As a latecomer to rock climbing, I had an advantage that helped me excel - it never once crossed my mind that falling would be a bad thing. In fact, the falling actually drew me to the sport. Not only did it look cool, but it identified a challenge that the climber hadn't found the right solution to yet.
As I got better, I learned that problems I encountered farther into the climb were often caused by mistaken choices I made much lower down. Experience taught me that the real reason I was stuck was frequently the inefficient solutions I applied to earlier problems. I didn’t have the assets I needed to go any higher.
In a nutshell this is why falling is so important. Learning from falling leads to success, while not falling or not learning from your falls leads to failure.
During the good years before the recession, falling wasn't confused with failing and fundraisers used that golden window to advance the field in ways we can't even fathom today. Unfortunately that window has closed and the distinction between falling and failing has been erased from the minds of organizations faced with tighter budgets, higher revenue goals, and increasingly crowded verticals.
At the top of direct response’s benefits is the ability to conduct conclusive tests that don’t rely on gut instinct or qualitative research. (Really strong climbers know that it’s your brain and not your body that is the ultimate deciding factor whether or not you’ll succeed in a climb.) However, as organizations struggled to meet revenue goals, cut budgets and saw their donor bases shrinking, the industry now conducts what I like to call “Teddy Bear Tests.” These are tests that allow the organization to check the box that they are “learning something” without actually accomplishing the goal—truly using testing to move a program forward.
Maybe you’ve even run some. Here are just a few of my favorites:
• Color / font change of anything
• “Submit” button placement
• Different images
• And my all-time winner (which I admit I’ve done) – Call To Action strength: soft, medium or hard.
You can see why tests of this ilk are so appealing. They’re safe. They usually produce some barely significant result, the needle quivers, but nothing of merit happens. There's no risk in a “Teddy Bear Test” so you'll never fall – but you’ll never draw meaningful conclusions either.
I truly believe every client and agency wants to utilize direct response’s inherent potential, but can't because a perception has taken hold: there should be no falling ever – every test must be a success. This vicious circle is why even the best-tested donation pages have more abandons than completions. Until we are comfortable falling, we can only fail. Ted Williams (the greatest recorded hitter in baseball) had more strikeouts than hits, but he ALWAYS stepped to the plate and swung; today so many of us just bunt.
A truly great program includes unique, meaningful testing and optimization plans. But more importantly, it never shrinks from a strikeout when presenting results.
In 1903 on a sand dune in Kitty Hawk North Carolina, two bicycle-making brothers flew 120 feet, changing the world forever. It's a good thing they didn't mistake their invention falling out of the sky with failing to create the airplane. With every fall comes learnings, and those learnings over time are exponentially more valuable than any risk-free “Teddy Bear Test.”
Why do we fall? Because if we don’t, we will believe the possible is impossible, when we should be thinking just the opposite.