consistent experience for your brand. Then we’ll look at four examples of brands that are perfecting the omnichannel experience to give you some inspiration. 

Table of contents

Omnichannel marketing: What it is and why you need it

Omnichannel marketing allows for a unified customer experience by creating a consistent brand presence through various tools and channel integrations. 

In addition to making your brand memorable and relevant across channels, omnichannel marketing allows your customers to engage with your brand how they want. Whether they’re shopping in-store, via SMS, mobile app, or a mix (e.g., checking online reviews before completing an in-store purchase), today’s customers expect a seamless cross-channel experience. 

Let’s look at a quick example of a positive omnichannel experience you may be familiar with. 

Imagine you’re in a rush to work on a Wednesday morning. You’re craving coffee and a quick breakfast sandwich, but your meeting starts at 9 a.m. You walk into Starbucks and see a line that’s 15 people long. Disappointed, you leave empty-handed because you don’t have time to wait in line.

Starbucks saw examples of this customer experience playing out every day and realized they were leaving money on the table by turning customers away. The major-league coffee brand came up with a solution: an order-ahead feature through their mobile app. (The app also stores customers’ most recent orders and favorites, as well as gift cards and loyalty points.) 

Screenshot of Starbucks Mobile Application
Source: Techlicious

Playing out the same scenario above, you could hop out of the shower, grab your mobile device, and place an order in just a few taps. Arrive at Starbucks, pick up your order from the counter, and still make your 9 a.m. meeting. 

Even if you think the coffee down the street tastes better, it’s hard to beat the convenience of the Starbucks order-ahead app. The company created a buyer’s journey so simple, delightful, and tapped into customer needs that the brand is now ubiquitous with a quick-and-easy coffee run.

By tapping into their customer’s major pain point (time) and creating a solution that alleviates it (ordering ahead), Starbucks’ omnichannel approach has impacted customer loyalty. In 2019, 35% of app users used the order-ahead feature every time they visited a Starbucks. Because you lock in Starbucks Rewards using the app, this personalized experience accounted for 40% of Starbucks’ overall sales in the same year. 

Starbucks’ optimization of an everyday experience—getting coffee—highlights the importance of a personalized experience for customer retention and loyalty. 

How to nail an omnichannel marketing strategy that connects with your customer

The most important consideration when building an omnichannel marketing strategy is your customer. Customer-centric marketing may sound obvious, but it’s even more crucial when you’re anticipating that a customer will interact with your brand across many channels and touchpoints.

Here’s how to get started on a marketing strategy to create a seamless experience for the omnichannel customer.

Start with customer data

It’s critical to understand your customer deeply, so you’ll know how best to serve them. In the example above, Starbucks knew their customer was busy, and they wanted to spend as little time as possible shopping for their morning coffee. 

Understanding your customer data will help you see what is most important to them, and then you can offer solutions that cater to their needs. Here are some types of customer data to collect and centralize:

Purchasing behavior 

Does your customer look at online reviews while shopping in your physical store? What types of CTAs lead to purchase within different sets of demographics? Testing will be very important here. Consider typical cognitive biases and leverage them to see how they impact your customer’s purchasing behavior.

For example, maybe you’re building a hypothesis around CTA conversion rates and decide to test the following CTAs: 

  • “Your favorited item is selling out—only 5 left!” (harnessing the bandwagon effect and scarcity mindset) 
  • “10% off your favorite” (the belief that you’re getting an exclusive bargain) 

This experiment may lead you to use a more compelling CTA and help you better understand your customer. Are they more socially motivated, wanting your product because it’s popular? Or, are they more motivated by a good deal? Something as simple as A/B testing can result in real marketing (and revenue) wins.

Top Tip: Learn more about cognitive biases and different ways to experiment against them 🐼

How they interact with your brand 

If, for example, your customers are actively following you on social media, create a consistent upload schedule of relevant content that encourages engagement from followers. This is another great place to test different multichannel marketing strategies. 

Perhaps your customer isn’t engaging with your brand as much as you’d like on the social media channels where you’ve put the most effort. Would it make sense to experiment with Instagram over LinkedIn? What about a longer-form newsletter versus regular tweeting? 

Strategically testing across different channels will help you better understand your customer and reach them where they want to be reached. 

Their challenges you can solve 

Is there a common stage in the buyer journey where customers abandon their online shopping cart? Is there qualitative data showing when and why people leave the store without purchasing something, as with long lines at Starbucks?

Understanding your target audience and buyer persona is key to a positive user experience with your brand. Metrics across channels can help you zero in on what’s working and where there’s room for improving customer engagement and, ultimately, your company’s bottom line. 

Top Tip: How to use customer intelligence to turn data into actionable insights 🐼

Segment your audience

Once you have your data, it’s time to organize it and create segments. As we mentioned, personalization is critical to a successful omnichannel marketing strategy. According to Salesforce data, personalization improves the customer experience by 55% and increases conversion rates by 51%. 

Segmenting your audience allows you to create tailored experiences for customers based on demographics, shopping behavior, preferred touchpoints, and more. 

Let’s use the example of a hotel chain with tiered properties, including luxury, mid-range, and budget options. Here, you could aim to segment by annual household income. For example, a 22-year-old in an entry-level job might be more interested in budget or group-stay options. 

Once you have these segments, you can tailor messaging based on what’s realistic and desirable for each segment. Organizing your data this way will save you from wasting resources aiming marketing at the wrong groups. 

Tailor your messaging and create campaigns

Once you understand what your customer wants and needs from your brand and have created segments around different profiles, you’re ready to create marketing campaigns.  

While your brand experience should be cohesive across channels and segments, your marketing approach can and should differ based on customer segments. You may, for example, segment by behaviors based on customers who click on CTAs that appeal to scarcity (e.g., “Only 5 left!”) versus validation from others (e.g., “Over 500 5-star reviews!”). 

Segmenting by behavior will allow you to message people with what truly inspires or encourages them to make a purchase. 

Optimize your customer touchpoints

There’s no point creating engaging content if it’s poorly optimized. Clunky mobile web pages, poor image quality, and font and color clashes will distract from your well-researched content and ruin your customer experience.

Let’s take the hotel example again. You can put all the effort you like into making your target audience aware of a three-night-stay website promotion, sharing follow-up newsletters about related packages, and leveraging seasonal holidays to sweeten your offer—but none of this is useful if your website isn’t optimized.

An omnichannel marketing campaign is one that ensures a seamless and brand-consistent interaction for customers, and your content platforms should reflect this.

Make sure that:

  • Your website is SEO-optimized, snappy, and unhindered by cluttered code
  • Your site is easily navigable and optimized for mobile (mobile browsing has officially surpassed desktop browsing, but you’ll want to see how your customers specifically are accessing your website)
  • Your written content is both informative and scan-friendly
  • Your blog format is readable while remaining brand-consistent
  • Product descriptions are up to date
  • Images are accurate, high quality, and recent

Every point of contact represents an opportunity to make a positive impression on your target audience. Make the buying journey as smooth and delightful as possible for them, and they’ll be more likely to make it to the checkout page.

Top Tip: Learn how to capture and retain your target audience’s attention with our guide to creating an exceptional digital experience 🐼

4 omnichannel marketing campaigns to inspire you

While you’ll want to work through the steps above to create the ideal omnichannel marketing strategy for your target audience, case studies are always helpful for drawing inspiration. 

Here are four brands successfully optimizing their marketing efforts across multiple channels.

Target makes it easy to shop exactly how you want to

Target does an amazing job of connecting various channels so that the customer can truly shop when and how they want to. Target creates a cohesive experience across channels from social media, their website, and app, to brick-and-mortar stores. 

Here are some examples of what that looks like for the retailer.

Before unlocking rewards with Target Circle, customers must first sign up for an account. With an account, Target can better understand their purchase history and buying behavior, tailoring recommendations and outreach. They’re then rewarded with a membership to Target Circle, which offers 1% reward earnings, exclusive deals, community support, and a birthday gift. 

Screenshot of Target Circle Page
Source: Target

Target allows customers to shop and receive items how they want. This was especially crucial during the pandemic, when many people were uncomfortable shopping in-store. Target made it easy to purchase online or through their app and then pick it up curbside. 

Screenshot of Target’s Drive Up Page

All of Target’s messaging caters directly to the customer, reminding them repeatedly of the benefits of their loyalty. They do an incredible job of enticing people to interact with the brand across channels, making it worth their while with incentives. 

Top Tip: Learn more about how Target is winning at omnichannel marketing in our deep dive into their digital transformation strategy 🐼

Singapore Airlines creates unexpected experiences to build loyalty on and off the plane

Singapore Airlines has a reputation for being innovative, and its omnichannel marketing is no exception. The airline has worked to blend online and offline experiences so that customers can easily shop, pre-book, enhance in-flight options, and earn loyalty in real-time. 

They make it easy to shop at duty-free stores by offering pre-order services with both onboard and ground-based delivery. Like Target, the airline makes it incredibly easy and convenient to shop when and how customers want to. 

A chatbot is another functionality that allows Singapore Airlines to personalize experiences for their customers. The bot talks to customers through Facebook Messenger, ensuring rapid responses to questions that may arise at any point in their planning or travel experience. 

Screenshot of Singapore’s Airline Chatbot

The airline can also teach us all a lesson in pivoting, thanks to the pandemic. Something many of us missed in 2020 was travel. The brand created the “Discover Your Singapore Airlines” campaign, offering experiences to customers who missed the feeling of flying. From fine dining at the airport to providing guided tours of the Singapore Airlines training center, the brand created ways for customers to feel the positive impacts of travel without leaving their city. 

And, for those who didn’t want to venture to the airport, Singapore Airlines created another campaign: SIA@Home. This initiative allowed customers to experience an airline home-dining meal accompanied by wine, an amenity kit, welcome videos, a digital guide, and a specially curated playlist. (And, of course, customers could pay for the experience using miles.)

One Medical reimagines an unpleasant experience for its patients

One Medical is beloved by their customers for modernizing a once-dreaded experience: visiting a doctor. With locations in most of the United States’ major metropolitan areas, One Medical caters to busy urbanites who don’t want to wait in an office lobby for an hour before seeing their doctor. 

One Medical reimagined the customer experience, going back to basics and asking when someone really needs to be seen in the office versus virtually.

Members can speak with a medical professional via live chat on the One Medical app, saving themselves the headache of making an appointment, the hassle of getting to it, and then waiting to be seen. The medical professional has access to the customer’s medical history, so they can make tailored recommendations. 

This also clears the office schedule of simple things like appointments for prescription refills, so once a patient arrives at the modern, sleek office, there’s rarely a wait. Patients can also use the app to keep track of their own medical records, as well as different doctors they’ve visited. 

In addition to reimagining doctor’s office visits, One Medical promotes a proactive approach to health by hosting wellness events for members. The membership-based approach allows the One Medical team to create community and a personalized, positive customer experience. 

Screenshot of One Medical Application
Source: App Latest

By offering virtual appointments, digitally centralizing medical records, and hosting member-focused health events, One Medical provides the ultimate omnichannel customer experience.

Airbnb delights with relevant, exciting content

Through personalized recommendations and exciting, tailored content marketing, Airbnb is great at building and maintaining its customer relationships.

For example, let’s say an Airbnb user searches in-app for a place to stay in New York City. A few days later, they’ll get an email with a roundup of great apartments in Manhattan. Instead of a catch-all “here’s why Airbnb is great” email, this follow-up message is helpful to this user.

This relevant email marketing campaign is a great example of well-executed marketing automation. The user’s search triggers an event to follow up with them through a different, relevant channel. 

While Airbnb was originally built as an alternative solution to hotels, it’s developed into a comprehensive experience and lifestyle brand. Through expanded product offerings, the brand can build connection and loyalty among users by promising a more authentic way to travel. 

One such offering is Airbnb Experiences, which allows users to book experiences hosted by locals through the app. This allows users the simplicity and ease of planning their entire trip all in one place. 

For example, someone could book a condo in Miami for the weekend, hire a private chef for Friday’s dinner, attend a food tasting on Saturday, and book a paddleboard experience, all through Airbnb. 

The brand does a great job of balancing practical recommendations with more aspirational content. Whether you need a quick place to stay for a work trip or a dreamy island bungalow to add to your vision board, Airbnb’s digital marketing efforts keep them top of mind for customers anytime they’re not sleeping at home. 

Key takeaways

Ultimately, the purpose of omnichannel marketing is to enhance the customer experience. Through deeply understanding customers through data and segmenting them for increased personalization, marketing teams can increase loyalty and retention rates while surprising and delighting their customers. 

While your brand’s unique strategy depends on your customer, channel strategy, resources, and overarching business goals, every marketer can draw inspiration from the brands above. These brands are reimagining customer-centric omnichannel marketing and building loyalty along the way. 


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Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

Why Marketing Experimentation is Crucial for Digital Transformation (Examples + Results)

Experimentation in every industry is critical for development. Items we use every day have iterated to where they are now thanks to experimentation: the car, the computer, the smartphone, and more. 

Experimentation in marketing is no different. Simply put, marketing experimentation tests data-led ideas to see whether they affect a variable, such as product usage, user acquisition, trial sign-ups, etc. 

Many marketers are intimidated by or misunderstand experimentation. Add to that challenges like getting boardroom buy-in and securing budget for experimentation, and you can see why it’s a growth technique that struggles to gain adoption within many organizations.

In this article, I’ll illustrate the importance of marketing experimentation as part of your digital transformation.

Table of contents

Why many marketers ignore experimentation (and miss out on opportunities)

Marketers spend a lot of time collecting and interpreting data. A study conducted by PHD and Warc found that 88% of marketers spend most of their time on reporting tasks, like tracking performance and producing digestible audience insights for stakeholders and other departments. 

From measuring and reporting traffic trends and conversion rates to sending surveys and facilitating focus groups, so much of marketing is about gathering data. Marketers then use these findings to blindly change the customer experience, with the hope of increasing conversions, and hitting KPIs. 

Top Tip: Learn how to use customer intelligence to turn data into actionable insights 🐼

With so much dedication to reporting on the data you already have, it’s understandable that spending additional resources on experimentation makes some marketers nervous. 

Before I get into why experimentation is actually a good thing for digital transformation, let’s take a look at why many marketers avoid experimentation. 

  • Funding: It’s no secret—digital transformation needs investment, including budget for experimentation. However, organizations that don’t make time for testing are missing out. Gartner recently found that high-performing organizations are not only fans of a test-and-learn experimentation culture, they prioritize it.
  • Effort and resources: Businesses are generally more comfortable putting marketing efforts toward campaigns with a history of demonstrating a good outcome. Organizations can be hesitant to direct resources to experimentation for fear of not seeing tangible results. However, experimentation works quite quickly, uncovering new profitable tactics and discarding processes that don’t yield desired outcomes. 
  • Boardroom buy-in: Unsurprisingly, a gut feeling won’t be easy to sell in the boardroom. Initial buy-in may be a challenge, but you may succeed in your experimentation initiative with case studies and success stories (or even better – a free proof-of-concept). Then, it’s a case of earning more trust in the testing process through results.
  • Accessibility and organization of the right data: When data lives in disparate systems or teams, experiments can get messy. In order to run an A/B test on your landing page content strategy, you’ll need to coordinate with the advertising team(s) driving traffic to the page to ensure symmetrical messaging for each audience or campaign. For a culture of testing to work within an organization, data must be organized and accessible for all. 
  • Lack of faith in the process: Marketers on your team may hesitate to run experiments due to a simple lack of faith in the process. It will take some getting used to for those unfamiliar or uncomfortable with a “fail fast” mentality. Time and successful results from data-led hypotheses will help.
  • Lack of autonomy: Experimentation is most effective when your team can move quickly. Jumping through bureaucratic hoops and waiting for feedback for every step in a marketing experimentation project can create delays and frustration. 

Top Tip: Convince stakeholders that marketing experimentation can lead to huge growth with a New York Times case study 🐼

Benefits of experimenting for digital transformation

While I understand why marketers sometimes avoid experimentation (see above), the benefits far outweigh the risks. Sometimes the biggest challenge for those new to marketing experimentation is understanding that experimentation is not a replacement for data-driven decisions.

On the contrary, when done correctly, an experiment is entirely data-driven: it begins with methodology and analysis and concludes with supporting or refuting evidence. Experimentation and data work together to drive better business decision-making.

Here’s an example of a company that used strategic experimentation to produce real results. 

Viceroy Hotels and Resorts

When the Smart Panda Labs team started working with Viceroy, we suggested A/B testing. Like many stakeholders, they were skeptical.

Our team focused on a button on the hotel group’s website that acted as a “submit” button and linked to their booking engine. The goal was to increase room searches by determining which copy led to the highest click-through rate. 

There was a clear winner from the first experiment (“Book Your Room”), which we then pitted against a slightly more descriptive alternative: “Check Availability.” Check Availability won out overall, and this change in something as small as button copy increased room reservations by $30,000 per month. 

When you’re trying something new, it’s best to start small, confirm your hypothesis, and then go for bigger fish. After proving that experimentation had a genuine impact on revenue, we ran a larger test based on a hypothesis about a new landing page. The result was a $600,000 increase in incremental revenue per year. 

Top Tip: Read our full Viceroy case study here 🐼

Types of experimentation to consider

There are many benefits to experimenting, which can be seen across an array of marketing activities. Here are some experiments to consider and the benefits that come with them.

Evaluating cognitive biases

While great marketing is data-driven, there’s also an emotional component to consider. Everyone develops cognitive biases based on our experiences with the world—including your customers. Marketers often leverage these biases to see if they deliver the desired results.

For example, maybe you’re building a hypothesis around CTA conversion rates and decide to test “Your favorited item is selling out—only 5 left!” (employing the bandwagon effect and scarcity mindset) against “10% off your favorite” (the belief that you’re getting an exclusive bargain). 

This experiment may lead you to use a more effective CTA and help you better understand your customer. Are they more socially motivated, wanting your product because it’s popular? Or, are they more motivated by a good deal?

Experimentation doesn’t need to be complex. A/B testing projects can result in real revenue wins. Real estate firm Related Companies increased their lead conversion by 26% using a similar experimentation method. 

Different types of content

Speaking of knowing your customer, it may not come as a surprise to hear that people consume information in very different ways. Rapidly experimenting with different content formats and platforms will ensure you don’t miss any opportunities to reach your target audience.

For example, you may be surprised to learn from market research that your competitors are using TikTok. The move here isn’t to hire a full-time TikTok expert and invest half your budget into marketing on this platform. Instead, run very specific tests based on what you learned. 

There are many additional ways to experiment with digital marketing. Hopefully you can see that experimentation can have real financial results. Even when experiments fail to support your hypothesis, you benefit from a valuable takeaway and a clearer direction, as well as saving your company from a revenue loss if the change had simply been rolled out without testing. 

Top Tip: Learn more about how to leverage your data in our complete guide to digital analytics 🐼

The risks of not experimenting

Ignoring experimentation is detrimental to a digital transformation because without actioning data or analytics, marketing teams are just sitting on reports. 

While your tried and true marketing strategies may keep you afloat, it will be hard to compete when other companies are willing to take risks to accelerate their growth. 

Of course, it’s important not to experiment for the sake of experimenting. Let’s carry on with our TikTok example above. 

If, overwhelmingly, the data shows your audience prefers email marketing and they never use TikTok, experimenting on the video platform would likely be a waste of time. You should only experiment when the data can be interpreted to fit multiple hypotheses, which you would then test to determine the direction for greater marketing efforts. 

On the other hand, if you ignored survey data that showed TikTok is a growing platform of interest, you could be missing out on reaching potential customers in the way they want to be reached. 

How to get started with your marketing experiments

Here are a few key actions you can take to begin accelerating growth with experimentation. 

Set objectives

Identify the specific component of your marketing strategy that would benefit from an experimentation project. From there, set goals and objectives. Be as specific as possible in determining needs unique to your business and competitive landscape. 

If you’re a retailer, you may want to optimize the checkout flow of your ecommerce site based on data that tells you where users are dropping off (perhaps survey results point to customers feeling annoyed they have to log in again). Your goal would be to convert more customers by coaxing them past this drop-off stage. Then you would design experiments based on the data (perhaps by creating a guest checkout option or moving log-in requirements to post-purchase).

Create data-driven hypotheses

We know that experiments should be rooted in some type of data. But data comes in many different forms. Sometimes, you’ll have a lot of it in the form of reports, surveys, performance metrics for past marketing campaigns, etc. 

Sometimes, the data can be based on competitor insights. For example, perhaps several of your direct competitors have gated their webinar content. You learn from customer research that many of your best leads have watched your webinars and find value in them. Your hypothesis for this example might be: putting our webinars behind a gate will lead to more leads because this content is in high demand with our prospects. 

Start small

Stakeholders can be reluctant to experiment. Start small and prove the concept is worth pursuing. Consider A/B testing copy instead of a website overhaul. Test different types of email subject lines. Before pivoting from long-form written content to TikTok videos, run a test to see how they perform against each other. 

Take these findings to the boardroom

When you have a clear understanding of your organization, its competitive landscape, and relevant testing opportunities available to you, it’s time to take your findings to the boardroom. 

Remember, at least one person around the table will likely be skeptical when it comes to experimentation. Come prepared with data-backed hypotheses, as well as success stories from competitors to get them excited. Pick a pilot program to get started with so you don’t overwhelm them with requests for budget and resources. 

Top Tip: Learn how to get boardroom buy-in for your digital maturity initiatives 🐼  

Key takeaways

The best marketing strategies leverage a combination of data and thinking outside the box. While it can feel counterintuitive, the data helps you narrow down what you’re getting creative about—should we be on TikTok or LinkedIn? Should we be driving our content topics by SEO or leveraging influential experts? 

Once you have evidence that a specific marketing activity is where you should be experimenting, then it’s time to create your hypothesis, test, and learn. 

Experimenting is an exciting way to test hypotheses and ensure you’re staying relevant to your customer. With thoughtful, actionable hypotheses backed by data, you’ll be amazed by what you may learn through the experimentation process.


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Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

What’s the ROI of Digital Transformation? (And how to measure it)

Less than 1 in 3 companies reach their digital transformation objectives.

What seems like a staggering data point makes sense when you learn what meeting them requires—leadership buy-in, a hefty financial investment, a reliable and capable staff, and a deep understanding of customer needs, to name a few non-negotiables. 

With such low odds, why are 80% of companies still planning to invest in a digital transformation?

Because if you get your digital transformation right, you can significantly improve the digital customer experience, streamline workflows, and enjoy a high return on investment. 

Done right, the reward is worth the risk.

In this article, I’ll share digital transformation success stories from two well-known companies, and what they did right. I’ll also share why tracking what you can measure is important (but not everything) when it comes to calculating your true ROI. 

Table of contents

Target and The New York Times demonstrate the power of digital transformation

Target and The New York Times are two companies whose digital transformations checked the right boxes and provided a tangible ROI. 

Here’s how they pulled it off.

In 2013, a data breach jeopardized the personal and payment information of more than 110 million Target customers. 

But through an extensive digital overhaul, they managed to go from a 40% drop in Q4 profits in 2013 to a 50% increase in their stock price over the last six years. This didn’t happen overnight—they strategically planned, pivoted, and innovated. Here are three major events that contributed to their success: 

  • They moved their IT team back in-house after they realized they were overpaying for outsourced, low-quality projects. This increased project quality and decreased turnaround time, allowing them to save and reinvest valuable resources back into their digital transformation efforts.
  • They acquired Shipt, an online same-day delivery platform, and managed the integration in-house. In 2019, this new platform alone accounted for 80% of Target’s digital growth.  
  • They launched the Drive Up initiative, which allowed customers to order through the Target app and get their items delivered to their car outside. This boosted Target’s app downloads and won the pandemic. 

Top Tip: Want the full story? Take a deeper dive into How Target Increased Their Stock Price by 50% with a Digital Transformation Strategy 🐼

Next up, The New York Times.

Flashback to 2013 again. It’s been two years since they introduced their paywall and they now have four main revenue streams. A step in the right direction, but there are a few issues.

Print advertising and digital advertising are declining, print subscriptions are stagnant, and digital subscriptions (what everyone was banking on to save the day) just began to plateau.

Eight years later, they nearly 10x’d their digital-only subscriptions from 600,000 to over 5.7 million and quadrupled their digital-only subscription revenue from $113M to $460M. 

Here are four tactics they used to achieve this:

  • They expanded their subscription offerings from one generic paywall to a tiered system, with a “Basic” subscription starting at just $9.99/month for unlimited access to NYT articles. A lower price point means a lower barrier to entry, which meant more subscribers in a short time frame. 
  • They cashed in on two of their most iconic sections: Crossword and Cooking. Part of their subscription expansion included options for Crossword or Cooking content access only
  • They launched a standalone cooking app, taking their beloved Cooking section a step further. This captured a new audience previously not interested in the “news” aspect of the brand.
  • They bet big on data analysis tools to figure out how and why people became NYT subscribers, then continued to optimize. 

Despite being two completely different companies, Target and The New York Times’ digital transformations had three things in common:

1. They didn’t rush the process

Crisis management requires quick pivoting. But the rewards Target reaped from its digital overhaul (prompted by the data breach) during the pandemic weren’t a quick win. They laid the groundwork three years prior with a $7B investment to revamp their supply chain, digital, and in-store experiences. 

The NYT experimented rapidly with product development. But they took their time (six months, to be precise) building their 14-person executive committee and finding journalists who could write and code. 

2. No distractions

Target replaced hundreds of IT projects with just a few high-priority digital initiatives to jumpstart their digital transformation.

In 2015, the NYT leadership team outlined their digital roadmap with their Project 2020 plan, clearly defining their priorities and objectives, plus specific goals and strategies to achieve them. Successful execution required this explicitness, as did support from higher-ups. 

Top Tip: Investing in your digital infrastructure requires approval from all of your stakeholders. Learn how to get boardroom buy-in for your digital maturity initiatives 🐼

3. The customer was at the center 

Target’s DriveUp program was both the MVP of the pandemic and a major piece of their digital transformation. However, aversion to shopping in crowded stores (especially with young children) didn’t start in 2020. Target knew about (and addressed) this pain point years prior when it launched its DriveUp program in 2018.

For The New York Times, leveraging customer data to learn buyer behavior drove their subscription increases. But this approach was just one piece in an overall strategy that favored creating content people were eager to pay for versus relying heavily on advertising dollars for revenue. 

How to determine your digital transformation ROI metrics

​​Metrics don’t matter if you’re not using the right ones. The best way to figure out what those are is by first outlining what you want to accomplish with your digital transformation project.

Establish your digital transformation objectives/focus areas early on 

Lack of clarity and specificity at this stage may cost you. So be sure to take your time and remain honest and realistic when establishing your digital transformation focus. 

Here are two examples of clear digital transformation aims:

  1. At the end of 2017, The Home Depot invested over $11B in a digital transformation with three straightforward goals: Develop a seamless omnichannel and in-store experience with access to the highest quality products and helpful resources, deconstruct internal data silos to see customer activity more clearly, and improve supply chain efficiencies. 
  2. UPS knew how to leverage new technology prior to its digital transformation, but their logistics and operations needed some revamping. In 2012, they set out to digitally overhaul this area of their business with two aims: speed up the delivery process and roll out real-time package tracking.

Notice how each company focuses on both optimization and innovation. This is key.

To be clear, optimization on its own can drive results. Just ask Hasbro and Unilever.

  • In 2012, the maker of the world’s most beloved childhood toys and games like Monopoly and Clue watched as cheaper and electronic alternatives devoured their market share. Taking a page out of the B2B handbook, they shifted their marketing strategy to target the key decision-makers: parents. By mining massive amounts of customer data, they optimized their digital media strategy with a more targeted approach resulting in a near $1.5B increase in revenue in eight years. 
  • Unilever started with margarine and soap products in the early 20th century before shifting to oils and fats and then to health and beauty a century later through countless acquisitions. Buying up companies has its benefits, but it can also weigh you down. So Unilever leaned on customer data to scale while remaining nimble. Instead of purchasing it from third-party market research firms as is common practice, they built their own database. The result was advertising campaigns with the same brand awareness impact at 20% of the cost and a 50% increase in the launch speed of new businesses. 

But the true digital transformation champions are those that innovate and respond to the customer’s ever-changing demands through a new tool, product, or even a brand new business.

  • Three years ago, CEMEX became the first cement company to build an end-to-end e-commerce platform. Born from a need to streamline complex workflows, deliveries, and purchases plus gain access to real-time data, CEMEX Go quickly grew to over 20,000 customers in 18 countries
  • Combining 500 brands operating in 50 countries with 27 different ERP systems into one centralized system meant one giant digital transformation undertaking for the world’s largest beer company, Anheuser-Busch InBev. The project seems to be on track (over 40% of decades’ worth of data has been transferred to the cloud as of last year), an impressive feat in its own right. But in 2015, they also launched a SaaS company, Bees, allowing over four million “mom and pop” retailers to order new inventory digitally. Small businesses weren’t the only winners—less trips for sales reps has meant more time to upsell new AB InBev products. 

When defining success for your digital transformation, keep in mind that triple-digit percentages may not just be impossible, but they may not be necessary to drive meaningful change. 

Digital transformations can pay dividends, but they’re not immune to the law of diminishing returns. It’s absolutely possible and not uncommon to overdo a digital transformation

Decide on your goals/metrics for each focus area 

Now it’s time to determine your key performance indicators (KPIs) or how you’ll measure the success of your digital transformation.

Paul Proctor, a VP Analyst at Gartner, suggests keeping it simple, developing between five and nine, and not using a hierarchy.

According to Proctor, the most effective metrics have these five qualities:

  • A clearly defined and defensible causal relationship to a business outcome
  • Work as a leading, not lagging, indicator
  • Address a specific, defined audience
  • Can be understood by a non-IT audience
  • Drive action when they change from green to yellow to red.

Clarity and a healthy dose of realism are critical at this stage as well. But I want to add another important component: staying in your own lane. 

It’s beneficial to objectively study other successful digital transformations (like we’re doing here), but it should be just that.

Seeing another company in your industry nail their digital transformation can be inspiring. Assuming you can replicate their success by just doing what they did, however, is dangerous.

What worked for one company, even if they’re a direct competitor, may not work for yours. 

After doing your homework, put your blinders on and keep your focus on your customers and employees.

Establish a timeline to measure ROI for each focus area/goal

What gets measured, gets managed. In order to effectively measure something, there must be parameters and consistency. 

It can be a fine line between patience and knowing when to cut your losses, especially when higher-ups are demanding results last week. 

That’s why it’s important to come up with agreed-upon deadlines ahead of time that answer the question: when do you need to see an ROI on your digital transformation to know if it was worth it?

Different objectives have different metrics, so they also need different time frames, even if all the digital transformation initiatives begin at the same time.

Consider a real estate company doing a basic digital transformation. We’ll use an SMB to keep the numbers simple, but the principle is the same for all businesses regardless of their size. 

After years of relying on word of mouth, a real estate company with ten employees is ready to clean up its processes and scale by leveraging SaaS products (like a CRM) and building an online presence (optimized website, landing pages, organic and ads, social media, etc.).

Top Tip: Thinking about a digital transformation for your real estate company? Learn more about how investing in one can expand your lead generation 🐼

Here’s a quick breakdown of their potential costs:

SEO traction in a competitive niche can take years, but smaller businesses may not have that kind of time. A 3-month deadline for impactful results from SEO would be shooting yourself in the foot, whereas that’s about how long it takes to start seeing results from Google Ads, for example.

To split the difference, let’s say this company set the deadline to see an ROI of 18 months after breaking ground. 

That means, after a year and a half, the above efforts would need to bring in leads valued at $178,250 or above:

$14,000 (initial one-time investment) + $109,500 (monthly investment x 18) = $178,250

In a perfect world, the story would end there. Except not all leads are created equal. A high-value lead that’s not a fit is not as valuable as a lower-value one that is. 

In this instance, and for most digital transformations, establishing “check-in” deadlines in addition to the main one to assess the quality of the leads would be prudent.

Allow for hiccups

Ambitious projects usually take longer than expected. The issue is in the expectations, not the inevitable bumps in the road. 

Add in buffers for things like learning a new project management tool, onboarding a new hire, testing a new website for bugs prevents minor issues from becoming roadblocks to meeting deadlines to avoid feeling blindsided by events that are par for the course.

Additionally, take the time to keep track of your processes in company-wide documentation, even if they are always evolving (thank you, Airtable), to keep everyone on the same page, get new teammates up to speed, and avoid reinventing the wheel.

This practice packs the added benefit of revealing gaps, bottlenecks, and inefficiencies that you wouldn’t see otherwise.

Continuously experiment across ROI goals & metrics

Digital transformations aren’t linear. There can be setbacks and detours that may look like an absence of progress when really it’s just part of the process. 

Hitting the sweet spot between patience and staying true to your pre-determined deadlines while not being afraid to try something new is a byproduct of clear and realistic KPIs and investing in a well-seasoned team.

They also don’t happen in a vacuum. Agility, humility, and remaining open to feedback and new data from other departments, customers, or new developments within the industry while planning and during your digital transformation is imperative.

Tracking what you can’t measure (at least not completely)

Done right, you may end up with a strong ROI when it comes to the hard numbers and outcomes. 

But regardless of your opinion of what’s on the spreadsheet, it’s also important to keep tabs on your brand equity. 

What are people saying about your company when you’re not in the room? 

What are they saying about your competitors?

What aren’t people saying about you?

The world has moved online. Monitoring channels and discussion boards such as Reddit, Quora, and Glassdoor and social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter, conducting surveys, investing in focus groups, keeping an eye on search volume for your brand, and media mentions are helpful ways to answer these questions.

However, many conversations still happen where cookies, tracking pixels, or UTM tags can’t find them. Moreover, word of mouth is powerful.

That means you’ll have to make an effort to build relationships with customers and employees, develop ways to consistently source anecdotal data, and put the time in to analyze it. 

Many companies shy away from this type of qualitative data gathering because it’s hard and it takes time.

This is a mistake. If your company focuses mainly on quantitative ROI as a signifier of success or failure, your otherwise successful qualitative results that are adding value can get overlooked. Worse, management could pull the plug if they aren’t seeing traditional results fast enough. 

To ensure both quantitative and qualitative ROI is recorded, reported, and taken into consideration, track what you can’t measure alongside what you can, and make the case for both.

Key takeaways

Most digital transformations fail. But yours doesn’t have to. Take the time to establish well-defined objectives followed by clear ways to measure them that are tailored specifically to your business goals and tied to objectives. 

You will encounter obstacles, and new information will come to light that can impact the trajectory of your digital transformation. Make sure your project plans are flexible and generous enough to allow for these things.

While important for proving a business case and getting buy-in from leadership, relying solely on quantitative data to gauge success can backfire. Feedback from current and potential customers and employees can provide valuable real-time insight that numbers can’t communicate.

A foundation combining the right mix of people, tactics, and tools is a fundamental step toward digital maturity. And a mature digital customer experience will pay for itself many times over.


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Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

How The New York Times Recreated their Brand with Digital Transformation

The newspaper industry has been in a steady downward trend for decades now, but they faced their sharpest decline in 2020. It’s no surprise that print newspapers aren’t the household staple they used to be. 

Where readers once turned the thin pages of the latest issue over their morning coffee, they now get their daily news digest the way they get most other information—digitally. 

While many media companies have struggled to create a relevant, high-quality digital experience in the new business model, the New York Times continued to add paid subscribers to its online news product. They now have over 7.6 million digital subscribers.

In this article, I’ll walk you through how the New York Times has managed to cut through the noise and secure subscribers in a crowded media landscape. 

Table of contents

Proof that listening to the customer—and experimenting to find out what they want—pays off 

Transitioning a product to fit changing behaviors is challenging. Alongside the need for a shifting product, demands for top-tier standards also tend to increase. People still expect high-quality journalism; only, they want more of it. 

To create an effective digital strategy, the New York Times listened to the people who canceled their physical newspaper subscription in favor of solely consuming digital news. They also realized early on it wouldn’t be as simple as pasting their high-quality journalism onto a digital medium.

Of the transition to digital, former New York Times CEO Mark Thompson said

“The psychology inside the Times and other newspapers was that all you had to do was get a bigger audience and transfer the wonderful economics of print advertising to digital. I didn’t buy that. I think digital can be useful. I think it’s an important adjunct source of revenue. But I never thought it would save the Times. It had to be subscriptions.”

Understanding how to transfer paper-based readers over to digital subscribers would take a combination of listening to the customer, experimentation, and a willingness to iterate until they got it right. 

Leverage customer data

The Times uses data to understand why a person might come to their pages, how engaged they are once they arrive, and finally, their demographic profile. Based on this data, they then decide what actions they can take to create a meaningful experience for that person that eventually drives them to pay for a full-access subscription. 

I should also note that here, a subscription means paying to access different aspects of the New York Times content, whether that’s unlimited digital access to the times, digital access plus a print subscription, or add-ons such as the New York Times cooking app (more on that later). 

Getting to know their customers was step one to creating a digital media platform that could evolve with, and for, its audience. One period that proved particularly helpful in enabling the Times to get to know their audience was the very traffic-heavy first quarter of 2017. This increase was a result of the 2016 presidential election and Trump’s inauguration. 

Even since then, Thompson said the Times has become increasingly expert at understanding its subscribers at every stage of the marketing cycle, including retention and churn. He describes the entire organization as focused on the customer journey and the customers’ fundamental experience of Times journalism. 

By understanding where people spend time and how they navigate the site, you can begin to understand what your customer values and what makes them tick, both critical for figuring out what might make them become paying subscribers. You can get a basic understanding of user behavior in Google Analytics and then go deeper based on your findings. 

Top Tip: Customer loyalty is crucial to profitability and sustained growth. Here’s how to use customer intelligence to turn data into actionable insights 🐼

Experiment, analyze, iterate

Gaining digital subscribers was always going to look different from the tactics for gaining print subscribers. Fortunately, there are many more opportunities to grab the attention of many different types of people. The caveat to the wealth of access to people online is knowing how to even begin identifying who these people are and what they want from your brand or platform. 

Increased experimentation with product development has been pivotal to the New York Times’ digital transformation success (and new subscriptions). 

At the helm of new product development is Times’ internal team: Beta. Beta is responsible for now well-known features like the NYTimes Crossword, the Times’ real estate app, and NYT Cooking (more on that later). 

It’s Beta’s job to take the Times’ already excellent journalism and turn it into a digital experience that solves a specific reader problem. From helping people figure out what to eat for dinner to how to exercise and where to live, Beta helps make the Times a daily, trusted destination for its readers.

It’s also Beta’s job to understand where to allocate resources. If something isn’t performing (for example, NYT Opinion which failed to attract a sizable paying audience), it’s shuttered. For every failed Times product, there’s a slam dunk. The Cooking newsletter has over 600,000 subscribers and its weekday edition has a 50% open rate. 

Top Tip: In order to analyze and iterate, you’ll need data. Here’s our guide to digital analytics 🐼

Building and acquiring new products

One example is the Times’ cooking site and app. You’ve likely come into contact with it through one viral recipe or another. To access their comprehensive list of thousands of unique recipes, you’ll have to purchase a subscription: $5 per month or $40 annually. The product (including an app) has attracted over five million monthly users since 2014.

In addition to creating new products (other examples include podcasts like the highly popular The Daily and products like the crossword app), the Times has also acquired several external products—and their users. In 2016, the Times acquired Wirecutter, a product recommendation service, and it generates digital revenue through both affiliate links and a paid subscription version. 

Most recently (and perhaps most notably), the Times acquired global puzzle sensation, Wordle.

Players get six chances per day to guess a five-letter word. It may sound simple, but the Times knew it would appeal to its digital audience.

While the player count sat at an unimpressive 90 in November of 2021, it is now estimated that 14% of US adults are logging in daily.

Addressing the acquisition in a recent statement, the Times noted it “remains focused on becoming the essential subscription for every English-speaking person seeking to understand and engage with the world”, supporting the company’s “quest to increase digital subscriptions to 10 million by 2025”.

According to Thompson, building and acquiring different products over the last several years was highly strategic. He said, “It was about trying to get a conveyor belt of improvements and ideas and things to develop and optimize that was constantly being added to—and that we were constantly exploiting.” 

Not every new product involves creating or buying an entire app. The Times has also experimented with creating content in different formats, like interactive long-form articles and digital advertising efforts like sponsored articles. These efforts may not correlate directly to subscription revenue but add to the high-quality experience someone may come to expect from the Times, which could lead them to become a new subscriber.

Testing different channels 

As mentioned, one of the new products the Times began testing in the past five or so years is podcasting. The end goal of any new channel is ultimately to increase digital subscriptions. But there are many different ways the Times can introduce itself to a potential subscriber. 

For example, someone may come across The Daily by browsing top podcast recommendations. After listening, they may be more likely to turn to the Times for other news, putting them in the top of the Times’ marketing funnel. Additionally, podcasts feature ads, so this channel is also a means of increasing and diversifying advertising revenue. 

Other channels the Times has tested include social media, like the Snapchat Discover feature and Facebook Instant articles, as well as 360 videos, virtual reality, and the popular messaging app, WeChat

Empowering the team to make decisions

Not every team will be able to build and buy products at the scale or speed of the Times. A takeaway most teams can relate to is that it’s important to give autonomy to team members outside of the boardroom to move quickly. 

Thompson said, “We moved to a matrix structure where the team leaders—often very young, late 20s, early 30s—have power over the product and tech road maps and can make decisions based on what they learn from the testing-and-learning platforms, without regard to senior leadership.”

By giving agency to up-and-coming decision-makers, the Times could test, gain insights, and pivot or scale rapidly. 

The importance of digital-first leadership

To accelerate digital transformation, it’s important to have the whole team on board—starting with leadership. While Thompson was replaced as CEO in 2020 by Meredith Kopit Levien, he was brought on board as president and CEO of the New York Times Company in 2012 to figure out how the Times could succeed in a digital-first world. 

Top Tip: The pressure is on for businesses to digitally transform. Here’s how to accelerate the process 🐼

Right away, Thompson and executive editor Dean Baquet saw an enormous opportunity in a digital-first newsroom, as well as experimenting until they got it right. 

Getting the rest of the leadership and stakeholder team on board took time. Thompson describes six difficult months of debating, but eventually, the right people were in place, and stakeholders bought into the strategy. 

The Times created a 14-person executive committee, one of whom (Roland Caputo) was tasked with keeping print on track. The other 13 (including EVP, Product and Technology, and Editor for Innovation and Strategy) have been assigned to think primarily about digital.

Another notable digital move came in 2015. “Project 2020” was a plan put in place to emphasize using innovative, high-quality digital content to attract and retain subscribers and double digital revenue to “at least $800 million” by the end of 2020 (a goal they surpassed in 2019).

Speaking on Project 2020’s digital goals, Baquet wrote, “Make no mistake, this is the only way to protect our journalistic ambitions. To do nothing, or to be timid in imagining the future, would mean being left behind.”

The Times’ focus on subscribers emerges from a universal challenge facing modern media: the weakness in the markets for print advertising and traditional forms of digital-display advertising. 

By focusing on subscribers, The Times also maintains a stronger advertising business than competitors. Advertisers crave engagement—readers who linger on content and who return repeatedly.

Thanks to their interactive graphics, virtual reality and Snapchat Discovery features, and Emmy-winning videos that redefine storytelling, The Times attracts an audience that advertisers want to reach.

Top Tip: If Thompson’s early struggle resonates, we wrote a whole article about how to get boardroom buy-in for your digital maturity initiatives 🐼

Reduce silos and get buy-in from the entire team

Baquet, who was managing editor before becoming executive editor, brought an enormous cultural change to the Times. He empowered conversation and collaboration between the newsroom and business departments of the company, with the teams now working side-by-side.

While this was a huge change for previously siloed departments, Thompson describes how Baquet had trust and buy-in because of his traditional news background. A former investigative journalist and experienced editor, Baquet is a “newsman down to his fingertips and is trusted by everyone because of that,” according to Thompson. 

Even with his traditional newsroom background, Baquet gave his blessing to radical digital change. But because of this very same traditional background, people trusted him not to compromise the integrity of the content or journalism in favor of digital growth. 

The role Baquet played in the internal buy-in is an important lesson: having a change leader like Baquet, who is both a trusted industry expert and open to radical digital change, helped create a path forward for the entire Times team. 

Transforming tools and aligning teams

Creating a cross-platform experience requires a lot of tools and often a complete rehaul of your tech stack. This isn’t a change that can happen overnight, and it’s important to plan for what you’ll need as well as rank in order of urgency. 

Top Tip: Building a digital roadmap that shows objectives, a timeline, and resources needed to achieve each goal will help you get organized 🐼

The Times has allocated a third of its budget to restructuring its data architecture and aligning teams on the proposed changes. This investment has gone into modernizing and integrating its data systems to enable the data-driven decision-making discussed above, and also machine learning capabilities. In today’s media and technology landscape, people expect personalization. We log onto Netflix and see shows recommended just for us, and we expect the same when we read the news. 

Similarly, the Times newsroom team decides which information should be displayed on their homepage or in push notifications using data architecture. The data team builds tools that help the newsroom understand a user’s behavior. Then, the newsroom can deliver the right messaging at the right time. 

The Times can also use data to personalize a reader’s experience. Leveraging behavioral analytics, the team can deliver relevant, fresh content or target them with the right messaging for the best subscription package for that reader. 

When it comes to teams, the Times has not only reduced silos but sought multidimensional hires who understand both great journalism and great technology. The Times boasted in 2017 that “no other newsroom in the world has more journalists who can code.” These are undoubtedly more difficult hires to make, but someone who can write a great piece and then code and publish it makes the entire operation significantly more agile. 

Assess your current team to determine where people’s primary and secondary talents lie. Understanding where and how you can lean on team members—and where they want to boost their own skills—will be mutually beneficial and help expedite your digital maturation process. 

Key takeaways

When print subscriptions became all but obsolete, media companies faced an uphill battle—one which the New York Times is winning. By rigorously analyzing customer data, the team can make educated attempts to deliver content their readers will love. That framework allowed them to create momentum to keep them moving in the right direction.

This process has worked because of rapid experimentation and team members with agency and autonomy over their products.

Also critical to the Times’ success is a leadership team that fully believes in their digital-first strategy, and that content quality need not be compromised for profitability. 

The Times put in the resources to get the right tools, technology, and team in place to create a superior digital experience for their audience. With such a strong foundation, they were able to build something that empowered their growth into digital maturity.


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Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

How to Build and Structure a Digital Transformation Team

There’s no question that the pandemic has supercharged the speed of work and adoption of cloud-based and remote work solutions. Now, organizations are looking to optimize their remote-enabling tech stack and processes.

From the consumer side, the race is on to enhance digital offerings and platforms as more and more companies pursue five-star customer experiences (both in-store and online).

To enable these improved experiences, and succeed in today’s business landscape, you need to set your team up with the right tools, skills, and roles.

In this article, I’ll explore how to set your team up for a successful digital transformation. 

Top Tip: As a marketing leader, you’re best positioned to get key stakeholders on board with your digital transformation. Check out our blog to learn how to get boardroom buy-in for your digital maturity initiatives 🐼

Table of contents 

  • First, take stock of what (and who) you have
  • Key roles to consider when building your digital transformation team
  • Once your team is structured, start planning your digital roadmap
  • Wrapping up

First, take stock of what (and who) you have

Before undertaking a project with the scale and magnitude of a digital transformation, it’s important to understand your current business landscape, what has to change, and why. 

Start by evaluating your current team members and their skills. Decide whether you would benefit from external help (new hires) or if you can work with the talent you have and swap roles around where necessary. 

For example, you may want to prioritize user experience on your website as you deal with a high volume of traffic. However, you may only have one person, or a very small team, in a UX role. If the goal is a complete digital transformation, you may need to hire additional team members or find an agency to supplement your current team. Don’t just assume what is needed; speak with this person or team to find out what gaps exist in their department. 

Depending on your foundational team and end goals, your team may change drastically. This can disrupt your company culture, so it’s important to make changes thoughtfully and map all changes toward business goals.

Once you’ve identified those gaps, talk to the department to find out how you can first fill them with internal resources. Ask each department to make a list of both necessary and nice-to-have upgrades. You can also ask if any of your current staff would be happy to fill these roles if developed in-house before hiring out to an agency. 

You’ll likely need a project manager to navigate these discussions. Taking stock across teams and determining what you need is intense and demands a lot of attention. A person or team who can navigate all of the moving pieces will be invaluable as you do your research and create your digital transformation roadmap. Going back to the UX example, consider the time needed just to find, track, and interview multiple contractors and agencies.

Top Tip: Target ceased all IT outsourcing and invested in their internal teams during their digital transformation. Higher wages, training schemes, and agile scheduling have since worked wonders for their talent pool. Learn how Target increased their stock price by 50% with a digital transformation strategy 🐼

Key roles to consider when building your digital transformation team

Once you’ve assessed your existing people and skillsets, it’s time to start thinking about expanding your digital arsenal. Digital transformation won’t happen overnight, so think through which role (or roles) you’ll need in place immediately and which can wait until later on down the road. 

Here are some roles you may want to think about, as well as how each contributes to a digital transformation strategy. 

Chief digital officer (CDO)

As you begin your organization’s digital transformation, you’ll want to have a chief digital officer. Your chief digital officer will work closely with your chief of data (more on this role later), using data to drive growth and make informed decisions on new digital products, platforms, and services. 

The chief digital officer will lead the charge on implementing digital upgrades that will help transform your organization to digital-first. This role will also be crucial for bringing updates and obtaining buy-in from the boardroom, acting as the bridge that brings everyday activities to executives whose focus may be elsewhere. 

Chief information officer (CIO)

Your CIO will serve as the executive connector between business goals from the C-suite and the IT innovations necessary to implement technological developments and updates. This role approaches everything from the technical perspective, accelerating the momentum of the transformation.

Because both CDO and CIO roles are essential to the changing business landscape and evolving company culture, some organizations may have a CIO concurrently serving as the CDO.  

Enterprise data architect (Chief of Data)

Perhaps the most critical role that your organization may not have before pursuing a digital transformation is chief of data. This executive-level leader is responsible for managing, gathering, analyzing, and interpreting data across the business. Depending on your organizational needs and structure, this role may include the duties of a chief data officer.

Data will be critical throughout your digital transformation. The person in this role will use data gathered from your CDP to inform early decisions and provide evidence of success to key stakeholders. So, it’s important to make sure this person is qualified and in place from the start of your digital transformation.  

Business processes expert

One of the newer roles to enter the digital transformation landscape is the business processes expert. This role is in high demand as it requires both business savvy and a deep understanding of the technological landscape. 

A business processes expert should understand your business’s current workflow and identify where processes need to be optimized to enable a digital-forward approach. They may recommend leveraging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation to catalyze workflows for your organization’s new digital strategy. 

Your business may handle large volumes of customer data, such as purchase and contact history. A business processes expert will likely enlist the help of a customer relationship management (CRM) platform to enable quick access to actionable insights and decision-informing data. If you run an online store, you’ll be able to spot popular products and buying patterns that can help fuel your marketing efforts. 

Security and compliance specialist

While making big changes to a business strategy involving data collection and analysis, it’s critical to ensure you adhere to security and compliance protocols. A security and compliance specialist will be responsible for the security and privacy strategy, ensuring data use meets all legal, privacy, and governmental requirements. 

They’ll also protect your company from data breaches and security threats. They may, for example, host a live anti-fraud and anti-smishing session for employees and teach them to recognize scams when they come in.

Project evangelists

While this may not be a role you hire for, project evangelists are critical to the internal buy-in of digital transformation. Ensuring that team members are bought into a digital-first strategy is crucial, especially at the leadership level. Project evangelists embedded within your organizational structure will increase adoption of and enthusiasm for your business transformation journey. 

Consider adding digital training to leadership development initiatives, and be transparent around the “why” behind digital transformation projects. Your team must understand the importance of the digital experience for today’s consumers and how it impacts broader business goals. Project evangelists will help this happen faster. 

You may want to select a project evangelist from within each team and decide on a cadence for updating them on your digital roadmap. Each evangelist can then provide updates to their teams in a way that is relevant to their roles and functionality.

Change leader

Like your project evangelists, a change leader helps your broader team see that a digital transformation will positively impact the company. When both culture change and changing business models are occurring simultaneously, it’s important to have a change leader who consistently highlights and proves the positive impact of digital transformation. 

Digital changes impact both personnel (e.g., reducing workload) and business performance, so having someone champion these positive changes is important for digital transformation success.  

Consider how and when the change leader will communicate with the broader team. Perhaps they write a monthly internal newsletter with updates or speak at all-hands meetings. The change leader should also help the company celebrate wins to establish a culture of positivity around digital transformation. 

Financial analyst

It’s more important than ever that finance works cross-functionally when it comes to a successful digital transformation. By partnering with more technical teams, a financial analyst can help evaluate the costs of new technologies and bring risk management awareness to strategy discussions. 

A financial analyst will help evaluate and track different tools from an ROI perspective. While there are other perspectives to consider, having someone look closely at cash flow is an important piece of the greater digital roadmap puzzle. 

Cloud architect

Once you have your digital transformation strategy in place, you need people who can execute it and bring it to life. One such function will fall to cloud architects: IT specialists who can develop, implement, and maintain the cloud strategies specific to your new operating model. Because businesses will continue moving applications to both public and private clouds, an ideal candidate will have experience that spans various elements of IT and is familiar with emerging cloud-native technologies. 

UX/UI expert

While the roles mentioned above are crucial to the internal team structure, a UX/UI expert creates your end-user experience. This role tends to be thought of as a “nice to have,” but in today’s customer-centric world, it’s a “must-have.” 

By understanding the business strategy and relevant data, this person or team will create user-centered platforms through which your customer interacts with your brand. Without this role, you could end up with great tech that no one uses because it isn’t optimized for the customer (we’ve seen this time and again). When this happens, ROI on your tech investment is painfully slow.

From the user journey on your website to social media and email, this team focuses on creating a cohesive, intuitive omnichannel experience that will continue to evolve based on data and customer feedback. 

Top Tip: Your UX expert will be a key player when delivering a stellar digital experience to your customers. Learn more about how to create an exceptional digital experience in 2022 🐼 

Digital experience optimization expert

You’ll also want to add at least one person to your team (or train existing team members) to focus on optimization and experimentation. The digital transformation will be ongoing and need constant attention for efforts to keep delivering value. 

This role will measure the customer experience (CX) and iterate improvements. If the right foundation of technology and tactics are in place, you can establish a framework of analysis and experimentation that continuously tests and optimizes this experience. With this in your back pocket, you can drive success despite marketplace disruption.

Once your team is structured, start planning your digital roadmap

Once you have the right team in place, as well as boardroom approval, it’s time to think about the next phase of your business transformation. Next up: planning your digital roadmap. 

Once leadership is on board, and a strategy is in place, it’s time to work toward cross-functional buy-in across the organization. Be fully transparent about goals and guidelines and be open to suggestions. 

If your data isn’t already centralized, different teams will have insights into various aspects of your organization. Getting input from across the organization can help fill in information gaps you may not even know you had. 

Your roadmap will outline objectives and deadlines, as well as people and teams responsible for executing and approving items. Consider your digital roadmap a living, breathing document and provide opportunities for team members to share ideas, concerns, and even frustrations. 

Here are a few ideas for mapping out your digital transformation objectives and communicating them. 

Top Tip: A digital transformation roadmap is the starting point for a team to get aligned on their goals (as well as the actionable ways they plan to achieve them). Learn how to create a digital transformation roadmap 🐼 

Start by breaking down big goals

You will need to meet many smaller goals and objectives before your team ultimately crosses the finish line. To the best of your ability and with the information you have today, start to break your big goals down, bit by bit, and team by team. Create objectives and identify the projects, tasks, and people that ladder up to them, including timelines for each. 

For example, one piece of your digital transformation could be developing a more personalized customer experience. Even this is a hefty goal; one sub-project might be creating a tailored rewards program, another a more technical cookies experience for tracking customer preferences. Work with leadership to determine how specific you want each breakdown to be.  

Get alignment by focusing on the customer (and the data)

Uncertainty can be scary, but if there’s one thing everyone in your organization will align on, it’s the importance of a positive customer experience. 

We live in a digital-first world, and customers are used to a personalized, intuitive, and simple experience. If they can’t get that from your company, they will look elsewhere. With this idea as the cornerstone of your digital transformation narrative, it will be easier to align skeptics toward your emphasis on digital business. 

Sharing data and metrics will also help get—and keep—the team on board. Sharing how a particular customer journey optimization strategy resulted in increased revenue, or how a machine learning recommendation engine increased engagement, will be invaluable in proving the competitive advantage of your digital transformation.  

Decide on how frequently you’ll update the broader team on the roadmap and who will be responsible for its project management. 

Create and maintain a collaborative, cross-functional environment

With all the right people in the right roles, the next step toward ensuring they have what they need to succeed together is a working environment that encourages collaboration and reduces silos. 

Here are some proactive ways to approach this:

  • Think through which teams need access to specific data. How frequently and transparently will leadership provide updates? People must know what to expect and when to expect it, so everyone is informed about the updates they need to do their jobs effectively.
  • Outline communication channels and frequency between teams. Whether it’s a Slack channel, a weekly meeting, a daily standup, an email alias, or a dashboard you can refresh every few seconds, or likely some combination of all of the above, consider how (and with whom) project communication will occur. 
  • Create space for friction and dissent. While a digital transformation is exciting, it’s a massive undertaking and will create organizational and cultural changes. Some team members may welcome change more than others, and some changes may elicit frustration. 

Create a Q and A once a month specifically for employees to voice anonymous concerns or ask the CDO or leadership team questions. You could also assign a member of the people team (ideally, one who is also a project evangelist) to host a retrospective meeting, where people can vent or share ideas about improving the process for the next project. Dissent will occur, but it doesn’t need to send shockwaves through your organization. Plan and create outlets for it proactively.

Know that there will be detours

With different plans in place for both sharing and receiving feedback, along with customer data and stakeholder input, your roadmap is bound to change. Work to create an agile environment where people feel comfortable experimenting and sharing their findings. 

Top Tip: COVID-19 has brought about 10 years’ worth of change in 14 months, so the pressure on businesses to digitally transform has skyrocketed. Learn how to accelerate your digital transformation process 🐼

Key takeaways

To maintain a competitive advantage in today’s digital-first world, many organizations will need a digital transformation. Just as the same strategies won’t always translate from analog to digital, it’s likely your team will also need to change. 

By first figuring out the skill sets you do have, you can begin to determine what’s missing and what hires you need to make. With the right team in place, you can begin your journey toward a successful digital transformation. 

Clear communication, goals, metrics, and a digital-first culture will help get buy-in. A digital transformation is a huge team effort, so company culture and processes will enable effective collaboration as much as possible.


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Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

How Target Increased Their Stock Price by 50% with a Digital Transformation Strategy

Today, Target is both a household name and a trusted destination for millions of American shoppers.

But, back in 2013, a serious, widespread data breach compromised the personal and payment information of upwards of 110 million Target customers. The breach resulted in a 40% drop in profits for that year. 

This nightmare scenario proved pivotal, as it inspired Target to invest in their digital future. With the start of the pandemic in 2020, they shifted gears once again, reinvesting in curb-side pickup and same day delivery projects they kicked off in 2017. 

Let this serve as a reminder to any retailer, large or small, that there’s always room to pivot and make a comeback. But critically, why wait for a disaster when you can proactively stay ahead of one? That’s why it’s so important to begin developing a framework for a modern digital customer experience (DCX) before something bad, like Target’s data breach, happens to you.

In this article, I’ll share examples of Target’s digital strategy—from centering the customer experience to personalized messaging and pandemic pivoting—that are bound to inspire any customer-centric marketing team looking to level up their DCX.

Top Tip: A successful digital transformation needs a starting point so that teams are aligned on actionable strategies and desired outcomes. Learn how to create a digital transformation roadmap 🐼

Table of contents

Pivoting with the pandemic

Last year, due to the pandemic, a record 12,200 stores closed, according to commercial real estate firm CoStar Group. Those who survived and thrived strategically and quickly pivoted to serve a consumer not keen on leaving their home. 

In other words, they went through a digital transformation. A digital transformation allows brands to serve customers personalized, intuitive, and seamless digital experiences. Even when not on their computer (for example, when a customer is picking up an online order at a physical Target store), the customer’s omnichannel experience is easy and efficient.

Target’s digital transformation in particular allowed them to serve their customers sensitively, efficiently, and strategically. 

Here’s an example of how Target tailored its digital experience to seamlessly fit the circumstances many retailers were struggling to navigate at the start of the pandemic:

screenshot target digital transformation banner

This friendly and inviting banner shows customers that it’s still as easy as ever for them to shop (and follow pandemic guidelines) at Target. Once they find their item(s), they can choose between three methods for receiving their order: Pickup, Delivery, or Drive Up. 

To leverage Drive Up, or the ability to place an order, drive to Target, and have your items delivered to your car, customers need to download the Target app. Target was incredibly clever when making this decision, as it allows them to boost app downloads, collect customer data, and thus provide highly personalized and relevant experiences and offers. 

Of course, it’s not enough just to encourage customers to download your app; you need to give them a reason why. By downloading the app, users gain access to app-only features, such as the ability to apply your savings to your purchases when you pay through the app, and, of course, the option to order with Drive Up, use real-time check-in, and sit back and wait for your items to come to you.

screenshot banner to encourage customers to download the target app

Critical to Target’s (and any) digital transformation is understanding the customer journey at every stage. It’s also crucial to be able to adapt to changes in the customer journey as new circumstances arise. 

With the pandemic, more customers were hesitant to shop in-store. Target needed to immediately adapt and include options that enabled customers to shop easily and efficiently without entering a physical storefront. 

Of course, these changes would be impossible to implement overnight. Because of Target’s 2013 data breach and subsequent dedication to its omnichannel experience and software development, much of the infrastructure was in place to make it simple for shoppers to buy online or pick up in person. Nevertheless, their commendable emphasis on the customer journey allowed them to quickly react when that journey drastically changed. 

Top Tip: The modern customer’s attention is split in so many directions, so to deliver the best results, you need to optimize each touchpoint of the digital experience. Learn how to create an exceptional digital experience in 2021 🐼

What has driven Target’s success so far?

As mentioned, Target’s success began before its pandemic pivot. It’s important to note that, especially after the data breach, Target could no longer afford to wait to digitally transform, despite the investment needed. 

But let Target serve as a cautionary tale—not everyone would survive a catastrophic event like Target’s data breach, let alone thrive after one. For this reason, we encourage businesses to think of digital transformation as foundational to a successful future, rather than a “nice to have.”

Target needed to move forward in maturing digitally by developing a framework for a modern digital customer experience. Many brands can relate to feeling limited by an existing infrastructure, not to mention the sticker shock executives may feel when they understand the time and money necessary to rebuild it. But if Target shows us anything, it’s that these investments can, and likely will, pay dividends in your future success. 

Let’s take a look at just what has driven Target’s success to date. 

Top Tip: Investing in your digital infrastructure requires approval from all of your stakeholders. Learn how to get boardroom buy-in for your digital maturity initiatives 🐼

Investing in employees 

Target brought its IT work back in-house after recognizing that outsourced IT projects were costing them a fortune, often ran late, and were of poor quality. 

Additionally, Target provides higher wages and better training than competitors. They raised their starting wages three times in three years, expanded family-focused benefits, invested heavily in training and career-building programs and offer agile scheduling to fit individual needs.

The long-term vision here is to be a sought-after employer, and therefore have more demand for positions so they can select and hire the best talent. This in turn has a direct impact on customers, as happier employees are often highly motivated to provide a positive customer experience.

Supply chain optimization and operations

To offset the cost of higher employee wages and better training, Target increased efficiencies throughout their supply chain. By supporting the warehouse team with robotics and artificial intelligence used to sort millions of products by store and aisle, Forbes reports that this enabled stores to avoid “out-of-stock” situations. 

With machines focused on sorting, humans have time to do what they’re best at—creating connections with customers and providing an outstanding experience. 

Another operational strategy Target has executed well is small store formats. You may have shopped in a City Target, which is often smaller and stocks only items deemed essential to urban life. 

Similarly, in 2018, Target opened 10 “Life on Campus” small-format stores near college campuses. According to Target, their team tailors each store to the needs of its surrounding community

Scott Timpani, store team leader at Target’s University Center, University of California Irvine location, explains one example:

“During the school year, about 10,000 students each day cross a pedestrian bridge that starts on campus and ends a few steps from our back entrance. Knowing these guests are often heading to class or simply in a hurry, we have four self-checkout kiosks next to the doors so they can quickly complete purchases and be on their way. And for guests who have more time to spend, we’ve created a cozy seating area near Starbucks complete with outlets for charging their devices.”

Once again, Target shows the importance of deeply understanding the customer journey. And it’s a smart tactic—by embracing young adults away from home for the first time and giving them the items they need, when and how they need them, they’re working to create life-long loyal customers. 

Vendor collaboration and strategic partnerships

Target has done an amazing job of introducing its customers to new products thanks to partnering with direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands. Many of these smaller brands, such as dog wellness startup Jinx, come with loyal followings. Jinx’s loyal customers get to shop their favorite items with ease at Target, and both brands get to grow awareness by expanding into new markets. 

In addition to working with thoughtful and strategic vendors, Target focuses on customer feedback both in the design process and in selecting brands to work with. Through focus groups and creative apps, the design team can build products and initiatives that delight customers while fueling growth and revenue. 

Another strategic partnership that has fueled growth at Target is Shipt, which the retailer acquired in 2017 for $550 million. The purchase of this online same-day delivery platform accounted for 80% of Target’s digital growth in Q4 2019. Because of Target’s newly optimized IT team, the integration of the technology was efficient and able to show results and sales growth right away. 


With 1,900 stores nationwide, there is a Target store within 10 miles of the vast majority of the US population. This investment in physical stores gives Target a competitive advantage over retailers focusing either solely on a digital strategy or that don’t have many brick and mortar locations.

As with previously mentioned City Target and Life on Campus stores, not only is nearly every American located near a Target, but many are conveniently located to stores relevant to their needs. 

screenshot target small format stores near college campuses map

Target makes it easy to be a loyal customer

Through rewards, easy navigation of top discounts, and special offers, Target’s digital channels make it easy to become a loyal customer. 

How it works: Target Circle and RedCard Exclusives 

Just like Target unlocks curbside pickup when you download the app, customers must first sign up for a account before they’re able to join Target Circle. The loyalty program features 1% earnings, exclusive deals, community support, and a birthday gift for members. 

screenshot target app target circle benefits module user interface

The circle membership feels almost gamified, with chances to earn at nearly every touchpoint. Members can earn points by scanning their mobile number in store, shopping with their account, linking their RedCard, or scanning a Target receipt. 

In addition to Target Circle, Target has its own credit card, with its own set of benefits (of course, you get the most benefits when you have both). 

Your RedCard provides you with a 5% discount every time you shop at Target (including in-store Starbucks locations), free shipping, even more exclusive offers, and an additional 30 days for returns. 

How it shows up

This sizable, proudly displayed focus on customer loyalty, as well as gifts and rewards, would be enticing for just about any shopper who regularly shops at Target (or who doesn’t…yet!). 

screenshot everyday redcard benefits landing page

On all of its digital channels (including its e-commerce site, email, and social media), Target makes it easy both to identify what there is for loyal customers to gain, as well as join in and reap the benefits. 

Additionally, you may notice that all of Target’s messaging caters to the customer. This may sound obvious, but as marketers, we know it’s always more important to tout the benefits over the features. Target doesn’t just tell us why we should become loyal customers, it shows us time and again how becoming a loyal Target shopper will benefit our lives. 

On the RedCard landing page, they feature two common pain points that customers face: feeling overwhelmed by how much they spend on groceries per year, and being hit with tons of expenses for a newborn:

screenshot redcard landing page customer pain points

By stating exactly how much money you can save in those two scenarios with their RedCard, customers feel like their experiences are taken into account. They feel understood, relieved, and ready to save.

What’s next for America’s favorite big box retailer?

Target has a lot of momentum, and I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon. I mentioned earlier how robots have enabled faster picking and packing, keeping shelves stocked and employees focused on the customer. But that’s not the only way robotics and machine learning (ML) will impact the brand’s bottom line in the future.

Using predictive analytics, Target is able to forecast demand and in-store traffic. As Target CIO Mike McNamara explained to diginomica, “We’ve always had reasonable statistical models in the past, but ML just allows us to become increasingly sophisticated. I don’t know an exact number, but probably about 20% of our replenishment products are through some new ML models that we’ve created.”

In addition to artificial intelligence, customers may soon be receiving their Target orders even faster. Chief Operating Officer John Mulligan recently announced that new distribution centers will be constructed on each US coast in 2022. 

Key takeaways

Target has made an impressive amount of progress in the eight years since its security breach. Not only did it overcome every retailer’s worst nightmare, but Target used it as a catalyst for digital transformation and omnichannel success that not even a global pandemic could shake. 

In maintaining a customer first approach to its entire omnichannel experience, Target has excelled at gaining and retaining customer loyalty. I’m excited to see what’s next for the retailer, and I believe there’s much for our customers to learn from Target’s past success, as well as what the future holds. 

Whether your company is looking to improve digital sales or automation, building a roadmap, updating your business model, or striving for optimization or differentiation in a different way, there’s something Target can teach just about every retail business.


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Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

A Complete Guide to Advertising Analytics

Advertising analytics have changed right alongside advertising mediums. And yet, many businesses are leaving money on the table by using outdated ways of measuring success.

So, how can marketers modernize their advertising analytics analysis to make changes where needed and remain competitive?

In this article, we’ll walk you through the basics of advertising analytics and how to leverage them as a key component of a modern marketing strategy. 

Table of contents

What is advertising analytics (and how it can help you improve results)

Advertising analytics refers to the data marketers collect specific to how their advertising performs across channels and campaigns. 

Advertising specifically refers to paid media and is different from earned or owned content, such as press, your website and blog, and social media. 

Because there will always be spend behind advertising (you can’t do it for free), it’s crucial to pay attention to how different ads perform. This may sound obvious, but it’s easy for marketing teams to get caught up in trends and a “what’s always worked for us” mentality. 

Let’s say a software company allocates a budget to Instagram ads, for example. While Instagram is a really effective place for some brands to spend money, when professionals are on this platform, it’s usually for personal reasons. 

Therefore, even if you’re targeting a professional marketer on Instagram with a highly relevant marketing analytics tool, they may not be in the right headspace to pay attention to something work-related. 

It’s important to test and learn what works best for your company’s product or service so you don’t have to spend more than is necessary on advertising. The goal is ultimately to increase conversion rates (and decrease spend) from your team’s paid media efforts. 

To help build a solid foundation for ad measurement, here are some advertising analytics terms you’ll want to understand and initially track.

Cost per action (CPA)

This refers to how much money it costs for a potential customer to complete your ad’s call to action. A good CPA maximizes profit; a bad CPA may cost as much as the product you’re selling. If it costs as much to produce the product as it does to get a customer to click on your “Buy now” button, your CPA is too high. 

Cost per action (CPA) is calculated as the cost divided by the number of actions being measured.

So if you spent $1,000 on an ad campaign and there were 25 actions taken on your ad, your CPA would be $40.

Return on ad spend (ROAS) 

Overall, how much return on investment (ROI) did you see from a given campaign or budget? This metric measures the amount of revenue earned for every dollar you spend on advertising. 

When calculating ROAS, you divide the total value of all conversions on the ad by the cost to run the ad. So, if you earned $200 on $20 of ad spend, your ROAS would be $10. 

Another way to look at it is for every dollar you spend on ads, you get $10 back.

Click-through rate (CTR)

This metric determines at what rate people are clicking through your ad. It can help determine the most effective messaging and is a great place to A/B test different messaging. 

For example, let’s say you test two types of messaging: one is a five-star review from another customer; the other is a 10% off discount. You may notice that the review gets much more attention than the discount, which can help your team lean into social-proof messaging. 

To calculate your CTR, divide the number of clicks that your ad receives divided by the number of times your ad is shown. In other words, clicks divided by impressions equals your CTR. You then multiply this number by 100 to get a percentage.

So, if you had 50 clicks and 1,000 impressions, your CTR would be 5%.

Cost per click (CPC)

This refers to how much you pay for every click on an ad. Depending on the platform you’re using, you may have an actual CPC, an average CPC, and a max CPC. This is because some ad platforms try to continually optimize your audience to bring down your cost (such as Facebook). 

An actual CPC is how much it is currently costing you per click. An average CPC is how much it’s costing you on average per click. And the max CPC is the maximum amount you’re willing to pay for a click (it’s something you decide before running the ad, and it tells the platform where the outer limit is).

To calculate your average CPC, divide the total cost of your clicks by the total number of clicks. So, if you spent $50 on ads and received 25 link clicks, your CPC is $2.

Cost per 1K impressions (CPM)

This one is a hot topic among marketers because you aren’t guaranteed clicks with CPM advertising. It can, however, help with brand awareness because it guarantees to at least show your ad to X number of thousands of people. 

Always keep in mind that while these metrics do have value, they should always be considered in the context of your overall business goals and the key performance indicators tied to those goals.

An excellent first step toward mastering advertising analytics is understanding what you’re looking for and determining what types of advertising data your team is already tracking. This is most easily done when your data is centralized. 

Get ahead by centralizing your marketing data

Most businesses need omnichannel marketing to thrive. Because of this, it’s easy for this data to live in silos. The first step toward getting your analytics in order is centralizing your advertising and marketing data.

Before implementing any new strategy—whether it’s paid, earned, or owned—we always recommend housing your data in one place to get more out of your analytics.

You may have data in separate analytics platforms like Google Analytics, within a mobile app, in your CRM, or other marketing platforms. For advertising specifically, this can get complicated when different teams are responsible for different budgets. 

For example, suppose your social media team handles paid social spend, a growth team is responsible for ads that appear on search engines, an SEO team bids on keywords, and a content team handles advertorials. 

Since advertising analytics are mostly quantitative, you’ll want each team to think through where that data lives and how it can be centralized. We recommend importing these data sets into a single data platform and then organize by campaign type, date, and channel or team.

There are several ways to do this. To begin with, you can use a comprehensive tracking convention for a tool like Google Analytics, or whatever web analytics platform you use. Then, you can move into using a tool like Salesforce’s Datorama to align data across multiple channels. You will eventually want to mature to the point where this data is being housed in a data warehouse, so you can analyze it in much more robust ways using tools like Tableau or Domo.

Once you can see the data side by side, you can begin to build synergy between channels, teams, and strategies. 

Top Tip: Wish your data could do more? Learn how to get greater intelligence from your marketing analytics 🐼

Understand omnichannel interplay by getting smart on attribution

Once your data is centralized, and analytics data is funneling into one location, you can attribute leads and sales to different marketing activities. 

More importantly, you will start to see and understand the interplay between them. You may even be surprised by the marketing performance of an activity or initiative you previously weren’t paying much attention to. Marketers often see this with offline campaigns because it’s typically much easier to perform data analysis when activities are all online. 

Let’s say you run an offline marketing campaign that includes impressions-based subway ads in New York City. While we know that it can be difficult to directly attribute offline impressions to revenue, you can look at what else is happening. 

You may notice a surge in organic searches within a 10-mile radius of the neighborhood where the ad ran. You may also notice a surge of new social media followers based in New York City or a jump in revenue out of New York. 

You can see how in this example, it’s important to not only track direct revenue but also the customer journey coming out of different marketing channels and initiatives. 

In summary, look at your campaign performance in aggregate. This is because the people visiting your website and following your brand on social media are now a part of your marketing funnel, and the goal is that they will eventually convert into paying customers. 

With this information, you may start a retargeting campaign or digital marketing campaign specifically to this new audience segment. Tracking advertising as a part of your overall marketing is important in understanding how all of the moving pieces come together. 

Optimize and refine your marketing strategy

With your analytics centralized and a clearer understanding of attribution, it’s time to optimize your marketing strategy based on your data. 

You can follow these five levels of ad optimization to make sure you’re running ads effectively.

Infographic showing the five levels of ad optimization

1. The functional level. Check your ads are running properly and make for a good user experience. At this stage, address basic functioning questions like: 

  • Does the creative match the copy?
  • Is the CTA button working?
  • When a lead clicks on the ad, does it route to the correct page? 

2. The accessible level. Make sure everyone in your audience can access your ads. At this stage, address issues like:

  • Are my ads responsive on mobile?
  • Is the page they route to responsive on mobile?
  • Is the copy in the creative legible for everyone?

3. The usable level. Ensure your ad delivers a positive user experience. Now that you have united your data, you are better positioned to analyze ads at these deeper levels of optimization. At this stage, ask questions like:

  • Is this ad relevant to the target audience? 
  • Is it non-intrusive (e.g., it doesn’t auto-play sound)?

4. The intuitive level. Check that your ads match the user journey stage. Make sure it’s using the right message at the right time for your buyers. This will depend on the type of ad you’re running (top-of-funnel, middle-of-funnel, or bottom-of-funnel). At this stage, ask questions like:

  • Does this ad incorporate the pain points my audience is feeling at this stage in their journey?
  • Does this ad use their words in the messaging (and not corporate-speak if you’re targeting non-corporate professionals, for example)?
  • Does this ad effectively capture the audience’s attention in the headline and creative?

5. The persuasive level. In the final level of optimization, you want to make sure your ad is doing its ultimate job: communicating your offer. At this stage, try to remove any remaining friction and ask questions like:

  • How can I make this ad more enticing?
  • What might be stopping the audience from clicking?
  • What might be stopping the audience from converting on the landing page?
  • Are there any critical benefits that we haven’t made obvious?

Once you’ve come up with some ideas for how to optimize your ads, you can begin to test iterations to see if they improve your KPIs.

“Business Wargaming” is a method that essentially stimulates different tactical, operational, and strategic decisions within your advertising landscape to see what might perform best, along with when and where. It gamifies the optimization process and lets you see advantages and disadvantages before making investments.

You may test different types of messaging within the same demographic or region, pitting strategies against each other and seeing which comes out on top. 

Having your data centralized will help your marketing team make better decisions regarding optimization and refining strategies. Those changes may mean updating messaging, shifting gears, or allocating time and resources somewhere else entirely, which we’ll get to next. 

Allocate budget and resources with confidence

In some ways, allocation is the fun part of advertising analytics. You’ve done your due diligence in getting organized, and now it’s time to spend your budget with confidence. 

Your marketing team and all relevant stakeholders should now be on board with your decision-making because they’ve had access to tests in real-time via your centralized marketing dashboard (i.e. where your data lives). When everyone has visibility into how previous ads have performed, it’s much easier—and requires much less convincing—to all get on the same page regarding future budget spend. 

Source: Salesforce

Having real-time access to advertising analytics also means your team should be willing and prepared to be agile and make updates to the plan as frequently as needed. 

For example, let’s say one of your digital advertising keyword campaigns is running perfectly until a competitor ups their bid for the same word. Or, maybe a current event happens within your industry, rendering your previously resonant messaging irrelevant or even offensive. 

While the numbers can tell marketers a large part of the story, we still need humans—with all the emotional intelligence, nuance, and context they bring—to help interpret the data and tweak plans accordingly. 

Especially if you’re at a large company, you may have so much data that human interpretation becomes increasingly difficult. Larger companies may benefit from using predictive analytics to make intelligent predictions based on patterns and permutations. 

It may be this type of system that helps a marketing team see the connections in the New York City subway ad example. Getting clear on allocation is also important at larger companies, where many teams may be involved in executing different advertising and marketing activities. 

To continue with the subway example, it may be easy for a team focused on out-of-home or experiential marketing to claim success. Just as easily, a team bidding on new, relevant keywords based on the real-time data they’re seeing from people searching after seeing the subway ad might claim responsibility. 

Likely, both teams deserve credit (and budget to keep doing what they’re doing). Centralized and thorough analytics can help attribute success to the right teams and activities. 

Wrapping up

Today’s marketers sometimes have more data than they know what to do with. That’s why it’s important to centralize your advertising data before determining next steps. 

It’s also important to get clear on which questions you want to both ask and answer with your marketing analytics. From there, you can optimize your ad campaigns and allocate budget and marketing efforts accordingly. 

The most successful marketing teams will continue to revisit and reevaluate their advertising analytics without fear; agility is critical to success. Having clear visibility across your marketing team and organization will help you make efficient and strategic decisions that will benefit the organization’s bottom line.


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