Don’t let IT failures undermine a successful campaign

Most people think of marketing and IT as completely separate activities. Yet in today’s technology-mediated consumer and business landscapes, the two can sometimes be indistinguishable, and are often responsible for each other’s success. Some of Australia’s most popular brands and online campaigns have suffered when their websites and servers haven’t kept up with customer demand – which often spikes as a result of successful marketing or media campaigns. To make sure their efforts don’t backfire as a result of under-performing IT, marketing professionals need to know what to look for when choosing a provider to host their website or online presence.

Public IT failures tend to attract attention in a big way. Bonds, Scoopon, Ticketek, even the initial deployment of the government-run My Schools website – all saw their web servers crash after being inundated by traffic. Often (as happened with Bonds and Scoopon), this inundation isn’t just an accident: it was the result of carefully-tailored marketing campaigns which were designed to draw huge amounts of attention. However, these campaigns often forget to take into account the other side of the equation: being ready to sustain peak demand with additional bandwidth and hardware. As a result, a campaign can be a success from a pure marketing standpoint, but result in widespread negative sentiment when a site goes down and customers can’t access what they expected online. Not only is the campaign budget wasted in terms of lead generation, it adversely impacts the brand it was intended to promote – a doubly painful outcome for any marketer.

The exact cost of a public IT failure to a company’s brand is hard to measure, but users are increasingly intolerant of any glitch or malfunction in their online experience. Moreover, these users are also increasingly likely to share these experiences with others online, potentially sparking a chain reaction of negative perception from a single crash. And while the resilience of the company’s website is a core priority, marketers need to be aware of other IT requirements implicit in their strategies.

As campaigns become increasingly oriented around cross-media and multi-platform deployment, mobile apps and sites need to maintain the same quality of service as the main websites which they’re linked to. Security is another major concern: a malicious intrusion can not only result in website outages, it can compromise the reputation and integrity of the business. These attacks can severely compromise a business’ operations no matter how big or small, as endemic breaches in Sony’s user-data systems showed just last year. While security isn’t the primary responsibility of marketers, it’s worth noting that campaign-driven increases in traffic can often make websites more vulnerable to certain types of attacks, particularly denial of service (DoS) attempts.

Most marketers won’t have considered the impact of IT services on their campaign strategy before, and may not be sure of what to look for when considering website and application hosting solutions. In many cases, cost is the deciding factor, which can help in the campaign’s raw budget but lead to serious issues down the track if quality ends up being compromised. While having an in-depth understanding of IT infrastructure won’t be necessary, marketers should have a basic understanding of what they need technically for their campaigns to succeed.

First of all, the provider should be able to predict and meet peak demand resulting from campaigns. The key concept here is scalability, which refers to a provider’s ability to rapidly add or subtract bandwidth and server capacity depending on how much their client needs. Marketers need to make sure a provider can ‘scale’ up capacity when a campaign goes live, and potentially scale it back down once demand returns to normal levels. More experienced providers will also be able to estimate how much traffic or demand any given campaign might generate, and within what timeframe it may do so. That sort of information can allow marketers to better predict expenses even within a more flexible cost structure. Some providers will also offer management tools through which agencies and marketers can monitor their IT usage and, in some cases, scale it up and down on the fly. The most important thing, however, is that the provider can adjust your IT capacity to meet rapid and dramatic changes in online demand.

Providers should also have a strong track record in preventing outages and security breaches. While scalability is important, it’s of little use if the provider’s underlying infrastructure is fault-prone or insecure. In this case, the provider’s history and experience are critical: testimonials, past clients and even reputation amongst competitors will indicate the quality of service you can expect to support your campaign. Agencies may also consider consulting their IT departments to see whether the provider’s technical offerings are up to industry standard and in line with what the agency would demand of its own systems.

Finally, marketers need to be able to communicate clearly with the provider over the exact services they need. This includes making sure that a provider’s solutions and hardware are compatible with campaign materials (such as websites, videos, and apps), understanding how the provider stores and safeguards campaign-related data, and clearly defining the cost structure of services, including the costs of scaling up to peak demand. The more experienced and reliable the provider, the more likely they will be able to also provide guidance over the specific hardware and bandwidth required for the campaign.

Marketing and IT are increasingly intertwined in how businesses go about pursuing overall growth. Marketing professionals need to have a basic understanding of the IT requirements for their campaigns in order to ensure their results are on track. By selecting hosting services providers with enough scalability and experience, marketers and agencies can focus on what they do best – getting people interested – without worrying about whether their IT can keep up.

 

Martin Walsh
BY Martin Walsh ON 29 May 2012
General manager, marketing, Macquarie Telecom