Layer on swiss cheese to prevent marketing errors

Rather listen that read? Check out our podcast episode on this topic here.

Picture this scenario: you run marketing operations for your company, which means you’re responsible for every email that goes out the door. You just found out that email you were supposed to send to ~2,000 people accidentally went to ~20,000 people. Your chest becomes tight and you think it might be the end of the world. Now, let me give you a rewind button so we can go back in time and use the Swiss Cheese Model for quality assurance, to make sure that mistake never happens.

What’s that?! Cheese can save my marketing operations?! Well in this case, yes.

What is the Swiss Cheese Model?

My best explanation of the model goes like this: think about a slice of swiss cheese with a few holes in it. Each hole in the cheese is a weakness, or an opportunity for a mistake to slip through. We are human and not machines, so we’re always going to have these “holes” or opportunities for human error.

Now if you add on another slice of swiss cheese, some of the holes are covered up, but maybe 1 or 2 still line up. The more slices you layer on, the less opportunities there are for the holes to line up, or for a mistake to slip through. So each slice of cheese represents a layer of security or preventative measure to avoid mistakes coming through - the more the better.


Countless industries use this method to prevent human error. For example, TSA implemented the model to tighten up their airport screening and security measures. So why not use a proven method for our marketing campaigns?

The Swiss Cheese Model for Marketing

The more layers of “defense” we put onto a campaign, the less likely there is to be a massive issue with the campaign. We want to make sure there is always a failsafe in place so that if one thing fails (human error is inevitable), there is a backup in place, or another piece of swiss cheese. Let’s think through some typical marketing mistakes that could happen and how they could be avoided using the swiss cheese model.

Example 1: Campaign goes to wrong audience

Layers of swiss cheese:

  • Use repeatable segmentations instead of creating an audience from scratch

  • QA checklist for reviewing an audience

  • Adding exclusion filter

  • Calculating size before and after campaign initiation

Example 2: Campaign sends the wrong offer

Layer of swiss cheese:

  • Creating a unique name for the offer. Instead of v1, v2 that can get easily mixed up, you could add distinguishing text to ensure you are selecting final version

Example 3: Offer has the wrong link

Layers of swiss cheese:

  • Have multiple people test the links

  • Check any tracking campaigns after testing to make sure the action was captured

  • Open links in an incognito browser

Example 4: Accidental activation of campaign

Layers of swiss cheese:

  • Manage permissions - if someone will be working in a system they are not fully trained on, change their permissions so they can’t do any damage

  • Schedule into the future instead of immediately sending things

Layers of swiss cheese applicable to prevent any marketing mistakes:

  • Have more than 1 reviewer

  • Use a QA checklist to check for key areas that may get missed

  • Schedule a campaign into the future instead of pressing “send now,” which allows you to come back hours later and look at the campaign with fresh eyes

Make it a group effort

When you are working through something important, think to yourself: “What are the ways this could go wrong?” and then put something in place that will prevent it. Brainstorm with your team on where the holes are in your process and what layers might stop mistakes from getting through.

A Quality Assurance Checklist is great to have on hand to make sure you aren’t missing anything in your QA process, so we have created a free Email QA Checklist here. Use this every time you schedule an email send to make sure you have all your holes covered before sending something.

There are various ways that this model can be implemented in your marketing processes, so we hope this gets you thinking about how it might work for you team!