Those of us who do creative work of any kind on a day-to-day basis are mostly thinking about just that—creating. When it comes to marketing, we’re also thinking about tracking performance to see how the stuff we create succeeds and fails. These are two obvious parts of the process, and as such they’re rolled into pretty much every campaign, project, or individual piece of content we create.
But there’s another step that should separate your concept or content from publication. You can call it quality control, or quality assurance, or really anything you like. But you can’t overlook it. Here’s what QA (as we call it here) can entail, why it can get overlooked, and why that’s a critical mistake.
What is quality assurance in marketing?
The QA process is, put simply, a way to ensure that the work you do is spotless. Back in school, you called it “checking your work.” When it comes to your marketing and your content, it can be a little more involved than it was back then, though.
Quality assurance can be high level—things like making sure the concepts behind your work match the strategic needs you’re trying to meet, or ensuring all the various parts of a campaign are on brand. It can also be intensely detailed, down-and-dirty work, like verifying that all the visual elements of a piece conform to brand standards, press checks and other methods for hunting down errors in a printed piece, and proofreading and editing basically everything you write.
Why doesn’t quality assurance get done?
So that all sounds pretty important—what’s the problem? The issue is that as a part of the creative process, QA can (by mistake or by ill intent) end up getting lost in the shuffle. There are a few different reasons for this and different ways that it can happen.
Things move fast in business, and marketing is certainly no exception (I can tell you from years of experience). Deadlines can get tight, and the faster you’re moving the easier it is to miss something. Unfortunately one of the things that tends to get pushed out of the plan when things are moving quickly is QA—after all, the work’s done, so it can just get shipped, right?
This can also happen simply because nobody thought of it during the planning process. If quality assurance doesn’t get included in the budget at the outset, it usually won’t just get folded into the project late. It gets abandoned.
Lack of resources
Either case above might be the cause or the result of a lack of resources. Maybe you don’t have anyone whose job description includes QA. Or maybe the person who usually does the work is overwhelmed by the volume of content that’s coming through your pipeline and just doesn’t have the time to get to all of it. Schedules haven’t been planned out properly, or nobody bothered to check to see whether deadlines matched up with capacity before the deadline hit.
“We’ll come back to it later”
This is a new problem for today’s heavily digital age. Back when most marketing was printed in one format or another, dropping the ball when it comes to quality assurance was a clear disaster. After all, if a mistake makes it into a newspaper ad or on a billboard, that’s not getting fixed. But when everything’s online, it doesn’t feel like it’s as big a deal. If you catch an issue, you can just go into the back end and fix it.
Except that if that’s an excuse to not QA a site or a page or an ad, it’s not going to get fixed immediately—if ever. It’ll wait until someone notices it. If you’re lucky, you’re the first to notice, but if a typo or a broken link is on a page for days, weeks, or months, the chances are good that someone on the outside will be the first one there.
As a person who likes to assume the best in people until proven wrong, I’d like to think this reasoning is less prevalent than the others. You can forgive someone for messing up by accident—but if you’re actively choosing not to do quality checks on your work before publishing, that’s something else altogether.
Those choices fall here. Things like laziness, or lack of interest or care—simply not bothering with QA. Things like assuming you’re too smart or skilled to make a mistake. If you’re eschewing quality assurance for reasons like this, it’s time to be better.
Okay, but who cares?
A few typos here and there are annoying, sure. But in the long run, do they really matter all that much? Is spending time and effort on quality control really worth it? Why exactly does it matter that everything isn’t perfect?
Errors are the brand-killer
When you read something that’s rife with errors, how do you feel? Do you think you can rely on the author, or instead do you assume they’re sloppy? If you’re like most people, it’s probably the latter.
A host of typos and broken links and incorrect images throughout your website make you look disorganized at best, and uncaring or even, well, dumb at worst. They can badly damage your brand, especially if you’re trying to be a thought leader of some kind, or part of your brand personality is to be reliable or detail-oriented.
A hit to your value
Whether your client is an outside party or yourself, providing value is everything. We’re not just creating content for fun, after all—we’re trying to attract customers. Whatever your client is paying you for your service, or whatever investment you’ve made in your internal marketing team, that value goes in the toilet if you’re doing sloppy work.
User experience is everything
You’re not just providing value to your marketing customer, whether it’s internal or external. You’re also passing that value along to the end customer—you know, the people you’re actually marketing to. If they have to sift through loads of typos and broken image links to get the information they’re looking for, you’re not providing the kind of user experience people expect and really deserve. And that means high website bounce rates, and lower levels of attraction from other mediums.
Chase perfection, no matter what
As a wise man once said, none of us are ever going to be perfect. But that doesn’t mean that perfection—no matter how far-fetched it may seem—shouldn’t be our goal. Part of that is making every effort to hunt down and purge any errors that creep into your work.
No timeline is too short for QA. No deadline is too close, and no piece of content too trivial. Take pride in the work that you do, and make sure it’s done right.
Thomas fills a few roles at E3—writer, editor, and resident European soccer expert—but his chief responsibility is content creation. When he's not crafting thoughtful content for the Element Three blog, he's captaining our kickball team, watching the Mets, or talking up Indianapolis to anyone who will listen.
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