Digital marketers need to know the tech too

The industry has been writing about the need for digital marketers to learn code for years. It seems like it’s been falling on deaf ears, though. As the demand is growing for these skills, the supply isn’t. We still don’t have enough digital marketers with code knowledge to go around.

Going a step further, we don’t have enough marketers with basic technical knowledge. The type of knowledge that helps you understand how analytics programs track users, what’s possible with HTML/CSS, and how to understand and work with IT teams.

The universities aren’t helping either – if anything, they’re making it worse. Most marketing degree graduates complete their course of study without ever learning anything about digital marketing, much less anything technical. The universities aren’t keeping up. We’re only just now seeing digital analytics and marketing courses offered by colleges. And by the time the books are printed, the information is out of date.

As the world of digital marketing becomes more personalized, automated, and data driven, a marketer cannot be effective without tech knowledge.

A huge challenge to educating marketers in tech is that much of it is abstract. Talking about APIs, showing code examples, explaining how cookies work – most of that doesn’t get through. It too easily comes across as jargon. Sure, some pieces here and there may get picked up, but what’s really needed is an underlying basic understanding of all of it.

How do marketers get a baseline understanding of tech? I’ve only seen one effective way, learning to code.

Digital marketers need to learn code for two reasons

  1. Coding is a great way to learn logic statements.
    Don’t underestimate how important being able to understand and create a logic tree can be. Digital marketing is becoming a web of interaction points, mediums, and software platforms. Marketers need a good understanding of logic to wrap their heads around all of it. You need logic to identify areas of opportunity and you need it to execute effective marketing campaigns.
  2. Coding teaches you how software and the internet works.
    If you don’t understand JavaScript, you can’t really understand how analytics work. You may be able to read the reports, but without knowing how the data is collected through JavaScript, you have no way of being able to find problems. Simple CSS and HTML knowledge will help you communicate with your technical teams. Take it a step further to understand some server-side code and you’ll be your tech team’s new best friend in marketing.

There’s no better way to learn to code than to build your own website. Buy a domain name, find a cheap host, install WordPress, and start hacking away at it. Learn how to edit the PHP in the WordPress templates. Find out how CSS works. Learn what responsiveness really means. Setup Google Analytics and learn how to fire events. Setup Google Tag Manager and see how it works. Go the next step and setup a couple tests with Google Optimize. Break things. Then, fix them.

If you’re a digital marketer and you don’t know tech, you have an expiration date. It may be a year or two, it may be five. But eventually, the pool of skilled digital marketers will get large enough that your lack of skills will put you out of a job.