The advent of digital marketing has had a profound impact on the speed and reach of marketing campaigns. Back in the days of more traditional marketing, technical skills got a lot less ink on marketing job descriptions than they do today, particularly at the higher levels. A marketer responsible for print or TV advertising didn’t need to know how a printing press or a television worked. But in the modern digital age, digital marketing technology skills have become a priority. Note that I said fluency, not skills. Senior marketing leaders should not be expected to roll up their sleeves and write their own software. I’ve had some clients ask for that, and I advise them that you don’t want a highly paid, highly strategic VP or CMO spending their time coding. But the cast of players that fall under the purview of today’s marketing chief has grown to include a much wider range of internal marketing technologists, not to mention software vendors, IT consultants, and even agencies led by “creative technologists.” Success in digital marketing and technology are not mutually exclusive: I’ve never known a digital marketer, or at least a good one, who has technophobia. For today’s marketer, “techno-speak” needs to be their second language after the language of marketing. Recently, I pulled out a job description I found in my archives for a VP of Marketing for a financial services client in 1999, and compared it with a similar level role I recently found posted online with a company in the same industry. The older version references technical know-how only once, with zero mention of digital marketing technology, and that was in the middle of section labelled “Required Skills.” By contrast, the newer job description referenced familiarity with digital marketing technology half a dozen times throughout the document.
I always like to ask my senior marketing candidates if they’ve done any computer programming during their careers. I know what you’re thinking: You just stated that senior marketers shouldn’t spend time coding. I did indeed, but I ask that question not because I want to know if they have advanced coding skills, but rather, I want to know if they have a foundational understanding of how software works. That tells me two important things: It tells me how well the candidate will be able to communicate with technologists in their native tongue, and secondly, an important part of their job is selecting and managing external technology providers. And it’s not just a matter of sizing up one software package from another. Vendors want to work with clients who truly understand the “secret sauce” that makes their solution best suited for their client’s particular needs. And there’s another big plus to knowing what makes a computer program work: Knowing how to program can help hone your process design skills. Many years ago I studied COBOL programming in college. I couldn’t write a line of code today if my life depended on it, but if someone asked me to map out a process, whether for recruitment or marketing, I’d drag out my plastic flow chart template (which I still have), and then I’d hand my flow chart to the programmers to code. I may not be a coder, but that hands-on COBOL experience did help me understand the kind of thinking that programmers, and marketers, apply every day: If you do A and B, then you go to C. If you don’t do A but you do B, then you go to D. In some countries, school children as young as five are learning the basics of flow charting. Great marketers in the making!
Do digital marketers need proven coding skills in order to be successful? No. Will knowing some programming help improve your process design skills, and help foster better collaboration with IT? Absolutely. And for any marketer, those are great digital marketing technology skills to have!