Which is Better Optimization or Innovation?

As a ministry leader, you are most likely responsible for a wide range of areas, marketing, communications, social media, email, SEO, paid media, grant writing, and who knows what else. It can be overwhelming, to say the least, and we regularly hear from ministry leaders, especially in the digital space that they just burn out from the burden of continually trying to innovate and push forward new ideas, while also trying to get traction for the existing initiatives. So we were curious if you only had to choose one, which is more likely to help you scale faster, innovating with new ideas, or optimizing your existing top performers. The results might surprise you, and will hopefully help you to slow your pace while driving stronger results.

First the disclaimer
There are some channels that do rely on freshness, so be sure to know your medium and know whether this applies to your channel or not. We always recommend testing for yourself, a good test will always be repeatable, and we all work in different spaces, with different audiences so what works for one ministry will not always work for another. OK let’s dive into the data.

Optimization Is More Powerful In the Long Run
We looked specifically at offers, either incentives to get users to signup for email lists or donation asks. We made sure the offers we used in this study had been running for a minimum of 10 weeks without any changes made. Our expectation was that everything gets stale over time and as such there would be an inverse correlation between the length of time the offer had been running and the performance of the offer (i.e. the longer the offer was running the lower the conversion rate.) Much to our surprise, this was not the case for the vast majority of the offers. When looking at the trend lines for the 10 week period three of the offers remained flat (no change over time), five of the offers were trending upwards (actually improving over time) and only one of the offers saw a decline over time.

This is a powerful and freeing chart because marketers have for years been told that freshness trumps all, and as such we have been running on the hamster wheel of constantly churning out new ideas to keep our audiences excited and engaged. The reality, however, is that if we have a good idea, continuing to refine and optimize that idea will return multiples in the end.

New Ideas and Benchmarks
The data above does not mean you can forego testing new ideas, it does, however, mean that you can slow the pace of turning out new ideas, and you have the freedom to drop new ideas if they are not performing. Many ministries rely on a system if putting out a new monthly offer, whether this is a premium to encourage donations, or a free resource to generate new email subscribers. It is fantastic to leverage these types of offers, but you may have discovered great variances in their responses lead to unpredictability. Essentially if you have a good month or a bad month will depend entirely upon whether or not the new resource converts well or doesn’t in looking at 100’s of offers we’ve seen the range in conversion rates as low as 0.1% all the way up to exceeding 16% that’s a massive range! If the resource you happen to put out this month is closer to the top of the range, you look like a hero, if the resource you put out next month is closer to the bottom of the range it looks like everything is crashing down.

A simple Framework for Balancing Innovation with Optimization
This is a simple framework you can use with your team to keep innovating while drawing on the predictability optimization provides. This will allow you to see consistent improvement while not burning out your team.

Look at the performance of the offers from the past 6 months. This will allow you to pick out the top performers and drop the poor performer. Create an experiment to feature these offers and use an A/B test to see if you can beat the past results.

Create a feedback loop, from sources that create fresh content or interact highly with your audience. This will let you see trends as they emerge (which social posts got the most engagement, what questions or concerns are your front lines team members hearing from your constituents?) When you build new offers for testing, look at this feedback that will help you pick topics that are likely to become the next top performers.

When testing, keep it simple, only test one item at a time. Unless you have massive amounts of traffic let the test run for a full month before making any decisions around the results.

Innovation and optimization are critical components to long-term success but trying to do everything at once can lead to extra work and sub-par results. Be sure to let us know what you are testing currently, and how it’s helping you scale. If you haven’t been looking at your data, many of us are guilty of that, be sure to consider participating in the 2021 Ministry Benchmarks Study, it will give you a good starting point to know where to set your benchmarks for optimization and we’ll give you a custom scorecard so you can see how your efforts stack up to the rest of the ministry community. Sign up here, it’s FREE.