Five reasons why every marketer should learn to code

Understanding code is a fundamental part of working in digital, writes Mark Yeow, content services manager at Text 100, and marketers would do well to learn. Here he tests out his arguments.


As anyone worth their salt will tell you, the future of marketing (and PR, and advertising) is digital. And anything digital, be it a website or an app or a social media analytics report, needs to be programmed in some way or another: ‘coded’, in the vernacular.

So why do so few marketers know how to code? I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s to do with how these disciplines are taught at university, where strategy is vaunted while execution gets swept under the syllabus. It could be that coding remains uncool amongst the artistic and creative types usually drawn to marketing (at least, until their geeky programmer friends make a million bucks).

I’m not saying that every marketer should double as a software developer. However, a basic understanding and appreciation of code is very useful in this omni-channel day and age where integrated communications is best practice. Here are five reasons why:


1. Your campaigns will actually work

Learning to code means understanding that digital has limitations. There are some things which you can’t do (like Flash games in eDMs) and there are even more that you shouldn’t do (like Flash games in general).

A working knowledge of one or two programming languages, even basic ones like HTML or CSS, will expose you and your team to the limitations of the digital realm. That, in turn, helps you devise more practical campaigns with higher chances of success for your clients.


2. Working with developers becomes that much easier

It’s not rocket science: being able to code helps you converse more fluently with people who do it for a living.

Many of the most common issues with digital campaigns stem from a lack of understanding between the marketers devising the idea and the developers tasked with making it work. But a marketer who’s familiar with programming terminology will be able to brief their developers more accurately and better understand the issues they encounter.

Knowing a bit of code also helps you pick when a freelancer is trying to bull…doze you with jargon, and potentially avert crises of incompetence before they overwhelm an otherwise excellent campaign.


3. Don’t have the right tools? Build them yourself

Even a moderate amount of coding knowledge can empower you to build your own tools. I’m not talking fully-fledged apps here, just rudimentary prototypes that might help you run campaigns, automate processes, and offer new services you couldn’t before.

Involving a professional developer to build these tools can cost thousands and take a long time – compared to home-brewed apps which can, if you’re lucky, enhance your processes and products within days. Now that’s agile development.

One of Text100’s proprietary influencer engagement services, for example, relies on a web app which I wrote with just a little knowledge of JavaScript and a lot of help from (developer forum) StackOverflow.

Since coming out of closed beta (i.e. when I uploaded it to the web), the service has helped move a number of clients’ influencer profiles from zero to hero (or one, if you prefer binary). Best of all, we were able to pilot the service within two weeks of us coming up with the core idea.


4. ‘Educate’ your stakeholders on UX, SEO, and other acronyms

As marketers, we often have to report to others who might not share our creative vision. For agency types, they’re called clients. For in-house managers, they’re called the C-suite.

When it comes to justifying our work, a bit of technical knowledge never goes amiss. You’ll find it far easier to explain why a certain design will improve the user’s experience, or how a certain website is structured to get decent SEO results, if you’ve dabbled in the actual code that holds them together.

Building things makes us more attuned to our own experience of them, and software is no different. Combine this with your own expertise in campaigns and strategy, and you’ll be able to convincingly prove the rationale for your work in even the most hostile arena.


5. You will never be afraid of Excel again

That might be an exaggeration.

However, you will find that you look at problems with a slightly different perspective once you’ve learned to code. Instead of simply considering digital channels and platforms in terms of their standard functionality, you might end up exploring the possibilities offered by their APIs or developer kits.

You may discover you’re tackling technical hurdles with a more methodical bent than your peers (the debugging and error-finding process will teach you that). You might even start to expand the range of channels and platforms that you offer to clients and stakeholders, based on how you start to correlate your coding knowledge with the fundamentals of marketing like awareness, engagement and ROI.


The wrap

Ultimately, learning to code will help you collaborate better with your partners and customers, identify otherwise-invisible creative opportunities, and engineer campaigns that won’t fall apart on first contact with the audience. It’s not hard – there are resources and courses a-plenty online – and the benefits to your work will be both significant and immediate.

‘Why can’t I code?’ is a question every marketer needs to answer right now… before a disastrous campaign or irate stakeholder forces them to.