Embrace your inner geek and be a better marketer

Technology is one of the 12 core elements of the Modern Marketing Manifesto formulated by Marketing Week and Econsultancy. We propose that to be a modern marketer you must be comfortable and adept at procuring and using technology. We believe modern marketers will have increasing ownership of technology.

Ashley Friedlein

But it’s not just about technology solutions or platforms. It is becoming increasingly important that marketers, and certainly digital marketers, have a good grasp of technology fundamentals to be most effective in their jobs. Having a grip on technology allows us to understand the ‘art of the possible’ and give us ideas; it also helps us work more productively with colleagues in technology teams.

In 2011, Eric Schmidt, then still chief executive of Google, used his MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival to lambast the UK education system for not teaching coding as part of the curriculum. I agree. I still remember the pride at seeing my name flash cyan/magenta on the screen of my BBC Micro when I ran a small program that I had been taught to write. Today, children are taught only to use software but not how to make it. In the US, children are being sent to Code Camps in the holidays. In the UK, we have some laudable initiatives like Code Club for schools but too little is being done, too slowly.

We marketers should learn about coding as part of our commitment to embracing technology. We don’t need to become developers but we do need to understand what’s going on ‘under the hood’ so we can better communicate with the technologists we rely on to deliver digital marketing.

So I decided to go on a one day training course, run by Decoded, called Learn to Code in a Day. Time to practice what I preach.

The mixture of the 10 participants was interesting. Half were male, half female. Two were 16-year-olds who had just finished their GCSEs. There was a Malaysian businessman on a tourist trip to London who fancied doing this course as it was “more interesting than visiting the Tower of London”. A couple of marketers from a big fashion brand were there too as well as a top ex-Google/Facebook executive and an editor of a magazine. Not one thought it likely they would become a coder but all perhaps thought that if the geeks are to inherit the earth, it might be useful to know how to talk to them.

We learnt about the history of the web and the building blocks that make it work. Browsers, DNS, data formats, web servers, databases, programming and mark-up languages, libraries, frameworks: how it all fits together and how it works. We did coding using HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Indeed, during the day we built a multi-platform app that could track our location, calculate our distance from a destination and display conditional content.

So how valuable is it for marketers to immerse themselves in coding? For me, there are three significant benefits that relate to other elements of our manifesto, namely creativity, data and character. Learning a bit about coding fuelled creative ideas. For example, I was not aware of how HTML5 allows for geolocation through the browser using Wi-Fi positioning technology – you can still tell where a customer is even if they’re not on a phone or tablet. On the data side, I didn’t know that if you go to graph.facebook.com/(Facebook name) you can see what data Facebook is making available about that person. Try it with your own name. Intriguing.

But perhaps most beneficial is what relates to the character part of our manifesto. There we propose eight characteristics a modern marketer should have. Three of these are being collaborative, innovative and brave. Learning about coding, and technology more broadly, fosters collaboration between marketers and technologists. It fuels experimentation. It is energising and fun. It feels like the heart of what it means to be ‘digital’.

So if you feel like nurturing your inner geek come to the Crunch event on 10 October, part of the Festival of Marketing curated by Econsultancy and Marketing Week, where we will be looking at the intersection of marketing with data and analytics. Find out more about the festival at www.festivalofmarketing.com.

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