Five Best Practices of a Successful Optimization Program

Image source: Adobe Stock / Scarface.

by Drew Burns

posted on 01-07-2019

Testing collisions, questionable or invalid test results, inconsistent processes, duplicate testing and personalization activities, or taking forever to execute activities. Sound familiar? If so, your optimization program may lack good governance. Good governance addresses these issues. It also lets you move beyond simple adoption of an optimization tool and basic testing to realizing the broader vision for optimization — optimizing and personalizing seamlessly across all channels, using everything you know about the visitor to deliver that next best experience. And, of course, improving key business metrics along the way.

So what does good governance look like? Read on for five key best practices for governance of your optimization program shared by Claire Schmitt and Ikong Fu of agency Brooks Bell in a recent Personalization Thursdays webinar.

Figure out the program structure that’s best for you

The structure of your optimization program impacts your approach to governance, so before discussing those best practices, consider which of three possible program structures you have or want to put in place — centralized, federated, or decentralized.

With decentralized, every product team operates optimization separately and independently. It’s super agile and requires little governance, but it’s really only used by the mega businesses of the world like Amazon who are testing and personalizing everywhere, all the time.

Most of you are or will be operating with a centralized or federated structure, both of which will have some form of a center of excellence (CoE) for optimization.

In a federated structure, product teams come up with and execute their own optimization activities. This is ideal for companies that have been optimizing for a while. They likely started with a centralized structure, but as testing demand rose, the CoE became a bottleneck. To solve this issue, they let product teams take on optimization.

In both centralized and federated structures, the CoE establishes best practices for optimization and is responsible for communicating out the performance and achievements of the program to the business.

Assuming your program is or will use a centralized or federated structure, let’s jump into the governance best practices that your CoE should apply as Claire shared.

Best practice 1. Pave the path

Make it easy for people to quickly jump into optimization by giving them the information and tools they need to get started.

Outline each step in the activity execution process — from gathering the data that informs your optimization strategy to what information to present in the final report. And describe who is responsible for each step and how long it should take. Provide documentation and templates, like activity planners that state the KPIs to measure and audiences to serve, prioritized activity queues, road maps, and activity reports that capture the information for developing insights. Emphasize the importance of following optimization best practices, such as running a test to completion, selecting the right KPIs, avoiding test collision or duplicate tests, and using data to drive what to test and personalize.

Best practice 2. Generate and maintain excitement

Get people excited about testing and personalizing, in spite of the fact that some may be resistant to change. Once you’ve gotten them excited, keep them hooked.

Get people excited by meeting with and showing product teams the potential for success optimization offers. Start with teams who have expressed interest in optimization or seem open to trying it. Go in understanding what they care about and show relevant examples of successful activities you’ve run, even providing an estimate of the added revenue it can produce. Make sure they know you’re there to help.

Once they’re excited, keep that excitement going by hosting events where they share their tests and personalization activities. Gamify optimization by letting people guess which experience won or how much lift a personalization activity generated. Reward those who guessed correctly. Give credit to individuals who conceived of optimization ideas that produced big winners. Be sure to communicate out the program’s accomplishments.

Best practice 3. Create optimization experts

Develop testing and personalizing expertise so you can confidently hand over the keys to the optimization solution.

Create a training program that includes regularly scheduled in-person or self-paced, video-based courses, designing it for various experience levels and roles like developer and marketer. Consider adding a certification program and rewarding employees for building optimization expertise. As a side benefit, you’ll know who is trained to perform specific types of activities. When new people want to start optimizing, keep enthusiasm high by starting them immediately with a mandatory onboarding course. That course should provide the basics — steps of the optimization process and use of the templates and tools. And give everyone an optimization handbook that covers optimization essentials and includes answers to common questions.

Best practice 4. Promote the program so it progresses

Demonstrate the impact of your optimization program to get the buy-in and support needed for continued investment and growth.

Document your program’s long-term vision, short term goals to realize that vision, and success metrics tied to those goals. Then run optimization activities designed to measurably improve those success metrics. A primary goal may be to increase revenue or engagement, but also set goals and track metrics that indicate program growth, like number of activities run annually and activity win rate. Share this program performance information with executives, the program, and business stakeholders — and be doubly sure to share it with your executive sponsor who helps get buy-in and budget for your program and helps you move past any barriers to program success.

A great way to communicate out is a program dashboard. These dashboards should track measures like win rate, bust rate, overall test volume, number of teams testing, and revenue impact. You should also be able to view them by various teams, but also for the entire organization. Adobe Target consultant David Graves just delivered a great webinar on how to develop a program dashboard. It’s worth a listen. Toward the end of the governance best practices webinar, Ikong also demonstrates Illuminate by Brooks Bell, an excellent online tool that lets you document and communicate out your optimization program’s activities.

Best practice 5. Give teams the tools for success

Make sure your team has the right tools to help them succeed, so the program can succeed.

Examine the tools your organization currently uses for optimizing to learn which are useful and which are gathering dust. Get rid of tools that aren’t useful, and identify any additional tools you need, like an analytics solution or a data management platform. Make sure your tools are integrated properly so users can trust in the data coming out of them — that trust is essential for program success. And again, ensure users are well trained on using the tools and best practices for their use to avoid the issues mentioned at the start of this article. Finally, investigate using a product like Illuminate or one of the many other tools available for tracking your activities, reporting on your program’s performance, and providing a repository of activities users can draw from for testing insights and inspiration.

Ready to help your program succeed even more?

Here are some ideas for doing that. Take the Adobe Target maturity assessment to determine your program’s current maturity level. Set quarterly goals, learn from the Adobe Target YouTube channel, and get intelligent guidance in Experience League. Then apply these governance best practices to mature your program even more. And a year from now, use a program dashboard to see just how far your program has come.

Topics: Digital Transformation, Personalization

Products: Target