Have you ever masterminded a brilliant digital campaign only to find you reach an impasse when it comes to implementing it yourself?
With the dawn of digital marketing, code has become the foundation of so many of our great marketing campaigns, be they through websites, emails, apps or other channels. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, there seems to be an ongoing debate among marketers as to whether they should seriously consider adding coding to their plethora of skills.
Should marketers learn to code?
Let’s picture a scenario in which digital marketers take on the role of what is, effectively, a developer in addition to their usual marketing duties. What are some of the perceived advantages?
One of the strongest incentives for this is that understanding code can further empower digital marketers to take over the reins on more aspects of the website and other digital channels, giving them more freedom to drive their organisation’s digital presence in the direction they want it to go.
With less reliance on in-house or third party developers, digital marketers may have a better grasp of project time frames and project feasibility. A more in-depth knowledge of HTML can help with SEO campaigns, email marketing, gathering lead data from a web source, and analytics etc., while understanding CSS can help with creating attractive web pages. In addition, having a better grasp of how an integrated campaign is assembled and linked, can allow digital marketers to be more creative in the future.
Good to have but not a ‘must-have’
While there are some clear benefits of having coding knowledge, it is worth considering whether it is really necessary for marketers to have a development qualification in order to achieve these, as well as whether this is a wise investment in the long term. After all, there are also some significant disadvantages that are worth taking into account.
‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ springs to mind here. With an additional role to fulfil and a bigger workload, time management issues are likely to take their toll on the quality of other marketing activities. Furthermore, the ability to code to best practice requires a skill level that is not quickly achievable, yet a non-negotiable necessity as any potential errors could be severely damaging to an organisation’s online presence and credibility. Still, even the best coding efforts are unlikely to match those of a full-time development professional.
With these issues in mind, how realistic is it for digital marketers to be able to juggle (effectively) the demands of the two roles? And is this really something that employers should expect of them? Of course, professional development should always be encouraged and any digital marketer in possession of coding skills is likely to be an asset to the wider marketing team but, as a rule, it would seem that the risk and disadvantages outweigh the advantages.
So, what’s the solution?
Today’s content management systems (CMS) have become solutions to exactly this conundrum. With CMSs, knowledge of coding is far from a necessity as they exist to plug the gaps in digital marketers’ technical knowledge, empowering them to implement changes, update and edit the site independently, only turning to a development team (whether in-house or outsourced) for the initial implementation of the CMS, training or more complex site rebuilds and upgrades. Even activities such as A/B testing, personalisation, persona management, multivariate testing, and e-commerce - historically the domain of the more technically skilled - now lie in the hands of digital marketers without the need for any prior knowledge of coding. Better still, most credible web development agencies can provide ad-hoc assistance on bugs, errors, site downtime, etc., as well as site maintenance should the need for support arise, cutting the costs of maintaining a full time development team.
Even without an in-depth view of the benefits of CMSs, it’s easy to see why choosing and investing in a powerful solution that the entire organisation can capitalise on for years to come will benefit an organisation far more than relying on the skills of a single entity for maximum return on investment.
This article was featured in The Drum's Indepedent Agencies Census supplement.