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Should Marketers Learn to Code?

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Written by Akshay Sachdeva

July 10, 2017

As a digital marketer, you work in a relatively new form of marketing– one that’s rapidly evolving and maturing. You’re part of the generation that will define what it means to market in a digital space. And that’s precisely why your responsibilities aren’t written in stone.

So, in order to stay on top of your game, does it mean that you should expand your skills and learn to code? Instead of learning traditional marketing strategies, would it be a better use of your time to focus on the more technical side of the web?

Adam Barty of Revium perfectly encapsulates the problem facing digital marketers. “Technology is growing at an incredible pace right now which is opening up all these amazing opportunities for marketers to do incredibly complex things that are tailored very specifically to each client. Unfortunately that complexity and customisation is a double edged sword and it is making digital marketing more technical than it has ever been.”

Perhaps, it’s time to expand into coding.

We spoke with three experts in the digital space, the above mentioned Adam Barty, Joe Ryan of AdRoll, and Karen Lewis of Employsure Pty Ltd, to discuss what role coding plays in digital marketing. Let’s take a look at what they had to say, along with the benefits of coding.

The Benefits of Coding for Digital Marketers

Become a Better Problem Solver

Learning to code can help you become a better problem solver for your customers. Coding is less about the language, and more about the approach to problem solving. It’s about identifying the core problem, breaking it down into steps, and then solving it incrementally. Clearly, this approach to problem solving can be applied to any marketing challenge, and will only make you a better marketer.

Karen Lewis of Employsure Pty Ltd shares her thoughts, “I think a good marketer now a days is one that is very customer centric, one that looks for insights around solving the ‘job to be done’ for the customer and relieving their pain points.

“The ability to code comes from the ability to problem solve and marketers already have the advantage of being problem solvers so it is merely an extension of their skillset.”

Make stuff happen

Learning how to code can be really powerful for a marketer, as it puts you in a position to get things done without depending on developers. Whether it’s building a landing page, adding a marketing plugin to your website, creating a marketing app, or personalizing a mass email marketing campaign, developing your coding chops can be instrumental in making you an effective marketer.

Being able to go from having a marketing idea in your head, to implementing it can be a long and time consuming process if you can’t code. Being able to code makes you more versatile and adds a vital skill in your marketing arsenal, one that can make all the difference and enable you to make stuff happen.

Get a better product understanding

Understanding how to build a product not only allows you to work better with technical team mates, but also helps you think as a product person. In the agile environment, startups work in, you need to be versatile, and understand multiple perspectives of the people working on your team.

Andrew Chen of AirBnB highlights how to develop a “growth hacking” mindset, combining technical chops and marketing skills. Coding can not only help you with doing your marketing more efficiently, it can also help with being an integral part of your product team, and be a well-rounded tech professional in high demand!

Offer Expert Insight

As a digital marketer, your customers pay you for your insight and your ability to make it happen on time and on budget. But, if you’re only focused on the traditional marketing side of things, and not focused on the technical, real-world implementation of your ideas, it could spell disaster for your marketing budget. Your customers won’t be happy and they’ll lose confidence in your ability to effectively strategize and manage their marketing.

Adam Barty, Digital Lead and Partner at Revium, shares his thoughts, “These days, with customers focussing more and more on ROI, it is important to be able to understand the development effort that will be associated with new initiatives to ensure you don’t sell a fantastic idea that turns out to be incredibly difficult (and expensive) to implement.”

Increase Your Ad Buying Efficiency

Efficiency in the digital marketing space is determined by how well you can integrate automatic systems into your workflow. Ad buying is one area that welcomes automation.

Smart and intuitive software is slowly creeping in and replacing the traditional methods of ad buys.

Once upon a time, you could only buy digital ads through human intervention. It was time-consuming, clunky, and mentally exhausting work.

But with the advent of programmatic, ad buying is a lot more efficient. You don’t have to negotiate with other humans (score one for the introverts out there) and you don’t have to worry about the added baggage that comes along with human intervention (error, emotionalism, extra expense).

Programmatic ad buying means that a specially programmed software purchases digital ads for you automatically. According to Google, programmatic ad buying makes for sophisticated marketing campaigns. One reason for this is that programmatic ad buying frees up your time to create more targeted strategies. In fact, many marketers hail programmatic as the future of ad buying because it’s so darn convenient.

But you’re not exactly off the hook. The programmatic software doesn’t read your mind (yet). You still need to understand how to work with such software to create successful results.

Joe Ryan of AdRoll shared his insight with us on programmatic ad buying, and why rudimentary knowledge of application program interface (API) is necessary for digital marketers. “The rise of programmatic made it useful to know basic API skills, because many platforms allow marketers a lot of control beyond what is typically offered in their dashboards.”

How can I start?

Lots of Resources Available

If you want to learn how to code, now’s a great time to get started. There are so many resources available, both free and premium, that can meet you wherever you are on the coding spectrum. From beginner to advanced, you can have immediate and unlimited access to the tools that will improve your work.

AdRoll’s Joe Ryan explained the methods he used to improve his coding skills. “Before coming to AdRoll, I made use of free online resources, mainly CodeAcademy.com and YouTube tutorials.” He created his own curriculum, using a variety of resources to cover any gaps and also to see the idea from a different perspective.

He continues, “Once I’d covered off the beginners stuff and moved on to more advanced programming, I used Learn Python the Hard Way. Practice makes perfect though, and the best thing is to make projects and learn along the way.

“I typically make a blog from scratch when learning a new web-based language to learn the ropes.”

Where to Start

If you’re serious about coding and how to expand your skillset, the next logical question is, where should you start? There’s a dizzying amount of coding resources out there, and it can get overwhelming really quickly.

Ryan offers sage advice, “HTML is a great place to start for those wanting to learn the fundamentals of coding and can give some really interesting insight into how the Internet works.”

Lewis seconds this recommendation. “Use the Internet to search for communities and courses. At the very least do a course in analytics – there are plenty around Google Analytics. Gain an understanding of how UTM tags work and how to measure the success of your marketing campaigns.

“Try Hour of Code, which offers bite size tutorials to allow you to try coding… If you are serious, set yourself up a website and practice. It becomes quite addictive.”

For those who absolutely hate the idea of coding, follow Barty’s wisdom, “If you aren’t interested in code, hate maths, and shudder at the thought of reading detailed articles littered with technical jargon, then don’t try to force yourself to learn it, you will hate it and it won’t help you develop your career.”

Here’s what you should do instead. Barty continues, “Try to focus on understanding the fundamental overarching concepts involved without delving into the nitty gritty. If you do have a curiosity about code and the technical side of things then feed the beast!

“Start by thinking about learning the basics of website or app coding to give you some of the fundamental vocabulary – you don’t need to be able to build the next Nike website but know enough to be able to understand how it was built.”

Final Thoughts

The results are in: Whether you want to go all in and learn how to code from scratch, or you simply want to understand the basics so you can offer more informed advice to your customers, coding will help you become a better digital marketer.

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Written by Akshay Sachdeva

July 10, 2017

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