Software Quality Assurance Practices for Marketing and Content Creation

June 13th, 2013

At some point in your marketing process, you will reach a step analogous to the testing phase of software development. This is the point when it often feels like you are finished, but that annoying process requires you to check off a few more boxes. This can certainly seem like a thankless task, but the quality assurance step of your process deserves as much attention as the preceding steps. It’s true that no one has ever used a software application and thought, “Wow, what great testers this project must have had!” It’s also true that if this process is neglected, the customer will certainly notice then. Your customers will never notice how great your QA processes are, unless they aren't.

Content creators are already familiar with this concept, but instead of testing, they call it editing. (You've probably also never read a great book and thought, “Wow, what a great editor this book must have had!”). Editing is more than just checking the author’s spelling and making sure they too know which two to use.  It includes what software developers call usability. It’s possible for your content to meet your requirements but be so onerous to use, the customer will just ignore it. An hour long webinar may cover all the topics you’d expect in a “Welcome Video” but it’s unlikely to be effective.

Marketers also need to take advantage of the quality assurance and testing phase. Email campaigns need to be tested on multiple email readers. Microsoft Outlook will render an email differently than Gmail. Mac users won’t be able to play the same videos as PC users. Images may or may not display depending on if they are embedded or linked. The Canadian webinar registrant will expect different values under the address fields than the American registrant will. Neglecting these considerations will create “bugs” for your users.

A variation on the testing phase of your process is called “User Acceptance Testing”. This is where you put the software application in front of the people who actually use it on a daily basis and see if it meets their needs. This is where the usability of your product is truly tested. Do the same thing for your marketing campaign. Don’t just send someone the text of your email and ask them to QA it, send them the actual email just as a prospect would receive it. Our product, Manticore, has a preview function for email campaigns. You can send just a single copy of the email to an address you specify, or you can have Manticore create a number of emails with random merged data from your contact lists and send those to a specific email address. Using such functionality would quickly identify if your merge fields were formatted correctly, or if the email links were clickable. Do this testing as close to “real world” as possible.

Marketers can also adopt another software development practice called “the Test Plan”. While we talked about testing above, it would be entirely possible to do such testing on an ad-hoc basis. The better option is to write down all the things you want to check (we call these Test Cases) and then follow that checklist for each and every campaign. It may seem obvious that you want a landing page to display properly on Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Firefox, but write it down anyway. That way, you’ll have a reminder when you are stressed, pressed for time, and may not be thinking of everything. Writing down even the simple, obvious checks may seem excessive, but it can mean the difference in success or failure; and remember we don’t all share the same assumptions.

In software quality assurance circles, there is an urban legend that is often repeated to illustrate the importance of writing down all your assumptions. It is set during months leading up to the opening of the famous Chunnel, the train tunnel connecting London and Paris running under the English Channel. Because the Eurostar train travels so fast, the engineers were concerned about safety should the train strike an animal on the tracks or low flying bird at two hundred miles an hour. Knowing that airlines had been dealing with this problem for years, the engineers contacted an airline and discovered they used an air cannon to fire a grocery store chicken at the plane’s windshield at high speed to see if it could withstand the stress of impact. After conducting this test on the new high speed train, they found the chicken had shattered the windshield, broken the conductor’s chair, and embedded itself in the back wall. After asking for assistance to check their test results, the airline engineer made one adjustment to the test steps. He added a note that said simply: “Thaw the chicken.”