As marketing and technology collide, we’re beginning to see this paradigm shift, and it isn’t particularly a “new” revelation. We’ve all heard Gartner’s predictions that the CMO will spend more on technology than the CIO – but what that also assumes is that marketers will work a little more closely with developers and other technology professionals. If the CMO is buying a lot of new technologies, then that means marketers and developers will need to work together – and for some, that probably means for the first time ever.
Ultimately, marketers and developers will need to learn how to communicate with each other so the technological solution they create actually solves the business or marketing problem.
As marketing leadership implements new technologies to take marketing to the next level, marketing professionals will also need to adapt to new, more technical ways of thinking. At the same time, a new breed of marketing professionals will arise: the marketing technologist.
But allow me to back-track a little here.
When I say marketers should be able to code, I don’t mean they should learn C# or .NET or HTML5. While all of those languages would be useful to at least be familiar with, a marketer will never sit down and write a whole program or website by themselves. We’re marketers – not developers. We’ll never open up our own Sitecore solutions and edit a file with our .NET skills. We’ll never ever need to really know Perl or Ruby. Knowing SQL might actually be useful, but we’ll never sift through big data by ourselves.
But marketers should be able to code for the same reasons that teenagers and adults are encouraged to learn another language that is not already native to them: because the benefits and advantages are too great to be without.
Why Marketers Should Know How to Code
- Accurately describe your problem to your developer or IT support team. Ever feel like you can’t talk about the thingy that isn’t working correctly? You know.. the thingy. The link thingy. It’s not working!!! Well – long gone are the days where you felt like you were tongue-tied and couldn’t actually describe the problem you were having with your technology. It will provide clarity around what your IT team actually needs to fix and what parts of the problem the marketing team can actually fix. For example, instead of saying, “The link doesn’t work!”, you can actually describe the problem and identify that the problem was actually with a URL redirect.
- Quickly find and solve problems in your emails. Ever sent an email that rendered incorrectly in an email client like Gmail, Outlook, or Yahoo? If you are comfortable with HTML and CSS, you can quickly sift through your email template to find and correct the problem. Since emails aren’t advanced examples of HTML/CSS because emails are literally still stuck in 1996, marketers would have no trouble navigating the HTML of a simple email template. Having these basic skills could greatly save an email marketer’s (and developer’s) time! Don’t wait for changes to be made – change them yourself! As email clients and email service providers change, you’ll also be able to keep up with any changes to email and you’ll also know what’s possible code-wise with email and what’s not.
- Know social like a boss. If you understand URL encoding, writing links to Tweets will make a lot more sense. Then you’ll be able to quickly write a Twitter link without even thinking about it – like this! You can become a little more independent with writing your own sharing links as well.
- Bypass any glitchy WYSIWIG editors. Not all content editors are perfect. They are also called “WYSIWIG editors” – short for: “what you see is what you get”. Editing a document in Word, for example, is a WYSIWIG editor. But we see them all the time – in Sitecore, in WordPress, Mailchimp, Blogger, etc, and they aren’t all created equal. A lot of WYSIWIG editors are really glitchy, and the value in being able to go directly to the source code-version of whatever it is we’re trying to edit is a godsend.
- Become more tech-savvy. With knowing code or how to write HTML comes great confidence. If you are a marketer who is also a content manager for a website, you will feel a lot more comfortable with the technology – especially when it gives you error codes! You will also feel more confident about actually “owning” a website, and a lot of changes you will be able to make on your own. For example, I am the content manager of a blog on WordPress. I recently wanted to make a change to the template I was using – it was rendering “quotes” very strangely in blog posts. At first, I was going to submit a support ticket, but then I realized I could use Google Chrome to “View Page Element” by right-clicking what was bothering me about the blog post and I was able to find the CSS style tag that wasn’t so pretty. In the blog’s template, I made the change to the CSS myself. It took about 10 minutes.
- Feel more comfortable with understanding what works in technology and what doesn’t. Describing a problem or a need, like “content migration” for example, that can be really costly can sometimes be tough for marketers who don’t understand what it actually is (or why it can be so darn costly!). But if you can understand the basics or infrastructure of any website, understanding why content migration is a tough cookie to crumble will make a lot more sense – because you already understand the basics! Content migration isn’t the only example, though. There are tons of technological scenarios that could land a marketing department’s technology plans between a rock and a hard place. A solution is often more easily derived and discussed when at least a few marketers in the room can understand what is possible with their technology – and what isn’t.
- Know what your technology is capable of – or isn’t capable of at all. A lot of times, we marketers get stars in our eyes when we fall in love with a new technology that is going to make our lives wonderful and easier – until of course our IT teams tells us it’s either impossible or would be so costly to integrate into our preexisting technologies that it isn’t worth it.
- Master SEO. Search engine optimization requires an understanding on how meta tags work. The same is true for other tags in HTML.
- Save time and costly mistakes. In my own experience, I’ve seen many technology teams and developers try to explain why something can’t be done, and the marketing teams would nod their heads without ever fully grasping the repercussions of the problem – even after the tech team warned the marketing team of the consequences. Weeks later, the marketing leadership will ask why something isn’t working properly, and memories of the technology teams trying to explain a problem suddenly comes back to haunt the marketer. It’s actually a common scenario – and to no fault to either the marketer nor the tech team. But mistakes are often very costly – and if a marketer can ask better questions and provide better explanations, a lot of these mistakes can be avoided (and save the organization some money!).
Okay – You’ve Convinced Me. But Where to Start?
There are two main categories of coding languages when it comes to websites and online applications:
Front-end languages are those that we as website visitors see and interact with. They include:
- HTML: The structure and framework for all web pages.
- CSS: The style and design of a web page, including color, font type, alignment, padding, etc.
There are more of course, but start here as these are the most widely used and cross-browser compatible.
Back-end languages are used to build programs that support front-end languages, for example giving access to databases and for business logic. Some examples include:
In my personal experience, the front-end languages will be the most useful with the exception of JQuery. Knowing HTML and CSS like the back of your hand, however, are two extremely valuable languages to know.
Where to Learn
- W3 Schools: Slightly more technical, W3 Schools also breaks down the basics and tackles very complex coding and writing ideas. W3 is also completely free – and they include interactive activities as well. W3 covers a variety of languages – from ASP.NET to XML.
- Treehouse: I’ve heard rave reviews about Treehouse. It is also a very interactive learning environment, and for $25 a month, you can learn a variety of different languages.
- Pluralsight: For the hardcore marketer. While definitely not for the faint of heart, Pluralsight is meant for developers and programmers who are looking for more intense training. This could be useful for marketers who have a real desire or need to learn something more technical and advanced.