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Rise of the Marketing Technologist

Marketing technology can’t live in IT anymore. It’s time to own up to our brave new digital world.

What words do you associate with marketing? Branding. Positioning. Advertising. No doubt, these are classic foundations of our field.

But increasingly, marketing has some new–and very different–word associations. Configuring. Coding. Computing.

At first, these words seem foreign. Isn’t the IT department set up for all that tech stuff? Not long ago, software of any kind was clearly the domain of IT. Marketing had neither the inclination nor expertise to get in the weeds of technical implementations.

But take a good look around, and you’re likely to be surprised at all the technology that’s entwined in marketing today. Web analytics. Bid management. Marketing automation. CRMs. Content management. Post-click marketing platforms. SEO auditing. Social media monitoring. Attribution management. Digital asset management. And so on.

There are now thousands of software applications available for marketers, underpinning nearly every aspect of our work.

While many of these solutions are designed for non-technical marketers, the process of selecting the right software, configuring it to your specific needs and connecting it to the other pieces of your digital ecosystem inevitably requires a certain technical savvy. Even a little knowledge of web protocols, scripting languages and database schemas goes a long way in managing this growing federation of marketing technologies.

And that’s just off-the-shelf packages. Marketing now builds plenty of its own software, from ever more sophisticated web applications to mobile iPhone/iPad and Android apps. The knowledge of how to design and deploy such interactive and functional “content” is becoming essential to many marketing programs.

Who’s on IT?

Why can’t the IT department simply provide such technical savvy-as-a-service?

It can—and should—to a certain degree. But there are three reasons why marketing must increasingly step up to lead its own technological destiny.

The first reason is clockspeed. The pace at which new marketing initiatives must be conceived, tested and tweaked is blazingly fast. Agile marketing—which is actually derived from agile software development practices—is gaining popularity as a way to manage this accelerated operational tempo. But since marketing is now dependent on technical capabilities for many of its efforts, bargaining for and scheduling resources from a completely separate department quickly becomes the bottleneck to agility.

The second reason, closely related, is budget. IT naturally wants to control its costs. Marketing is cost-conscious too, but may prioritize technology investments differently than IT. In pursuit of its objectives, marketing should be free to allocate its budget to technology–as interchangeably as spending it on media, headcount or agencies. But someone on the marketing team needs the skills to manage such tech investments.

The third reason, perhaps most important, is that the technology itself is arguably now a creative medium. For instance, say you’re using a marketing automation system to drive a drip-marketing email campaign. Knowing what that system is capable of and how to actually implement it–such as dynamically substituting content based on behavioral profiles–expands your creative canvas.

As marketing software becomes more advanced–even programmable via scripts and APIs–a technically astute marketing team can produce wondrous customer experiences that its competitors can’t even conceive.

But it’s hard to use technology as a creative medium if you must artificially split the technical and the marketing–King Solomon style–across two separate teams. The one side doesn’t know how to ask the right technical questions, and the other side doesn’t know how to provide the right marketing answers. Many innovative possibilities can be lost in that gap.

A new marketing professional

On this technically oriented marketing frontier, a new kind of marketing professional has emerged to conquer these challenges: the marketing technologist.

Marketing technologists are bona-fide technologists. They typically have a background in IT, web development or software engineering. They probably have a degree in math or computer science. They understand how software and websites are built, debugged and websites are built, debugged and maintained, having likely done hands-on coding themselves. They natively speak the language of technology.

Standing at the intersection of these two disciplines—technology and marketing—they effortlessly translate ideas and concepts between the two.

For instance, if marketing wants to dominate a certain set of keywords in search engines, a marketing technologist can facilitate the production of content, transparently implement the proper technical aspects of search engine optimization (SEO) and set up the correct web analytics code to accurately measure performance.

There’s no painful back-and-forth with IT, struggling to explain, justify or verify things like redirect types or optimal URL formats. Instead, someone on the marketing team knows why and how, and simply gets it done.

Similarly, if marketing wants to do a new series of pay-per-click (PPC) ads, a marketing technologist can configure the bid management software, map click-throughs to targeted landing pages, run A/B or multivariate testing on those post-click experiences and pass the data collected from visitors back into a CRM or marketing automation platform, which can then trigger highly customized follow-up emails.

Need Javascript, dynamic query string parameters, or web service calls to make this magic happen? No problem. The marketing technologist has the skills to wire it all up—and offer suggestions to make it better along the way.

Leading marketing technology

At first, most marketing technologists worked under the radar in organizations. They would advise and implement solutions for marketing, but they weren’t formally part of the management team. In part, this was to avoid conflict with the IT department, which often lived by the mantra, “We own the technology, you own the content.”

But for all of the reasons we’ve described, the technology and the content have fused together—to the point that even many IT managers acknowledge that marketing needs to have a much greater role in driving the technology agenda.

One way to achieve this is for marketing to name a “chief marketing technologist”–essentially a chief technology officer for the marketing department. With less fanfare, this title could be the director of marketing technology.

The chief marketing technologist is an official member of the marketing management team, reporting directly to the CMO, and has five key responsibilities.

First, collaborate with the CMO to translate marketing strategy into technical reality with high fidelity.

Second, serve as the liaison between marketing and IT, making sure that marketing fully leverages IT infrastructure and adheres to proper IT governance standards for security and data management.

Third, choreograph the myriad software applications and data repositories used in marketing—often with a flexible philosophy of “loose coupling”—to tap the potential synergy between them.

Fourth, encourage marketing to experiment and innovate with new technologies, driving pilot projects to push the envelope of marketing’s capabilities. (For instance, the mobile marketing space is currently ripe with these kind of opportunities.)

Finally, help infuse technology into the DNA of marketing, hiring and integrating other marketing technologists and raising the overall technical savvy of marketing’s culture.

With marketing technologists fully integrated into its department, marketing is ready to lead its technological destiny.