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May 15, 2012

How print can learn a trick from online to improve its relevance.

In the latest issue of Wired was an insightful article on A/B testing. In short A/B testing is a process that allows you to  run two variants of a web-page and use analytics to discover which one gets the best response. The differences can be graphical, such as the use and position of pictures and text; typographical such as font, font size and colour or textual, tweaking the wording used. For more in-depth the original feature is here: The A/B Test: Inside the Technology That’s Changing the Rules of Business.

While the Wired piece was primarily about the use of A/B testing for websites, there must be print applications where it could be an equally powerful tool. Of course, not any printing would do. It has to be digital printing to enable the rapid production of two different variants to be tested. Then there is measurability, which necessitates the use of PURLS, QR Codes or similar to enable tracking consumer interaction.

The Wired article mentions the use of A/B testing for retailers trialling different store layouts for their impact on customer spending. In that instance, there is a clear case for tracking how point-of-sale (POS) and point-of-purchase (POP) graphics influence behaviour. There are other areas where it could be equally powerful. Packaging and labels spring to mind immediately given their importance in the retail experience. However, there are other areas too. If A/B testing can be applied to website design and the different responses tracked and used to tweak the design, why not transactional and transpromo mail pieces and direct mail? The ability to make every printed piece unique makes production possible; the hard bit would be in data composition and campaign management.

I’m not aware of any composition tools that enable such testing to gauge the effect of different designs but it should be possible, though not necessarily easy, to implement. The latest generation of campaign management tools as displayed at drupa show the increasingly tight integration between different media. If marketers are aware of A/B testing and its power for improving online response, it will soon be something they demand in other channels, including print.

If there are any instances of A/B testing being used in print campaigns, or of the methodology being implemented in any campaign management tools I would love to hear about them. Please comment below or email barney_cox@infotrends.com with details.

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