Every Marketer Does Not Need To Be Technical
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I read a post on SEOmoz a couple weeks ago. Every Marketer Should Be Technical. There were some valuable links, all of which I plan to mine. But I’ve got a few problems with a (the?) concept in this post.
Now I’m not a fan of labeling everything – growth hacking, technical marketing, SEO 2.0, etc. I only accept “inbound” marketing as a term under protest (it makes me itchy, like it was invented to serve a meta-marketing purpose, not completely unlike Valentine’s Day). The author of this SEOmoz post had some congruent commentary on the labeling as well, but that notwithstanding, my first objection is with the title.
If this post were called, “Every Marketer May Benefit From Being Technical,” I could more easily get behind that.
If you read my blog (I’m thankful to those who do), you may have read rants on the definition of SEO. The sun must be in the right alignment with the moon, because it’s a hot topic again (for the moment). To recap my opinion – there are several definitions for SEO, and they’re all correct depending on what your goals are. Some parts of SEO are not marketing. Some of it is. That said, there’s certainly a role for non-technical marketers in this space. We still refer to SEO as an art and a science, right? The “art” part only entered into the picture within the last 6 years or so. That’s clearly the marketing part.
If marketing were a solar system, we are but a single entity sharing off other parts of the system. I studied marketing my whole life, and ultimately landed on Planet SEO. But I certainly acknowledge the other planets out there. I had a 6 year career in a major digital agency, where some of the smartest, most influential marketers weren’t technical in the slightest. They didn’t need to be. They found ways to be successful with their toolset. I refrain to use the word “limited” in terms of their toolset, because it suggests a negative connotation.
I’ve seen other SEOs essentially call out their peers for not knowing how to cache pages on their blog, build an .htaccess, scrape, etc. I’ve always pushed back on that limited view. If SEO is partially comprised of marketing, then this isn’t fair.
Does knowing the technical side of digital marketing help you communicate better in the digital space? The author believes so. I agree it can help, but it’s not absolute. I believe the non-technical marketer can have just as valuable role online. Depending on their role and the campaigns, maybe even more. Their creativity is not limited by what they can do, which tends to happen to those who have a firm grasp of “their” rules (or, the extent of their technical knowledge).
A few years ago I was part of a social media marketing committee at an agency, where the entire channel was being built around developing a software that could measure the ROI of a social engagement. At the same time the tool was being built, so were possible strategies we’d offer in our client package. Ultimately, we drove ourselves into a corner. We couldn’t come up with anything inspiring, creative, daring, influential, or original. In this case the “technical marketing” component was an anchor. I promptly (and proudly) quit that group, which to this day, still hasn’t officially birthed. The smartest guy in the group – a non-technical marketer – also stepped out. He continued to build some amazing non-technical digital marketing campaigns for some huge brands, simply by partnering with an analytics group who could do the monitoring and reporting with him.
Just like the old days. The osteology is new, the heart is the same.
So, with that said, this comment thread particularly interested me.
There’s that label again. That cornering “technical marketer” label. It’s a term that scares me – like giving rock n’ roll too many rules, or telling an artist he has to paint in the lines. I worry that a post like this will polarize SEOs who don’t read closely enough to comments like “…I’d still argue that those who were the most successful had the creative mind along with the understanding and capability to measure what is successful.” If that’s all this post were about, I’d completely agree with that.
I don’t know the author and one of the commenters, but I do know David Cohen (@explorionary) from Seer Interactive, and his work. He and I had a quick chat over the weekend about this post. It dawned on us that we might have the makings of a pretty good read. From here on, inspired by the format of a Nick Eubanks / Anthony Pensabene post, a semi-real time continuation of our thoughts here:
I felt like this post needed a soundtrack. For me, it’s the Foo Fighters song, The Colour and the Shape. It’s not a technical song from a technical band. But the Foo Fighters just work really well together, each contributing something unique to create their dynamic sound.
Alright. The title of the aforementioned post sounds like it bothered you. It annoyed me. “Every Marketer Should Be Technical“. Why? What’s the point?
According to the author, a great marketer can now develop a high-level marketing strategy, use SQL to pull email lists, write copy, design landing pages, and then code them. I’m guessing a great contemporary marketer should also know how to make a killer Hollandaise sauce, and know how to weld wine racks too.
There’s some good commentary over at inbound inspired by the post we’re discussing. I think it’s a real distraction if it becomes a “them vs. us” type of battle. SEOs already deal with it against the design folk, straight copywriters, the UX/IA teams. We don’t need a civil war, but at the heart of marketing is creativity. Psychology. The art of communication. At some point years ago SEO outgrew its technical definition, especially when it became a marketing channel in several major agencies who did online work. I watched it happen in my old company, as it left the IT department and moved into the marketing department.
There’s room in this industry for SEOs who only know development. There’s always a need for the person who knows the whole jQuery library or can optimize web code (etc.), just like there’s always a need for the graphic designer, the database admin, the data analyst in an online marketing campaign. That’s vital. But that’s not marketing. I used the example above of “technical marketing” being an anchor. Clearly not the case in every campaign, but I believe it can happen enough to not accept a black and white opinion on this.
As a marketer, here’s a dream come true scenario for me – you decided to build a tool that listens to people better so you can create context around your marketing better.
You bring a team of devs and designers together to build this tool. The team of devs and designers allows a rep from the social and marketing teams to be a part of their creation process. And then once this tool that’s designed to help marketers create context is ready for testing, you let storytellers, copywriters, social and PR people learn its nuances, test their behavior as they use the tool, iterate, and then roll out your minimum viable product.
Then as your next iteration launches into the jungle of humanity and you have a team analyzing user behavior, you also have a community manager and PR team confidently ready to attract attention and earn people’s trust to give the tool a try. And if you can get a community built around your brand’s vision and core beliefs, the potential to meet your business objectives is high.
So, I’m not into compartmentalizing people by labeling them. Let’s just build diverse marketing teams with people who do 1 or 2 things really well and see what happens.
I like that. It’s like a band (and yes, I consider a drummer – a non melody maker – a musician) – bring in all the SMUs and create together, dependent on each other. Make it iterative and you’re aiming at agile development. I’m with you 100% David, which I figured I’d be after guessing where you were going on the SEOmoz comments.
I think this is a pretty sound counter-opinion. I also think the opposite (original post) could be offensive to some marketers.
Maybe some marketers were offended. The headline was annoying but the post was funny, and then I got sad. Especially when it got to the “12 Ingredients To Be A Technical Marketer” part. Putting the idea that marketers have to learn how to do everything from web dev, design, copywriting and technical SEO wouldn’t leave much time for a marketer to learn how to talk to actually talk to people and understand markets.
Even if a marketer fits in the ‘technical’ category, they can become better at what they do by understanding the nuances and idiosyncrasies of the people they are developing and creating things for. Just like storytellers, copywriters, and social folks can learn from technical or analytical minded people.
Last point here. And this is about marketing leadership. I think one of the best things we can do is help marketers who are coming up through the ranks to understand that you don’t actually have to be the person described in the SEOmoz post to become successful and provide value to a team.
I think we can do better (me included) at giving young marketers a clearer vision for how they best fit in the broad and diverse world of marketing. And once they catch that vision, to help them gain confidence and a strong knowledge-base. Helping people who are eager to learn to build confidence and self-esteem is one of the greatest things we can do as professionals who’ve been in the game awhile.
What do you think? Jump into the conversation.