The Rise of the Technical Marketer

The old saying “half of my money spent on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half” by John Wanamaker used to be a shield marketers could hide behind when explaining which of their campaigns went sour and didn’t create the returns on investment initially promised.

But in today’s marketing landscape where organizations are increasingly shifting their budgets to the digital realm, everything can be tested, measured, and redeployed down to the pixel and letter, making way for an increasing skills gap within the marketing profession.

The core of the problem being that those who thought they could go to business school to study marketing find themselves now in a world where not only are they unqualified to call themselves marketers, but to make matters worse, they are witnessing all their friends who studied anything but marketing land jobs in the field. With an organization’s marketing efforts living, breathing, and growing on the web, it is utterly shocking that so-called business schools feel no moral obligation to properly equip students with the skills required to not just land a job, but actually do one in a successful capacity. 

As a marketing graduate myself, I had to think long and hard over what was happening and how in truth in made sense that a company would invest in a designer who could create all their marketing material, a developer who could create and maintain their website, a statistician who could make sense of all the data they’re collecting, an engineer who could parse their database, or a journalism grad who could write them great copy. But what’s a business grad to do? Strategy maybe?

Good luck finding a job that lets you do that right out of school. There’s always sales, account management, or client services—but wait, those work better when you can talk and understand the technicalities of the product or software, so maybe not. Also, what if you don’t want to do sales. What’s a marketing grad to do then? 

The rise of the technical marketer is nothing new, however, though it has certainly generated enormous buzz and gotten significant attention over the past little while with terms like “growth hacker” and the like being thrown around. If you need further proof of the trend, one of my all-time favourite blog posts is “Every Marketer Should Be Technical,” in which Jamie Steven from SEOmoz provides a typical marketing scenario that undoubtedly would be encountered today, but would require some real technical chops to tackle. He also provides a great list of resources at his site Technical MKTG which not only breaks down which skills marketers can expect to be asked for today, but also where and how to acquire them so that they too could train to become indispensable. 

The dilemma, though, is that you’ve just spent $20,000 (or more) and four years thinking you were preparing for a hypothetical job that you find out upon graduation doesn’t really exist. Instead what you find is an arena where you have to lace up the boots once more and really use some excess resource of self-motivation and will power to learn everything you should have been taught. But here’s the catch—you weren’t.

Luckily, with all the proliferation of online resources made available for free or a marginal subscription fee, there’s no shortage of content to do just that. I personally like to use Treehouse (whose CEO Techvibes recently profiled here), Lynda.comCode Academy, and Coursera to play catch up and fit the bill of a technical marketer, and if you’ve ever been in the same boat and are looking to do the same, I’d suggest spending a great chunk of your time doing so too.

Would I say the same for going to business school to learn marketing? Doubtful. But if you’re still deciding which program to pursue, consider something a little more, you guessed it, technical.