This week I was fortunate to attend, participate in, and moderate a session at Click Summit 2018 in Cary, North Carolina. Click Summit is hosted annually by Brooks Bell and her eponymous firm. As an industry analyst, I’m an event connoisseur, and Click is one of my all-time favorites. As expected, Click Summit was well run, located at top-notch facilities, and included an incredible roster of attendees. But Click Summit is special because of its unique format; there are no speeches, only facilitated group discussions. It’s great to get the time and breathing room to really dig into the issues with practitioners and industry leaders.

This was my fourth Click Summit, but 2018 was my first in four years. Interestingly, due to my hiatus I haven’t experienced changes in the world of experimentation gradually, so the progress and trends came into immediate and stark relief. Click Summit had historically emphasized testing (one of my absolute favorite topics), and it was fascinating to see how firms are evolving their optimization practices toward customer engagement and customer experience. The level of discourse has advanced tremendously, and it’s easy to see why today’s experimentation pros are running programs that:

  • Align with the business. Experimentation teams sit at the nexus of technology, product, and business stakeholders, giving them a broad view of UX, data, products, and customer engagement from across the enterprise. They are organizationally connected to customer-facing teams such as sales, service, and marketing, and they are measuring, projecting, and evangelizing their results in terms of business objectives.
  • Seek to understand customers. The days of testing to large audiences or abstracting results to isolated campaigns or design elements are over. Testing and optimization teams want to understand the “why” behind experiment outcomes. They are developing a granular understanding of customers, connecting behavior across multiple online and offline interactions, and designing optimization strategies in the context of customer journeys.
  • Extend into personalization. Many experimentation teams are expanding their efforts into personalization. There are obvious operational and skill synergies between experimentation and personalization, and firms are leveraging their hard-won optimization expertise as a foundation for defining, deploying, and evaluating personalization strategies.

When I consider experimentation’s evolution from my personal lens of martech and engagement strategy, this is extremely positive. Legacy testing is evolving from an eCommerce or web analytics specialty into a genuine customer engagement practice, which aligns with my recent research about developing the martech stack for marketing in consumers’ moments. Experimentation capabilities offer a practical blueprint for developing journey intelligence and continuous engagement capabilities. And from what I saw this week, it’s working. Firms depend on their experimentation teams to drive revenue, understand customers, and test prospective engagement strategies. This progress indicates that a strong experimentation competency is crucial for sustained business performance across the entire customer experience.

Given all the excitement and success, I can’t wait for Click Summit next year!