Dealing with Standards In the Digital Marketing WorldThe digital marketing world is one in constant flux, which is the nature of any industry that centers on technology. From Apple vs. PC to BluRay vs. HD DVD, standards for new technologies become the battlegrounds for many companies trying to have their chosen formats to be the winners. Of course, this is hardly surprising given the vast sums of money spent to win such format wars.

As a result, companies trying to establish their particular format as the standard tend to dismiss the other proposed suggestions. So-called \”early adopters\’ are used to such shifts but by the time a particular technology reaches the mass consumer audience, normally one standard is established\”¦ hopefully.

Digital marketing channels are no different when it comes to standards, both good and bad. Some communication vehicles are more or less uniform in their standards but others offer digital marketers a sometimes bewildering array of options, causing many to go with the less common denominator approach. To help sort through the mess, here\’s a quick guide on how various digital marketing communications deal with standards, from the easiest to the most contentious.


RSS or Really Simple Syndication has been around for years but has only just started to reach beyond the techies thanks to applications like Firefox and Outlook which now the incorporate the technology. RSS was born out of several failed attempts to syndicate online content and has the most stable set of standards among digital marketing channels. Yet, there is a competing version of RSS called Atom, which was created by a group of developers who felt the standard RSS format was too limiting. Fortunately most RSS readers are able to interpret both formats, making a digital marketer\’s job a whole lot easier when deploying RSS campaigns.

Online Video

Just a few years ago, online video was probably the most dysfunctional of all when it came to standards with such incompatible formats as QuickTime, Audio Video Interleave (AVI), RealVideo, etc. etc. While these formats all do still exist, the explosion of such sites as YouTube have made it all a bit more tolerable by more or less standardizing on Adobe\’s Flash Video. This was important because the Flash player was already practically a default install for the vast majority of online consumers.

Still, many marketers prefer to use the other, more high quality (but not as universal) format like QuickTime and Microsoft\’s AVI. This usually results in sites having to list 2 or 3 different options to view the video, which can be a pain for the consumer but is still considered to be fairly nominal.


As one of the older forms of digital marketing, you would probably assume that email would be one type of communication that would have a true set of standards in place\”¦ and you would be wrong. While it\’s true that all email uses a standard protocol – Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) to manage transmission, when it comes to the actual successful delivery of email campaigns, the variety of methods can be maddening.

I won\’t go into detail about the various forms of email authentication as I have already written about this in a previous blog entry. However, just as a quick overview, there are currently 4 main \”standards\” (obviously I use that term loosely here) that are being used by the ISPs.

The Sender Policy Framework (SPF) was the first attempt and is still widely supported but was quickly adapted into a more secure option backed by Microsoft called Sender ID. Not to be outdone, Yahoo! developed yet another format called Domain Keys, and Cisco created their own called Identified Mail. Mercifully, the two companies agreed to merge their respective protocols into a single format, known as DKIM. It looks like it could be years before a true standard is decided (if ever) so digital marketers should be aware that all of these formats need to be implemented in order to reach as many potential inboxes as possible.


When it comes to text messaging, like email, mobile marketing does at the very least have a standard protocol for the transmission of such messages. The Short Message Service (SMS) has a limit of 160 characters per message and is supported by all cell phone carriers. Unfortunately, that is the only true standard. Everything else when it comes to mobile marketing is fractious at best.

As previously noted, one of the main reasons standards take so long to be established is because of the desire for companies to maintain a competitive advantage over each other. This is especially true when it comes to the cell carriers. Some of this is due to the unique nature of mobile marketing as the only form of digital messaging that has a cost to the consumer (either as part of their cell plan or individually via premium campaigns.) The Mobile Marketing Association has published a set of guidelines that should be followed, but some carriers have additional requirements.

This is especially true when it comes to premium SMS campaigns. Recently, AT&T and Verizon increased their requirements to approve such campaigns, and more carriers are expected to follow suit soon. Individual submissions must be made to each carrier, which can cause the entire process to be bogged down, so be prepared to wait awhile for certification.

Mobile content is even more contentious as each major provider in the US has their own preferred format to use – from BREW or J2ME for Web applications to a variety of mobile video options. To make matters worse, each major carrier has their own portal, called a \”deck\” which can only be accessed by their subscribers. Marketers therefore have no choice but to work with each carrier individually to get placement on these decks.

All told, when it comes to digital marketing, standards are few and far between. Marketers need to be constantly aware as various standards evolve and new ones are created. The consequences for not doing so can prevent their digital marketing initiatives from being as successful as planned.

Steve Chipman
Analog thoughts in a digital world