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05.17.2012

The Demise of Marketers, the Rise of Coders – Eh, I think NOT!

Andrew Chen’s recent blog post entitled – Growth Hacker is the New VP of Marketing certainly got my attention and was one of the most intriguing post I’ve read in months.  Andrew essentially writes an obituary for Marketers, saying they are going the way of the dinosaur to be replaced by a new and more evolved species he calls the Growth Hacker.  Do I agree, NO!  But that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a very important post that bears attention and response.

I recently spent an hour with my daughter’s 4th grade class teaching them – “What is Marketing” for a business simulation unit they are doing.  In it I told them that “Marketing is fun, because you get to be part artist, part scientist and part poet.”   Andrew argues that I was wrong on 2.5 of these, and that Marketing is now fun because you get to be part Coder and part Data Scientist.   Andrew says,

The fastest way to spread your product is by distributing it on a platform using APIs, not MBAs. Business development is now API-centric, not people-centric. Whereas PR and press used to be the drivers of customer acquisition, instead it’s now a lagging indicator that your Facebook integration is working. The role of the VP of Marketing, long thought to be a non-technical role, is rapidly fading and in its place, a new breed of marketer/coder hybrids have emerged”

Do I agree, yes and no.  Marketing, especially direct marketing,  has always been part science, and business development has always been about partnering and distribution.  So in that sense Andrew is both right and wrong.  There has definitely been a continued rise of analytics in marketing starting with Direct Marketing,  moving to SEO/SEM, and continuing with the emerging fields of social analytics, A/B testing and other new techniques.   In fact, to many CEOs marketing is no longer a “black art” , but is now a “black science.”

The major problem I have with Andrew’s post is toward the end.  After walking through an integration between AirBnB and Craigslist, Andrew states rather pejoratively,

“No traditional marketer would have figured this out
Let’s be honest, a traditional marketer would not even be close to imagining the integration above – there’s too many technical details needed for it to happen. As a result, it could only have come out of the mind of an engineer tasked with the problem of acquiring more users from Craigslist.  “

Not only is this totally unsubstantiated, it’s insulting.  Plenty of marketers, like myself, are pretty damn technical, they have to be.  Do they code, maybe not, but can they spec and understand an integration like this, HELL YES.   Secondly, who tasked the hypothetical engineer with doing this in the first place?  So while this post is definitely interesting, at the end of the day I think it is wrong.

As I’ve argued extensively, in today’s overloaded information market, getting attention is still about context and communications.  The argument that coders and data scientists will be the only flavors of marketers in the future is just a leap beyond logic and reality.  Marketing, taken in its broader sense, is the understanding of markets, buyers, communication and value exchange.  It doesn’t require a coder to do this, it requires a business person, albeit, a pretty technically savvy one in many organizations. In addition, it may be the romantic in me, but I think the artists and poets will continue to play an important but changing role in marketing success.  If you want one compelling argument for this, I’d point you right to the Apple Product Design team.  So, as much as some would like to pronounce the VP of Marketing as dead or dying, as Mark Twain famously said, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”.

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