Learning From War, Quality in Digital Marketing by Dave Foster
There’s a saying that generals usually fight the current war using the tactics of the previous war. In the early 20th century the machine gun was perfected, a weapon capable of working at a scale and reach that changed the nature of organized conflict. Previous best practices in war were to line your soldiers up and march them at each other, firing bullets once you got within range. The machine gun made that strategy brutally stupid, but it didn’t stop generals from continuing to use it at the onset of World War I with disastrous results.
It reminds me of the current approaches to quality in digital marketing.
The reach, immediacy, novelty, and personalization of modern Internet marketing is like that machine gun. Competitors can reach your customers at any moment with a campaign offering the latest thing and tailored exactly to their interests. Where once it was adequate to nail the medium and message, nowadays the marketing execution and digital quality have become unavoidable new obstacles to success. If you’re lucky, you’ll get one shot at consumer attention and it’s easy to waste that shot with poor quality by showing error messages, bad links, un-findable products, muddled calls-to-action, or cryptic website navigation.
Quality Assurance for a marketing leader used to be relatively straightforward – examine the copy, proofs, or spots to confirm that there aren’t any visible problems. When marketing went digital-interactive, those tactics became instantly outdated. Now, the parts you can see are less than half of the show.
Digital marketing is more fluid and fast-moving. It’s a technical orchestration coordinated across multiple specialists, groups, and organizations. Outbound emails, pay-per-click ads, highly targeted Facebook ads, adaptive web landing pages, mobile landing pages, tracking codes, and ecommerce conversion pages are all linked together to drive results.
Few marketing teams have all that expertise in-house. Most draw on a mix of internal and external teams such as a creative agency, software developer, email marketing provider, social media managers, online ad buyers, and CRM system managers. Each participant may take care to ensure his or her individual work is correct but who is responsible for making sure it all works together?
Too often we’ve seen marketing leaders use the old tactics when it comes to verifying launch-readiness of digital campaigns. On one hand, they understand the visible pieces intimately. On the other, they typically lack under-the-hood expertise, not to mention enough time to verify complex systems.
Real confidence requires procedures, checklists, understanding of technical elements, and enough staff and tools to explore hundreds of permutations (e.g. browsers, mobile devices, computers, mail filters, etc.). Usually a marketing leader only has the false confidence of assuming that separate teams are working with each other to confirm their joint readiness.
The consequences of using outdated tactics are less tragic in marketing than in war but they are still unpleasant. There are two kinds of problems: quiet failure and loud failure. In quiet failure, everything individually looks like it’s working at first. The email blast goes out, the landing page looks right, the pay-per-click ads are purchased, and the shopping cart is working. Three days later you notice that there are no sales coming through and it’s a scramble to figure out what didn’t work. Is it the ads? Was there a problem with the mailing? Did the landing page crash? The market leader begins making phone calls to development teams, ad buyers, and email vendors in a rushed effort to diagnose the problem. The first thing they all say is that their piece of the puzzle is working.
The loud failure may actually be better. In the loud failure, you know immediately that something went wrong. Maybe the CEO’s mom gets your promotional email and there was a broken landing page. Again, there is a mad scramble to understand the problem, but at least there is a starting point to focus the separate teams and you get to skip the denial phase.
Marketing leaders have to acknowledge that their old tactics are outdated and adjust their quality assurance approach. Loud or quiet, the only way to avoid these launch failure is to incorporate methodical QA to support your marketing campaigns.
The marketing leader needs to assign a Quality Assurance Leader for the campaign and demand that this QA Lead take responsibility for verifying overall quality, not just for one piece. This can be difficult as teams are often hesitant to touch anything that wasn’t created by their own hands and the work necessary can be an unplanned cost. But, choosing the right tactics can help you avoid becoming a casualty yourself.