Much has been written about how digital marketing opens the door to greater, more diverse audiences and personalized, interactive conversations. We love the expanded opportunities for engaging the customer via a growing range of electronic devices and imaginative applications of technology. We relish the possibilities for actively educating consumers and influencing behavior change. And throughout it all, we keep our eye on the end goal of improving health outcomes.
But how do we get there? How do we ensure that the digital products we create reach our audiences looking, sounding and performing the way we intended? How do we avoid failures like the launch of healthcare.gov?
Pre-digital advertising could count on quality assurance just by following a few rules of the road. If you designed an ad to a finite number of specs and executed it properly, it would appear before your audience just how you planned it. But traditional print, TV and radio advertising cruised along a comfortable one-way street, whereas digital marketing travels a complex network of global super highways. We’re racing along at breakneck speed; our GPS apps calling for impossible turns; and the roads are often unmarked and full of potholes, barricades and detours. To successfully navigate this terrain, we need some guidelines and new systems.
That was our thinking when AbelsonTaylor and GA Communication Group organized the first Quality Assurance (QA) Summit for Digital Healthcare Marketing this past October in Chicago. With the help of our moderator, Joe Shields, Global Director of Campaign Management at AstraZeneca, and our keynote speaker, Michael Morowitz, Senior Technical Director at R/GA, we set out to stimulate discussion on QA best practices in digital healthcare marketing, drawing on the insights and experiences of senior managers representing agencies, tech firms and pharma companies.
We’ll be presenting findings from the QA Summit during a panel at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW Interactive), where we eagerly anticipate opening up the topic to new discussion and gaining the perspectives of digital marketers outside the healthcare arena. An in-depth white paper on the summit is slated for release this month. Meanwhile, here’s a quick look at five key takeaways from the summit, focusing on insights that can help healthcare agencies and their clients improve the overall quality of their digital offerings.
1. QA is more than back-end testing. Some mistakenly think of QA as isolated functional testing done at the end of a project for code and IT considerations. In reality, QA should be part of planning from the very beginning and remain part of the process throughout development. We call this “Shift left” thinking and can’t overstate its importance. Making a priority of defining all requirements at the start of planning (versus trying to expand the scope of a project near its completion), helps sidestep potential problems and dramatically reduce costs. Most bugs in a digital program come not from code but from a lack of specs and documentation. And correcting a defect at the end of a project costs 10 times more than fixing it at the start.
2. QA is a moving target. With more than 30 changes in browsers, operating systems and devices recorded within the last year, it’s easy to see how a digital product can quickly become outdated without monitoring, ongoing testing and the ability to be updated. Unlike a print ad that runs a given number of times in a given number of publications, a digital product can live a long life on changing platforms and devices. Agencies and clients must see digital solutions as dynamic entities requiring continual review and modification to maintain high-quality standards.
3. Client education is critical. Clients have to fully understand the complexities of creating a digital product in order to understand why all specs are needed up front, why you can’t instantly make an app compatible with a new type of tablet or smartphone, why testing is essential and what kinds of changes will contribute to time and budget increases. Marketers who don’t understand digital can make unrealistic demands and conclude that an agency is incompetent when it fails to meet them. Teams that communicate well, work collaboratively and have a common understanding of the issues are more likely to detect problems before they go live and together develop effective solutions.
4. Staff education is equally important. Client-facing staff can’t properly manage client expectations without a solid grasp of digital QA issues. An understanding of digital is essential for other staff as well, including creative and financial. The response to a tight deadline shouldn’t be rushing into design before specs and requirements are established. This can bring a project to a grinding halt when the team discovers all the things it failed to plan for at the start. Quality assurance must be seen as everyone’s responsibility and championed by all agency departments.
5. QA should be a team endeavor. As the digital world increases in complexity, agency teams benefit by involving technical, IT and platform experts in program planning and strategy sessions. Their specialized knowledge and experience can shed light on the feasibility, risk and costs of different digital options, helping the team develop solutions that address their business goals as well as budget, timing and legal, medical and regulatory concerns.
In terms of identifying best QA practices in digital healthcare marketing, the October summit underscored just how critical QA is to our industry and how much more discussion is needed on the topic. As others join the conversation and help shape and refine our perceptions of best QA practices, agencies and their clients will be positioned to improve the quality and performance of their digital offerings while reducing costs. We’ll have more mastery over the terrain we’re traveling and more certainty that the digital solutions we create reach our audiences—on all their devices—looking, sounding and performing the way we intended, both at introduction and as technology continues its rapid evolution.