Some of the uses of microsites for marketing are more prosaic, like for SEO purposes.

But some are more fun. And one of the most fun uses of microsites is for marketing experimentation.

Let me explain.

First, let’s define a “marketing experiment.” By that I mean something a change in your marketing, that could be small, but could be big, to see if it increases your sales, votes or otherwise what your marketing objective is. This could range from minor wording tests, to huge positioning and branding tests.

An experiment is, by definition, an experiment. And experiments entail:

  • You don’t know if it will succeed or if it will fail.
  • If it fails, it will make you, and your brand, look bad.
  • Experiments are also by definition riskier than anything guaranteed succeed and, as such, could potentially not just fail, but could humiliate or backfire.

As such, lots of brands are–correctly–hesitant to take a risk on anything.

In fact, brands are so risk averse that it’s almost a joke among online marketers how clients hire marketers to run experiments, but then never want to run an experiment more serious than “red vs gold” color schemes, for example, because anything else has the potential to backfire.

There are lots of classic ways online marketers try to convince their clients to experiment. One is by using multivariate testing tools to experiment on an only-tiny fraction of the population. Another it so share data about brands that have used excessive testing to optimize every detail in the funnel (I’m looking at you, Amazon.)

But fundamentally, these arguments tend to fail more often than work. Either your client is in the testing camp, or he isn’t. And for those who aren’t, even if only 1% of your clients see a test… it could still backfire.

Good marketing, in other words, requires–to use an old-time phrase that I’m blanking on thinking of a gender-neutral version of–balls of steel in order to succeed. To risk it with a crazy idea. And few clients have that, so they don’t test.

There’s a second reason that stops most companies from testing experiments on top of that: internal bureaucracies. Your website is controlled by Department XYZ within the company, that that department is backed-up with a million things to do, is lead by an a@$^&(#$hole, is built on an old-time platform that requires lots of developers doing manual changes to make the smallest code changes.

I’ve seen many cases where the executive team and the CEO want to test, but they just can’t get the right people at the right points in the bureaucracy motivated enough to run an experiment.

Both of these practical, real-world reasons why companies don’t run marketing experiments nearly as much as they should.

And there is one solution to both of these problems: microsites.

To the first reason not to run experiments–the fundamental riskiness of it–well, if it is a completely new microsite that is, in no way associated with your brand, then the brand risk is zero, and the other risks are near zero, just a small amount of time and money. But while the risk is tiny, the upside is potentially huge.

Let’s say a conservative brand is considering more risqué positioning. They worry they may alienate their core base. Why not try it on a completely new brand, on a very tiny scale, and see how it goes?

We can’t discount the time and money risk. An experiment that costs substantial sums for a smaller company. But the brand risk is the overwhelming fear of almost all clients, and it is a key driver behind the microsites as marketing experiments strategy.

The second real-world hesitation to running marketing experiments–that there is a bureaucracy in place to run the site, that isn’t supportive of marketing experimentation–is the common logistical problem. And any practical executive knows that if your team isn’t sufficiently excited about something, it won’t happen. (Maybe one day we’ll have a separate article about how much of the Steve Jobs mythology is actual real-world mythology. Probably in spoken conversation, far from any modern technology.)

This fear is also solved with microsites used for marketing experimentation, in a more straightforward way: if it’s a separate site, separate system, probably a separate team–then you can cut through the bureaucracy and implement it the way you want it.

But here’s the kicker: the bureaucrats running your current site may be bureaucrats, but they’re not stupid. They’ll see this coming. So what do you do? That’s why the “micro” prefix is critical. When it’s just a small, little test–it’s no risk at all!

In practical terms, for them, it only becomes a risk when the small experiment sees success and grows bigger and bigger. But that is a great problem to have; I wish all my clients’ small tests had great successes!

In conclusion: if you want to do marketing experiments, microsites are a great way to go. And you know what team knows everything about making it happen? You guessed who! Just drop me a note any time, I’d love to Zoom with anyone about microsites, or anything!