Marketing technology has come a long way since the fictional Harry Crane got a mainframe installed at Sterling Cooper. In light the continued expansion of Scott Brinker’s marketing tools landscape and the role of marketers in managing the end-to-end customer experience, there’s no doubt technology will play an increasingly important role in the marketing function.
The question is: how technical should marketers become?
The recent Big Data Tech 2017 event in Minneapolis drew more than 1,000 attendees from across the business spectrum—IT, marketing, finance, operations—to learn about trends in data management and analytics. The event organizer, MinneAnalytics, is a fantastic group and did an excellent job with the conference, which had several standing-room-only sessions.
What was striking though was how technical even the “non-technical” sessions were. In presentations ostensibly targeted at business users, the content often seemed more focused on the underlying functions of data management than on actual applications of analyzing information.
This emphasis on technological knowledge was articulated starkly in a recent CMS Wire article, Here’s Why Every Modern Marketer Needs R Programming. Really? Are businesses best served by teaching marketers to code? Is that the best way to meet today’s marketing technology challenges?
Be Like Mike: A Lesson on Focus from Michael Jordan
Of course it’s helpful for marketers (as well as those in virtually any knowledge profession today) to have a basic understanding of data management, from collection and storage through management (particularly the importance of data cleansing) and the use of applications to derive knowledge from their data.
The issue is how far to push this. It’s not unusual to see job descriptions posted asking for both extensive marketing experience and scripting skills. There are people who are good at both, but they are rare and expensive. It’s as if companies are trying to hire Don Draper and Harry Crane in single body.
Marketing professionals (and their clients/employers) may be better served by focusing on getting better at using the results of data analysis rather than the mechanics of producing those analyses. In other words, learning more about psychology, neuroscience, and design may be more productive than learning to code.
Numerous studies, reported in a variety of sources from Susan Heathfield on The Balance to Susan Tardanico in Forbes, have shown it’s more beneficial to build on one’s strengths than to shore up weaknesses.
Marketers can arguably provide more value by getting better at communicating rather than coding, persuasion and personas over Python, and KPIs instead of APIs.
A classic example is Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, but a mediocre baseball talent. By focusing on his strengths, he left a lasting impact in the NBA record books. Had he spent more time at baseball practice than in the gym, he would likely have ended up a forgotten, marginal talent in both sports.
And Be Like Mark: Take the Facebook Approach
Ultimately, it’s most productive for marketers to act on analytics, not just manipulate the data. How can they use findings to make better decisions about budget allocations? Consistently create compelling content? Deliver the right messages to the right people at the right times?
Think about Facebook for a moment. If you ponder what the platform actually does, it’s quite complex. Any user can share virtually any type of content—even live video—with any other user or selected group of users, anywhere in the world, at any time. Yet it’s so simple to use that even the most non-technical computer users can pick it up in minutes—without a detailed instruction manual, classes, or even a live help line.
As a result, grandparents can focus on the task they want to accomplish, keeping up with the lives of their grandchildren, rather than being befuddled by the technology.
Once data analytics tools are Facebook-ized, marketers will be able to combine those results with lessons learned from behavioral sciences, literature, and other fields to create more remarkable, effective work. It’s Don Draper creative informed by Harry Crane findings, without requiring Don to become Harry.