When it comes to effective marketing, timing is everything. If your content doesn't reach the audience at just the right time, then its reach and impact will be severely diminished. Marketers have to react quickly to new platform developments, breaking news stories, and changes in public consciousness. As a result, targets become, well, moving targets. This doesn't mesh well with current testing techniques, which require precious time, as fresh opportunities quickly cool.

Alison Engel is one executive who's not entirely convinced by the notion of marketing best practices that great marketing requires you to "test everything." LinkedIn's Vice President of Global Marketing (and a speaker at the upcoming Incite Summit West), she believes his can be an unrealistic bar, depending upon how your company accesses and applies data and given the collective constraints marketers face in terms of time limits and cycles. You have to balance relevance and timeliness.

Here are some of Engel's top ways to win with testing and targeting:

#1: Don't rush it; setup is critical.

Engel admits that testing is critical, especially in the setup phase. "It's important to have a clear strategy and success metrics for each test, or you're wasting cycles and not gaining new insight that can inform the right change," she emphasizes. "Determine the lowest-hanging fruit and focus resources where you think you can move the needle most."

You can expedite the testing process if you can evaluate different types of content against different target audiences or levels of engagement. Being strategic about when and where you test will greatly help you achieve or surpass your marketing goals.

#2: Know that good strategy is impossible without good data.

Good strategy begins with good data, which not only aids in the search for your specific targets, but also helps inform your process of content creation. Engel stresses just how much data is helping creative professionals do their best work, providing go-to-market efforts that "reflect a true understanding of the audience, but also reflect the company in an authentic way." These are the principles that drive her team and LinkedIn's marketing campaigns.

#3: Commit to having better data.

Of course, collecting this useful data is becoming much more feasible for companies. In recent years, we've seen evolving best practices and supporting technologies that give marketers the ability to keep their brands, and relevant content in front of the audiences that matter most. Today, thanks to tools like Google Analytics, social listening tools such as Simply Measured, and a slew of CRM options, even small companies can develop an informed sense of their customer base.

#4: Whenever possible, use targeting to improve relevancy.

Digital and social channel investment will continue to increase as we see great results, from brand building to lead generation. At LinkedIn, for example, Engel emphasizes a new capability called LinkedIn Account Targeting, which allows users to customize their content specifically to the key influencers and decision makers across their key accounts. "For B2B marketers, account based marketing continues to be a key targeting strategy," and now it can be achieved with using a LinkedIn Premium account and little else.

#5: Don't let customers tune out your content.

Speed and targeting are crucial, but at the end of the day, Engel emphasizes the need to remember that the best marketing and advertising campaigns also really have to deliver relevance and add value. "Those are the ones that get me engaged, shape my perceptions, and ultimately impact the business. All brands should be striving for this type of connection to truly make an impact."

Want to hear more from Engel on the testing and targeting? She'll be speaking alongside me and other senior marketing execs at Incite Summit West, May 17th-18th, in San Francisco. Hear Engel as well as executives from Facebook, Athleta, Square, Wells Fargo, Intel, and many more (you can download the Summit brochure for the whole roster).