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Technology is one of the twelve 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 to its best advantage. We believe modern marketers will have increasing ownership of technology.

But it isn’t just about the 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 better technology understanding allows us to understand the ‘art of the possible’ and give us ideas, it helps us work more productively with colleagues in technology teams. 

In 2011 Eric Schmidt, then still CEO 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 entirely agree. 

I remember the pride at seeing my name flash cyan/magenta on the screen of my BBC Micro when I ran the little program I had been taught to write. Now children are only taught to use software and not how to actually make software.

In the US children are now being sent to Code Camps in the holidays. In the UK we have some laudable initiatives like Code Club for schools but far too little is being done, too slowly.

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

So I decided to go on a day’s training course, run by Decoded, called ‘Learn to code in a day’. Time to eat my own dog food.

The mixture of the ten participants was interesting. Half male, half female. Two sixteen year olds who had just finished their GCSEs. 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. A very senior ex Google/Facebook executive. An Editor of a magazine. No-one thought it likely they would become a coder but all perhaps wondered that if the geeks are to inherit the earth then it might be useful to know how to talk to them. 

We learnt about the history of the web and the tech 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 some coding using HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Indeed, over the course of the day, we all built a multi-platform web app that could track our location, calculate our distance from a target destination and display conditional content accordingly.

So how valuable is it for marketers to immerse themselves in learning about coding?

For me there are three significant benefits which relate directly to other elements of our marketing manifesto, namely Creativity, Data and Character.

Learning a bit more about coding fuelled creative marketing ideas. For example, I wasn’t 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 he or she isn’t on a phone or tablet.

On the data side, I didn’t know that if you go to graph.facebook.com/(Facebook name) then you can see what data Facebook are making available about that person. Try it for your own name. Intriguing.

But perhaps most beneficial was what relates to the ‘Character’ part of our manifesto. There we propose eight characteristics that a modern marketer should have. Three of those are: Collaborative, Innovative, Brave.

Learning about coding, and technology more broadly, fosters greater collaboration between marketers and technologists. It fuels innovation and experimentation. It is energising and fun. It feels like the heart of what it means to be ‘digital’ as a marketer. 

Ashley Friedlein

Published 29 August, 2013 by Ashley Friedlein @ Econsultancy

Ashley Friedlein is Founder of Econsultancy and President of Centaur Marketing. Follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (21)

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Simone Kurtzke

Simone Kurtzke, Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Robert Gordon University

Hey Ashley, great post! I agree completely. In the 'olden days' (1996/97 in my case), you had to know html if you wanted to have a website.

It's easy to forget in the social media age that there was no 'out of the box' CMS back then (other than some crappy Geocities website templates, perhaps). I built my first ever website in Notepad, saving it as a html doc before previewing in Netscape - I have fond memories of the <blink> tag! And the JavaScript Source!

It was much more manual but actually not that difficult to do. And html, CSS etc. isn't exactly real programming (unlike, say, C++). These days I keep my tech skills up to date by building websites in WordPress as well as running my own site, and reading source code whenever I see something interesting or want to look under a site's bonnet!

So yes, totally agree with your statement:

"We marketers should learn about coding as part of our commitment to embracing technology. We do not need to become developers but we need to understand enough about what is going on ‘under the hood’’"

And one of the best ways for modern digital marketers to do that is running your own site.

about 3 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

@Simone

When we're interviewing people for jobs, for most roles, we're always encouraged if applicants have run their own sites, down their analytics, hacked some code, played around generally with code and tools.

I too did my limited coding in Notepad. I remember the days of trying to get a site to render consistently in IE3 and Netscape Navigator 2.0. Nightmare...

By the way, the story behind the blink tag: http://www.montulli.org/theoriginofthe%3Cblink%3Etag

about 3 years ago

Simone Kurtzke

Simone Kurtzke, Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Robert Gordon University

@Ashley - ha! Thanks for the blink tag story! I never knew how it came about, only that it was one of the most despised html tricks. Just behind auto-playing naff midi-files...

about 3 years ago

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Jonathan Bass (Managing Director, Incentivated)

Geek! (Me too ...) The key word here is 'fundamentals'. An example might be adaptive vs responsive design (but not necessarily how to code it). There was a good quote a few days ago from the people at USA Today about how responsive design fails to deliver good mobile sites (slow to load, suffer inertia, lacking in mobile functionality etc). "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing", I believe Milton said. Marketers get a grip of tech or suffer disappointment and career damage. #MoMaMa is a great initiative in this area. Ps, talking of Milton I saw Sam this weekend - had a good chat about you but wish I had known about your experiments in pink/blue flashing self-promotion in advance! You Essex-boy you ...

about 3 years ago

Malcolm Duckett

Malcolm Duckett, CEO at Magiq

Well Done Ashley, thank you for making those of us who can see the benefits of Courier feel more at home!

But seriously we do need to understand how Creative and Tech need to work together to deliver the best marketing programs....

about 3 years ago

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Séverine Seyvet, Webmarketing Specialist Europe at Waters SAS

This is a very interesting article, and as a pure marketer, I perfectly recognise myself in it.

Some degree of understanding what the technology is and can bring can open new perspectives to marketing.

Besides the course we recommend at Decoded, do you know of any other course/company that enables marketers to increase their knowledge/understanding of digital technology, please?

Many thanks!

about 3 years ago

Jonathan Bass

Jonathan Bass, Managing Director at Incentivated Ltd

@Severine

Wise words. But fundamentals are not just about HTML, CSS, JS i.e. 'front-end' code or what the user sees. There is no single course, I promise you that. Fundamentals come from an understanding of hardware as well as three types of software - crudely the operating system and below, 'front-end'/'web' code and 'back-end' code/databases. (People put native mobile app code in a third category but really it is a combination of both FE and BE.)

There is nothing better than asking the CEO to arrange for you to spend a week in Dev (both 'back-end' and 'front-end' team) as well as IT Operations (systems, maintenance, hosting etc) and with the Digital Creative team. That's four weeks of shadowing really. Plus lots of reading of basic tech text books and Wikipedia. The investment would be beneficial to your employer and also your CV.

about 3 years ago

Anna Lewis

Anna Lewis, Google Analytics Analyst at Koozai

This is a great point Ashley. I've been having the same conversation with a few people recently. I don't think I'll ever be a true coder but understanding the technology and capabilities is essential. I think that if you have specialist skills that are not code then it's better to have a good relationship with a developer who can code for you and help you understand the capabilities than it is to try and do it yourself.

about 3 years ago

David Sealey

David Sealey, Head of Digital Consulting at CACIEnterprise

Pseudocode was one of the first things I learnt as a young programmer. Being able to write this human readable form of code enabled me to understand the computer logic (e.g. if, else, case, loops etc) which has then been applied in nearly every language I've used.

It's an understanding of these logical components that I think is more important than knowing a specific language. Certainly for a marketer anyway.

Data relationships are another area that marketers could benefit from understanding. Particularly when this is used to help them form segments and to trigger relationship based marketing initiatives.

So whilst I'm absolutely in agreement that Marketers need to understand technology. I'm not 100% convinced that they need to be able to program...Marketers should instead focus on understanding the features that provide new opportunities for them.

Cheers...Dave

about 3 years ago

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Séverine Seyvet, Webmarketing Specialist Europe at Waters SAS

@Jonathan,

Thanks a lot for your piece of advice. I definitely would like to spend some time with our Development team. They have a great degree of knowledge as we are a pure internet player.

The only limitations I see are their availabilities as they are only 2 of them and my CEO disagreeing on the time (although worthwhile) time spent with them! :-)

I'll try to look at Amazon also for any good book. Any title to recommend, please?

Cheers!

about 3 years ago

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Elliot Mist, Online marketing Manager at Mining People International

I'm convinced that I also need to upskill in this area. I want to understand the fundementals of front end and back end development and the infrastructure that builds the internet.

As @Severine asked, can anyone recommend any online tutorials or books that can teach HTML?

Thanks
Elliot

about 3 years ago

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Lindy Dragstra

Ha! Funny reading the reader comments, mostly by the "older" generation (to which I belong as well...). Even though I haven't done any programming apart from adding content in HTML to websites, I do make a point of staying on top of latest developments.

Thanks for this post!
Lindy

about 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk

Not sure coding is the most important bit of technology that marketers should understand.

There's a stack of other eCommerce tech stuff that it helps to know the broad concepts behind:
* load balancing
* use of CDN
* browser caching

etc.

But more important than understanding some tech stuff - is that the marketer needs to 'Unite the Tribes' ie get the IT teams and business teams united around a common set of hard evidence - for the key issue: "Is the technology delivering or not".

I can't claim credit for the 'Unite the Tribes' approach - director Chris Howells (now at M&S, previously at Tesco and Dixons) spoke at Retail Business Expo 2011 on this.

See his video for yourself - see 'Part 02 Uniting The Tribes' at http://www.scivisum.co.uk/about-us/event-videos

about 3 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

@Deri

Thanks for the comments. I wasn't claiming that coding was the 'most important' just a part of the picture. The elements you mention are important because they directly affect the customer experience which I think should certainly be a core responsibility for marketers.

The 'tribes' message echos, I hoped, various parts of the modern marketing manifesto we came up with (http://econsultancy.com/blog/62668-our-modern-marketing-manifesto-will-you-sign)

about 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk

Ashley

> I wasn't claiming that coding was the 'most important' just a part of the picture

Sorry, you're quite right.

Your manifesto earlier in the year was spot on: this I liked:

> We believe that improving the customer experience must be the relentless focus of modern marketing.

and of course to do that, does require the coding high-level awareness you led with.

about 3 years ago

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Louise Ryan

I found this an interesting read as I come from the other direction. I have a Computer Science degree and been a web dev for 10 years. Along the way, I've had to learn more about how the marketing side of things work - especially in the last couple of years.

In my experience, knowing (in part) about 'the other side' helps at every stage of the lifecycle of a website. It helps me see why a client/partner is asking for a specific requirement or change. It helps me suggest potential alternatives or solutions. Basically, it helps us collaborate!

Does the client/partner need technical knowledge? No & Maybe :)
When scoping a project, it is up to me to help the client understand why things need to work/happen the way they do. If the client does not understand, then in my opinion, I've failed in my role. Saying that though, the more understanding there is between parties, the smoother the project tends to go.

I think Ashley is right - the potential for greater innovation is where it's at. Us devs sometimes DO get stuck in the detail. Marketers are ideas people (please do excuse my generalisation!). In my opinion, the more we can understand each others worlds, the better we can work together on cool stuff.

about 3 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

@Louise

"In my opinion, the more we can understand each others worlds, the better we can work together on cool stuff." Yes, like the sound of that!

about 3 years ago

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Dina

http://www.codecademy.com/ is a great, free place to get hands-on and get your feet wet with HTML and CSS (http://www.codecademy.com/tracks/web).

There are many resources online for free HTML5 or any programming, really. If you do a web search you'll find them.

I believe these courses from Udemy are also free:

https://www.udemy.com/learn-html5-programming-from-scratch/

I do agree that in order for online marketers to fully appreciate and capitalize on available opportunities, it's advantageous to develop a greater understanding of how the technology works under the hood.

Otherwise, there will continue to be a gap between the technologists and the marketers who need to harness tech capabilities to strengthen their online marketing effectiveness.

Languages, browsers, social APIs, SEO, mobile -- it's an ever-changing and evolving landscape to navigate and to understand what those things mean to marketers. How do you filter through the hype, stay current, take advantage of new tech when it makes sense for you, and avoid any major pitfalls?

We have actually created a MarTech group, which sits somewhere between Marketing and IT, to help bridge that gap. Within that group we have FE and BE coders, along with online marketing experts. So much of our business is online, that it just makes sense for us.

about 3 years ago

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Polly Eliot

Great blog but like others who have commented I think there may be little confusion (hate to be negative Ashley). In our sector of telecommunications it is essential to keep ahead of the latest technological developments - to keep ahead of the competition for sure but also to ensure we can offer the very best service to customers and I think you are right, we need to know the concepts/theory behind the latest technology to full understand it but I don't think we need to have the necessary skills to be able to develop the technology ourselves.

about 3 years ago

Malcolm Duckett

Malcolm Duckett, CEO at Magiq

I think the real issue here is that Technology IS part of today's marketing mix... and embracing this is mandatory.

We (you) are in a marketing technology arms race, and unless you get appropriately kitted out your competition are going to eat your lunch. So any competent marketing professional has to be at least aware of the possibilities (and limitations) of said technology.

It is perhaps not necessary to learn to code - but you need to be able to spot the snake-oil salesman, armed with the "big data bull****", while understanding how to exploit real-time, customer data to give you a competitive edge.

Me, I started with PAL-11, but that's so long ago even Google has trouble remembering!

about 3 years ago

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Leanne Alder

Hi there,
I tried your suggestion to go to graph.facebook.com/(Facebook name) but I didn't find anything about myself. What is it that I'm doing wrong?

about 3 years ago

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