Mistakes are inevitable in any business, and ours is no different. However, unlike most online advertising models, the e-mail channel follows the print model in terms of recoverability. Once you hit “print” or “send,” it is what it is. The output cannot be recalled or changed. As e-mail grows in popularity, frequency, relevance and complexity, so too will the mistakes. Before outlining the quality assurance process that we follow, allow me to provide some perspective on the scale of mistakes.
In 1992, seeking to increase sales in the Philippines, Pepsi created a bottle cap sweepstakes awarding 18 prizes of $32,000 to customers with winning bottle caps. However, a computer error resulted in 750,000 winning bottle caps being distributed, touching off riots that left at least six dead after Pepsi refused to honor the winning bottle caps.
In 1989, Kraft’s “Ready to Roll” Sweepstakes involved matching game cards obtained in packages of cheese. Though only one grand prize (a minivan) was supposed to be awarded, a printing error resulted in two million packages of cheese having winning game cards. Though Kraft canceled the contest, it was sued and ultimately paid out $10 million.
In light of these horror stories, it doesn’t seem so bad that Kodak had to pay the FTC $26,000 for violating the terms of CAN SPAM, or that Purina had to give away dog food due to 13 identical e-mails unfortunately delivered to its member base. Still, these are all different kinds of mistakes for which the marketers paid dearly.
In the e-mail industry, quality assurance has been difficult to maintain consistently. How does QA survive in a world of multiple iterations and last-minute demands? Same as it has in other areas of business. Just because we have a new medium to syndicate en masse doesn’t mean we sacrifice the principles of quality assurance and redundancy in checking our work before it goes out.
With e-mail, the discipline of QA requires exactitude and a reliance on checklists. In order to minimize the risk of things that can go wrong, you want to make sure that:
· The database is set up and mapped for personalization (content and data).
· Content is properly coded and optimized.
· All links and redirects are accurate and inclusive of proper link-naming conventions for tracking purposes.
· The text is accurate and the typographic treatment is maintained.
· Any custom code (passing variables to a site) are applied or tags are inserted.
· The site and tracking system is properly tracking.
· Responses are routed properly.
· All forms pages are active and posting data properly.
· Subject lines and “from” names are consistent and spelled correctly.
· The spelling is checked throughout.
· The image is validated.
· SPAM scoring and HTML validation is complete.
Now multiply these steps by the number of segments you are targeting, then by the number of e-mail software clients that make up the majority of your client base--and you have quite a daunting task.
I responded to a trade press article a year ago and spoke to the value of quality assurance. I noted that we had a QA lab especially designed for e-mail and I estimated it took three hours to properly QA an e-mail campaign.
Well, the small-business world lashed out. They demanded to know how on earth they could afford to pay a service provider $300-$400 to QA an e-mail when they might only be shelling out $500 per mailing in total. My response was (as usual): it depends. Based on the scale of your operation, it depends on your program, people and business demands. Should you ever sacrifice quality in exchange for time and money? In my world, the answer is No. If you’re in this bind, you might consider resetting the expectations of the business manager who created unrealistic budgets and timelines.
Here are a few creeds I live by and try to impress on my clients, partners and employees. Feel free to adopt any of them as you see fit!
--I’d rather get fired for being late, than for sacrificing what I know is right.
--Live by the list. Checklists are critical for consistency.
--Redundancy and friction are not bad things. Perfection is sometimes painful.
--Never QA your own work. It works better if you set up divisions of service.
--Treat your team as the client--it compels excellence before the final client QA.