There’s a fabled, mythical beast that prowls the jungles of digital marketing. They have no issues with running and analyzing crawler data, offering suggestions for server-side redirects, building remarketing audiences, implementing tag management solutions, speaking of Data Layers, copy-pasting code from Stack Overflow, configuring bid managers, and speaking at conferences presenting on all the aforementioned activities. However, for some reason, they still claim that they are “non-technical”, or “just marketers”.
Why focus on dumbing things down for this imaginary, unskilled audience, rather than tactfully steering them towards a path where they can enhance their technological aptitude?
I just don’t get it. The whole polarization of non-technical vs. technical is silly and artificial, and nothing irks me as much as this constant undervaluing of the human capacity to learn new things. Code allergy should be a thing of the past by now. Why not instead embrace the fact that our industry is rife with opportunities to not only understand more about the technology stack we work with, but also to combine this technical know-how with our marketing skills for some true hybrid insight?
Anyway, my point is that if you’re working in digital marketing, you are already “technical”. I’m really sorry about this, but that’s just the way it is. Non-technical (digital) marketer is an oxymoron.
You already possess a set of skills that requires training, education, and a technology-oriented mind to handle. You are firmly situated in a continuum of learning, which doesn’t subscribe to a binary world of “technical” vs. “non-technical”, but rather comprises a vast number of skills that each conspire to make you better at what you do for a living.
In fact, it’s impossible to categorize the complexity of human experience, yet for some reason we find ourselves doing so in our daily routines, and (sub)consciously subscribe to prototypes that don’t really exist. This is why job titles suck - especially those that imply proficiency in some skills (and, via inference, lack thereof in others).
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What can be done?
If you work in digital and you’ve always considered yourself “non-technical”, the first thing to do is accept the fact that you’re not. Indeed, you are a “techie”, a “nerd”, and a “geek” (choose which one works best). The main question is what skills you currently possess, and what learning track you’re on.
To help you with this discovery, I recommend looking at people in your industry to see how they’ve evolved over the years. There are so many folks out there who possess the tech skills required to successfully navigate the digital ocean, and you can rest assured they weren’t born with this talent. They’ve had to study, learn, work, toil, starve, and sweat to get to where they are now.
To get you started, take a look at what Aleyda Solis, Annie Cushing, Mike King, Mike Arnesen, Carmen Mardiros, Mark Edmondson, David Vallejo, Dan Wilkerson, Linda Lawton, and Annemarie Klaassen are doing and sharing. They are just a handful of skilled people out of a multitude, who, in addition to being really good at what they do, are extremely generous with knowledge transfer and inspiring others to improve.
Also, take a look at the MeasureCamp (un)conference. It’s mainly around digital analytics, but the concept is brilliant in that it minimizes ego and sales pitches (two things that kill any good conference presentation), and instead focuses solely on sharing and learning together.
Other than that, dig deep inside you and find out just what part of your current skillset is lacking. Why do you call yourself “non-technical”? Is it because you don’t know how to code? Head on over to Codecademy to rectify that. Is it because you don’t understand enough about the browser stack to be confident in your technical SEO skills? Take a look at The Technical SEO Renaissance by the inimitable Mike King to see where technical SEO is today. Or perhaps you’re interested in mobile optimization, web analytics, and conversion optimization?
There’s something for each gap in your skill set.
So, all you need to do is roll up your sleeves and get to work. Once you accept the fact that you’re not “non-technical”, it’s just a question of opening the flood gates and letting the deluge of knowledge carry you away.
So should we stop reinforcing these stupid, arbitrary silos?
I’ll wrap this up with a rant, reworded from something I wrote a couple of years ago in Google+.
Marketer, analyst, developer - these labels are attached to people often thanks to their job titles, but also in order to reinforce stereotypes that help tools like tag management solutions (TMS) sell better. Marketer is seen as the antithesis of the developer, and the analyst shuttles between these two roles depending on if they’re supporting growth in either marketing channels or within the organization. Throw in the mix growth hackers and data scientists while you’re at it. Nothing wrong with labels, but once they’re used as excuses to belittle the multitude of things that can be done in digital, that’s when it really bothers me. The non-technical (read: lazy) marketer has been the primus motor for TMS development. Almost as much as the uncooperative developer, sitting grumpily in his or her dungeon, sipping Jolt cola and laughing at the “stupid marketer’s” requests. The analyst is someone who’s hired for insight, but they’re reduced to either solving problems between the two aforementioned parties, or to tweaking lazily installed Google Analytics implementations. Seriously, all you need to do is look into an organization that’s doing it right to see that these labels are ridiculous. The true, modern, digital employee is a hybrid. They are forced to transcend silos because they’ve understood that a holistic, contextual view is what drives growth, instead of a singular focus on verticals like marketing, SEO, PPC, social media, plug-and-play analytics, or some legacy-burdened, development-driven framework.
So, please. Can we stop being apologetic for the non-technical marketer, the emotionally detached developer, and the data-driven analyst? Perhaps that way people can become more ambitious and strive towards a more multi-disciplined approach - things that today’s digital landscape desperately calls for.