Prioritize Quality Management

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To paraphrase a quote: Everybody talks about quality, but no one does anything about it. Though certainly an overstatement, I imagine many of us face the quality conundrum, which means we want to ensure quality in our marketing campaigns, have virtually no time to devote to it and know that someday it will catch up with us.


Making quality management a priority is no small task for a busy agenda. However, my experience is that organizations that embrace quality management throughout their marketing campaigns reap true -- and measurable -- benefits. For instance, a large client recently analyzed its marketing programs and discovered that it had made more than 200 errors in one year, affecting more than 30 million customers. The recovery costs were enormous, not to mention the ill will created in the clientele.


More and more companies are identifying quality as a competitive strategy. Cost savings are one obvious reason: These firms know that fixing a problem often costs more than preventing it. But they also are taking a customer relationship management perspective, realizing that poor quality carries a price tag well beyond the initial fix.


Think of quality management as an investment: The time spent upfront will pay dividends in error-free execution, customer satisfaction and cost-effective campaign management. This investment does not need to be elaborate; in its most basic form, effective quality management can be defined as a four-point action plan.


Analyze and improve your campaign process. The first step is to define, analyze and improve your campaign process. Current marketing campaigns typically use dozens of internal organizations and vendors for execution. Unless you document and analyze the process, you will not be able to answer these basic questions: Is the current processing working? At what points are errors likely to occur? Are there ways to ensure quality more effectively?


Defining processes is typically not a difficult task, and it is facilitated by using graphical and textual techniques. It is best to identify major campaign business functions, then break the functions into smaller tasks or activities. The result is a comprehensive inventory of all the tasks required to complete a campaign.


You also should analyze your existing process to identify improvements -- perhaps the easiest way to get return on your quality management investment. Focus your implementation efforts on the improvements that support the goal of error-free execution most directly.


A client example illustrates: The analysis process identified that several campaign matrix formats were being used. By consolidating these into a single format, everyone from marketing managers to lettershop staff understood the process better -- and did not have to remember several different sets of rules and exceptions. The streamlined process moved faster, updates were made easier, and the number of errors was reduced.


Ensure that roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. Make sure everyone involved in campaign execution has a clear understanding of what he is (and is not) supposed to be doing. This is sometimes easier said than done. Producing an outline of organizational responsibilities is helpful. Such documentation clearly identifies who performs the multiple tasks involved in executing a campaign and in what sequence.


Now ask yourself: "Can I refine the current responsibilities to reduce or eliminate critical error points?" Many times the answer is yes, allowing you to minimize the possibility of errors. This may involve combining tasks or shifting responsibilities to improve performance.


Implement a quality management review program. Perhaps you are thinking, "We're not manufacturing widgets, we're marketers!" Progressive marketers have learned a valuable lesson from the manufacturing sector: Poor quality harms your brand and your revenue -- so quality management programs are de rigueur.


A sound quality management review program generally has three components. Start by identifying and documenting all quality checks performed when executing your campaigns. The list should identify what the purpose of the check is, who performs it and when it occurs during the campaign.


Next, transform this audit process list into a graphical calendar identifying when the audits are scheduled to take place. This will allow you to track the audits and their status effectively and efficiently.


Finally, implement a formal audit-tracking function. The status of the audits and any anomalies should be reported as they are completed to catch errors as they occur - and to prevent larger errors later in the process.


Automate campaign processes to reduce errors and control costs while improving timelines. I know of multibillion-dollar companies that still entrust highly complex, costly campaigns to fill-in-the-blank spreadsheets -- a practice prone to data entry errors, mathematical and formulaic miscalculations and update issues.


Applying more advanced automation to this process is a better solution. Software exists that allows marketing managers to build a truly automated master matrix. Once the marketing manager sets it up, the matrix can be communicated automatically to the entire campaign team, from list processing and production to customer service. As information is added to the matrix, the automated process can calculate mail quantities, develop component charts and establish fulfillment quantities. One of the best features is that matrix updates can be communicated easily and their impact recalculated.


Likewise, software has been developed that facilitates the development of multiple versions of base creative packages, generated automatically from Quark files and a linked database. Marketing automation also can be used for integrating marketing channels, eliminating manual audits and managing material inventory.


The quality conundrum does have a solution. By managing a combination of analysis, audits and technology, you can start a quality management program, with rewards measured in peace of mind, enhanced workplace processes and even marketplace advantages.


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