Are Marketers Now Required to be Engineers Too?

As much as I hate to admit it, online marketers with engineering backgrounds often have a significant advantage over non-engineering marketers.  They are simply much more capable of “getting stuff done.” The rest of us waste a lot of time and creative energy figuring how to get the obvious stuff done.

Not only are engineering marketers more capable of getting the essentials done, they can use their reserve of time and creative energy to be scrappy about building marketing experiments.  And of course the experiments they build on their own can be much more interesting than us non-engineers.

One way I have worked around my engineering deficiencies has been to hire the skills onto the marketing team.  For example, in my last long-term VP Marketing role I hired a front-end designer/engineer to design and code landing pages and a dedicated DBA to build reports and run ad hoc queries.

Tools are Leveling the Playing Field

Fortunately the playing field has begun to level in recent years so that non-engineering marketers can be much less dependent on engineering help.  For example, I now use KISSmetrics to build my own reports and run ad hoc queries.  And because it is so easy, I spend a lot more time digging into things like event-to-goal correlations.  This helps me know the events I should be promoting to website visitors in a given lifecycle stage. In the past, I was just seeking visibility into the marketing campaigns and landing pages that were and weren’t working.  KISSmetrics allows me to get much deeper and identify additional levers to improve results.

I’m also no longer dependent on front-end design and development help.  Not only can I build extremely effective landing pages with Unbounce, I can also very easily set up and manage A/B tests. This takes me beyond the stuff I even bothered asking for in the past.  For A/B testing landing pages, I previously had to replicate every ad to point to different landing pages.  It doubled the amount of time it took to set up any new ad campaign.  Now with Unbounce it is all automatic.

Even more empowering, I can actually manage all the content and design updates for our entire website using Optimizely.  This proved to be very useful a few months ago when Qualaroo lacked a front-end developer.  Despite limited HTML skills and no design talent, I was able to make all the necessary changes and still keep the key design templates that were custom created by a talented designer.  Finally, Optimizely made it a no brainer to retain the old version and run it as an A/B test.

What’s Next?

I’m very excited about the range of tools that will emerge over the next few years to further empower marketers.  Eventually I see a time where an individual marketer will have the ability to identify and control all of the most powerful levers for driving growth, even from deep within their website.

An important step that is also taking place is automation of the marketing programs that work.  All of this will continue to free up more time for creative marketers to build marketing experiments that truly push the envelope on results.

22 thoughts on “Are Marketers Now Required to be Engineers Too?

  1. Great post Sean – It really is an incredibly empowering time for marketers.

    I think you summed up the value best when you said “…beyond the stuff I even bothered asking for in the past.”

    Tools like these don’t just save time, they open the door to scientific marketing that was too cumbersome to try in the past. 4 years ago I would have loved an A/B test, but what feature do I put on hold while I get the developer to set it up?

    Now I sometimes run Optimizely experiments weighted 100% to one variation, just while I wait on the dev guys to hardcode it 🙂

    I’d also suggest that deserves a spot on this list, for all the same reasons.

  2. So true Sean. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve wasted searching Google for half ass’d hacks to get things done. Even though you eventually end up getting it done, you feel like somehow you’ve failed because of the amount of time it took when you know it could have been done much faster. But, alas, that’s how it is for us non-engineers and as you mentioned, tools are beginning to level the playing field.

  3. Thanks for the comment Peter. Yeah it’s funny how quickly things transition from “I could never get that done” to “wow, what else can I do with this thing”…

  4. Thanks Ken. I actually think a lot of engineer marketers will be more productive with this stuff too. Better to apply their hackery to pushing the marketing envelop than doing the things that can be done with an off-the-shelf solution.

  5. I have been experiencing this recently at work. We’ve been stretched for resources so me, the marketing guy, has been taking over many dev tasks like basic HTML editing and A/B testing with some cool tools.

  6. Well-timed read and our CEO tagged all the marketing team in this on our yammer.

    Like MIchael’s said above, as the very non-techie community manager, I’ve started to do a bit of HTML as it’s just such a smoother process when the content creator is actually in control of experiments (mostly A/B testing on emailings).

    3rd time I’ve heard someone that recommends Optimizely quite highly. Time to incorporate it into my work flow.

    Thank you Sean and best from Paris. -Brad

  7. Hmm, don’t insult the engineering disciplines by calling people with HTML or sql knowledge “engineers”. I’ve met plenty of web people who don’t have the mindset required by engineers. In fact web making has become so relatively simple, we have fools standing on the shoulders of giants and calling themselves “developers”.

    Marketers need to have the ability to be able to sense the future behavior of their market and be there when it arrives. That requires people skills, which many engineers lack. So it is a 2 sided coin, or binary relation ( for you math types )

  8. Actually Steve the problem was that I often relied on engineers to do simple things like HTML or sql queries. I didn’t like begging and they didn’t like doing these types of menial tasks. But they also didn’t trust anyone to touch live website code who wasn’t part of the engineering team.

  9. Great blog and agree with Peter in the first post, empowering times indeed for marketeers! I’m no techie so good to hear about more scientific marketing made easy tools coming through, and finding them all in one place. I can recommend Myna for real time A/B testing. It saves time with you faster results, and has improves ROI.
    Thanks Sean

  10. Couldn’t agree more Sean. Nowadays synergy between marketing and engineering skills is so tight that we’ll see more and more marketing roles developing technical skills and, most of all, engineers turning out great marketers. Am I wrong saying that your concept of “Growth Hacking” actually came out of this?

    The main pros I see in this shift is a better understanding between two of the most important teams in any business (IT & Marketing).

    Said that, if you are managing a team of absolutely brilliant marketers with poor engineering background, the best thing you can do is to add a very strong technical person to the team who gets business strategy. This’ll be a great boost to the team as he’ll help them shape their ideas & concepts into reality and, eventually, get s**t done (given the business is lean enough).

  11. Hey Enrico agree that this trend is a driving force of “Growth Hacking.” Also agree that you can compensate for technical deficiencies in an individual by building a marketing team that includes all the necessary skills.

  12. Steve, I agree with you. There is a big difference between an engineer and a programmer. But we can all agree that any marketer needs basic HTML, CSS, MySql skills along with with some type of server-side language and Javascript experience to even comprehend what is going on behind the scenes of their “online marketing” strategy. I taught myself these skills because they are essential, and because I found them challenging and useful. However, I still consider myself a hack, albeit a hack that can now get things done.

  13. I agree with you, Sean. There are so many marketing tools now that make our job easier. Although I still employ a small team to help me with my development and marketing efforts, I have been able to do a lot with the help of these tools. I haven’t tried KISSmetrics though, so I might look it up after I’m done commenting here. Thanks!

  14. Thank you Sean! – read your post over lunch and have just created my first landing page – been trying to explain to our web guy what I wanted and now I can do it myself!

  15. Hey Emer. I agree it’s really nice to be able to just do it rather than spend time explaining it. I used to have to mock up landing pages in PPT and would often get something back that looked exactly like I mocked up. Then I’d have to explain that “general layout, word emphasis and exact wording matters, but I’m not a designer. Design something that looks good within these guidelines.” So nice to be able to just start with a good looking template and do it all myself.

  16. Great post Sean. I’ve been working with plenty of great tools while hacking together Lean product experiments. Below are the flow and tools of my most recent experiment. Used Keynotopia to fake a new product idea in Powerpoint, scripted a fake tour and recorded it in Camtasia. Hosted the video of the tour on Vimeo. Embedded the Vimeo video in a WordPress landing page. Used Prefinery to bolt on a signup box with automatic Thank you email and registration tracking. Last we hosted the WordPress pages as a folder under an existing domain and made sure the analytics were connected (just Google Analytics). Started driving traffic to it to see if people would signup to the idea based on watching the demo. We use Act-On as our marketing automation tool as well. I’ve also had success using Kickofflabs for creating experiments like this. I want to try Optimizely next.

  17. Great post, Sean! It is really exciting to see all the tools available to marketers. We are using at least 12 tools, like SEO Moz, SEM Rush, Ginzametrics, Majestic SEO, Optimizely, etc. I see a major transformation in marketing teams – towards deep content, organic inbound lead gen (see my last blog entry at and rich metrics. With all these tools and numbers, I see three skills becoming even more critical for marketing leaders: analytic thinking, ability to seek and adopt changes quickly and strategic approach.

  18. Sean, I fully agree with you on this article. You brought me in to LogMeIn with no formal background or training relating to the processes, best practices, or what “should be done.” You persuaded me to join for the “analytical + out-of-the-box thinking” and we built a great company together. I remember when you advised me to master the backend systems and (while I’m not complaining about how things have turned out) it would have been frankly awesome if I followed that advice. Could have been a one-stop-shop for growth hacking! Fortunately, tools DO level the playing field. However, we must remember that tools still require agile minds to design appropriate tests and take proper actions. And as our companies evolve we must always be on the lookout for new angles of growth that these structured tools may overlook.

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  20. Been thinking about this for a week now and agree with you to a certain extent. The tools do help level the ground for us non-techies but I think pretty soon, we will all have to get way more technical. We will have to come to a point where we are creating more value, not more marketing.

    I am tired of seeing posts like “7 ways to do website optimization like a drug dealer” – basically anything from this template – n ways to do business/marketing/sales like a stripper/drug dealer/cheerleader. None of these posts have info that couldn’t have been summarized in a tweet. Then there is the barrage of infographics, and infographics on infographics. The list posts. The eBooks that are slammed into your face as soon as you hit a website. Commenting away to get more backlinks and develop a relationship with the blogger (no, I don’t mean this one 🙂 ). And most of this is happening because given the skills we have, this is the best we marketers can do.

    Instead, if we were more technical, can we not create simple tools like website grader/Twitter grader like Hubspot does, and use that to get the brand name out? Better product recommendations, more targeted content on emails? Why can’t we take care of these while engineering focuses on the main product line?

    With this in mind, I recently started teaching myself some Rails, and hope to take it from there.