If you think back on the history of marketing, you might see visions of smoke-filled rooms, desks dotted with decanters of liquor, and meetings revolving around artfully crafted creative pieces propped up on easels. That’s where marketing came from – a history of gut-feel and liquor-fueled inspiration. At least, that’s how all the old assumptions of marketing might’ve rolled up into one general scene. Today, though, marketing looks decidedly different. Where creative craft was the old hallmark of the marketing trade, for the new school of marketers, technical agility and acumen seem to rule the day.
Both images of marketing – the vintage and the modern – however, are built on assumptions. They’re scenes informed only by our own experiences. Did marketers in earlier eras use the research, data, or information they had available to inform their decisions? It’s very likely that many did. Are modern marketers still well-versed in creative thinking and storytelling? Of course they are.
To avoid any assumptions about how important technical skills in marketing are today, I think it’s best to look more at what top marketers are saying and doing in their own efforts, as opposed to trying to distill everything into a few general takeaways. Below, you’ll find insights and analyses from 13 marketing professionals – some entirely supporting technical skills, some emphasizing both creative and technical sophistication, and even a few who challenge the concept entirely. I can’t tell you how vital it is to have technical skills in marketing outright, but hopefully, these insights will help you arrive at your own answer…
Scott Brinker, Co-Founder & CTO of Ion Interactive:
In his post, What Will Happen with Marketing Technology in 2015, Scott concisely sums up the overall trend of technology in marketing writing:
Whatever label you want to put on them, the number of technical professionals working in the service of marketing is clearly on the rise. I’m hearing the term “marketing technologist” used more frequently, and I expect that it will gain more traction in the year ahead. Where will these previously nonexistent marketing technologists come from? Many will migrate from IT, where a subset of those professionals are eager to apply their technical talents in the pursuit of more exciting, customer-facing innovations that are recognized as driving revenue, not merely containing expense.
David T. Waring, Co-Founder, FitsmallBusiness.com:
While I believe that technical/analytical acumen can be a benefit in modern marketing, I do not believe that it is necessary. In fact I think technical/analytical ability is becoming less important over time instead of more important.
In the early days of digital marketing, if you wanted to be involved at all, you needed both technical and analytical ability. This is no longer the case. You now have access to many tools like wordpress and google analytics that allow you to launch and market a site with little technical or analytical ability. This would not have been possible 10 years ago when just getting a decent site online would require significant technical knowledge.
Ellie Mirman, VP Marketing, Toast:
Analytical skills are must-haves for marketers today, but unfortunately, many marketers have yet to build these skills. Not only is it hugely helpful to be able to analyze data — to find opportunities or measure progress — but also, data plays a key role in communicating marketing’s value to the rest of the organization. Some executives are starting to insist that marketing be measured, and marketers need to be prepared to have those conversations and approach their activities in an analytical way.
Deidre Woollard, Communications Manager, Partners Trust:
I believe today’s marketers need to understand technology without being slaves to it. Technology is the medium not the message; the message is still of primary importance. However, understanding technology means how to best frame the message — whether it’s video, a gif, a photo over text, or a piece of written content — and how to best distribute the message, whether it’s email, social media, direct text message, sponsored posts/native advertising, or direct advertising. Do all marketers need to code or be developers? No. Do all marketers need to know what is possible in technology? Absolutely!
Alison Grippo, Principal, Digital Strategy at Sullivan:
I think it’s not a question of technology; it’s question of knowing the channels, mediums and moments that are best for your audience reach. A savvy marketer will be up to date on the value of technology and analytics for social monitoring, advertising and messaging optimization, but will also be aware of the right technologies for the right messages. What technology does do is force marketers to have more pointed and targeted messages to specialized audiences in order to increase conversion, not just reach. If marketers do not move towards that level of understanding, the technology will not matter. The key is now, you must be able to offer more than just the value proposition to the consumer; you have to offer how that value proposition that specifically fits the needs and goals of the consumer. Technology and analytics refine that process.
Melinda Rainsberger, Creative Director, They’re Using Tools!:
A marketing team is like a sport team. You’ve got certain specialists, like your analytics expert or your sports trainers, who can dramatically improve your team. In either case, measurements and optimization make a world of difference. But in both marketing and in sports management, your specialists can’t work in a vacuum. A nutritionist has to work directly with players, who in turn have to implement the advice that nutritionist provides in their daily routines. Players wind up having to acquire a little expertise of their own along the way.
Sports and marketing are both competitive fields. Ignoring technical skills, like analytics, is just handing victory to another team.
Ali Din, CMO at dinCloud:
Marketing is no longer about gut feel. With digital marketing being such a large aspect of the way prospects and buyers approach a brand, marketers can be precise in their targeting, and more importantly, in their refinement. Marketing is about testing. Having technical skills and an understanding of the tools and technologies is essential for any marketer — whether they are in B2C, B2B, or even catering to the public sector. Experimentation comes from having the right tools, asking questions, testing a hypothesis, adjusting levels in different marketing channels, and reviewing the impact. With all these levers and channels, having tools is the only way to consolidate and get a grasp on this information.
Additionally, as a marketing manager, having a technical staff is not enough. Marketing managers need to be ingrained to the level of understanding capabilities — staying up to date on news and trends to guide their organization and be more effective.
Jonathan Bingham, CEO of Janeiro:
While technical and analytical acumen is a must for today’s marketer, it’s not as simple as buying a few SaaS solutions and hoping everything works out. It’s important to start with the business vision as opposed to getting distracted by the bells and whistles of technology. With so many options out there, let the goals of the business drive the strategy, not the latest and greatest widget. Otherwise, you can end up with a Porsche when you really need a pair of hiking boots. It’s also important to get the right people onboard for implementation and roll-out, so be sure to find a technology advocate internally at your organization. Technology and marketing used to run in different lanes, but today it’s a relay, and the best CMOs have a collaborative relationship.
Amanda Schalyo, Marketing Director, APQC:
Today’s marketers are being called upon across companies to be more tech-savvy. Almost all levels of marketing are expected and tasked to use technical tools/software such as content management system websites and email marketing systems, as well as CRM systems and social media. What really has come into demand, though, especially for the senior marketing folks, is the technical acumen to create the processes and use the big data available to tackle lead scoring and behavioral analytics. Can you conceive the right parameters for a data query and analyze the results to determine where to shift a marketing campaign to improve conversions?
Jason Michaels, Chief Strategy Officer at Wire Stone:
Marketing has made a demonstrative shift toward really valuing technical and analytical skills in recent years, whether you’re talking about programmatic ad buys fine-tuned by leveraging big data, or brand marketing that uses emerging technology to implement never-before-seen brand experiences. I’ve seen benefits in forming marketing teams with diverse “all of the above” skill sets, gathering individuals from technical, analytical, creative, and business backgrounds to try to cover all the angles (and not just the creative side) when it comes to a client’s marketing needs. By combining disciplines in this way, a marketing team’s work can be more than the sum of those parts, passing muster from each of those included perspectives. As I see it, technical and analytical skills are critical, must-have components of what modern marketers should offer.
Eric Ward, President, EricWard.com:
I believe every new marketing channel requires new skills; however, technical skills for “modern” marketing can mean different things to different people and industries. Let’s say I’m working with a company who manufacturers grain silos and their main buyer is a 55+ yearr old farm owner who drives to the silo facility to see the silos in person. Do I really need to teach my client how to be a twitter ninja? No. But it could be in my client’s best interests to put the specs for all his silos online as downloadable PDF docs on a very basic web site. The key is the technical skills that will be most advantageous for him will be much different than for someone else. Now let’s say I’m working with health diagnostics smartphone app developer who has a marketing team that sells to hospital CEOs. That marketing team is going to have to have a tremendous level of technical marketing acumen across multiple online channels compared to the silo manufacturer. I know these may seem like hypothetical situations, but actually, they aren’t. It’s happening. They key is knowing what you need to know and why, and then not getting complacent.
Lucy Siegel, President & CEO of Bridge Global Strategies LLC
We have moved beyond the era when marketing executives could rely on their staffs to provide the necessary understanding of the new tech tools. While the marketing exec doesn’t need much day-to-day expertise in using all the new technology, it’s crucial to know what’s now available (which changes constantly), how the tools work and how they can fit into the overall marketing mix for a company or product. You can no longer develop a smart marketing strategy and plan without that kind of knowledge.
Matt Voda, CMO of OptiMine
While marketers don’t necessarily need to have a technical background themselves, they do need an analytical mindset, an interest in measurement, and an adeptness in leveraging the technologies that have become essential to navigating today’s complex marketing environment. The fundamentals of marketing, such as understanding your audience to develop creative that resonates and motivates, will never change as long as we are trying to connect with human beings. However, in a world where consumers move seamlessly across an increasing array of channels and devices, analytics have become essential to helping marketers understand which of their many touchpoints are both resonating with consumers and driving business value.
Do you have any additional insights to share? Add your thoughts to the conversation in the comments below!
For more information on marketing technology, download Aberdeen’s free reports:
- Data Visualization for Marketing: Picture Perfect Customer Insight, Peter Krensky, December 2014
- Interactive Marketing Analytics: Technology Begets Technology, Peter Krensky, April 2014
- Marketing Analytics: Crunching Numbers, Winning Customers, Peter Krensky, March 2014