Anyone can do marketing, right?

wonkamemeToday’s topic is almost the opposite of the last one (How do I get developers to blog). It’s what to do with the engineer (or other technical expert) who thinks that because marketing is a ‘soft’ skill that they can surely do it better in the 10 minutes they’re having a morning coffee than the marketing department.

It’s a pervasive problem in technology start-ups. Someone who will remain nameless (to protect her identity) was complaining to me recently about an engineer who constantly belittled a very effective marketing team.

Then there was the Crowded Ocean blog post only this morning on “How to avoid bad clients.” They suggest telling the client who won’t hand off the marketing reins something like: “…no problem if you want to jump in and tell your designers (or writers or SEO experts) how to do their job—just let us know when you want them to come in and code the product.”

I’ve also met people who at first felt no need for hiring a writer, because, as they say, “I can write a 50-page white paper in an evening.” Great, but 50 pages is almost never a target length for lead generation paper.

There are more subtle cases of this mindset:

  • Engineers who assume that they are the target personas, hence everything in marketing must sound like it came from them
  • Startups that decide to save money on marketing by having the engineers write all of the sales collateral
  • Startups that try to save money by having the engineers write the website.  It’s easy to spot these companies.

How do you handle unwelcome marketing interference:
There are several different strategies you can employ:

Repurpose – If you’ve got someone who likes to write, terrific. Take their 50-page paper and repurpose it into several blog posts, videos, solution notes, etc. Their efforts will be ‘heard’ without being the voice of the company.

Re-orient –Introduce them to your organization’s buyer personas. (You do have personas, right?) Help them understand that their perspective is just one of many you must address.

Research – Talk to them about some of the research behind marketing, such as eye-tracking studies, SEO strategies and cognitive learning. Perform A/B testing where possible. (This is also a great way to demonstrate if their Adwords ad copy is horrible.) If you let them know that there is some science and research behind what you do, many developers will at least give marketing a little more respect.

The best long-term strategy is to earn the respect of these people. This can take time and patience. If that’s not possible, just filter what’s valuable from their suggestions and ignore the rest.

8 Comments on “Anyone can do marketing, right?

    • There must be more strategies, I’m all ears if someone else has ideas!

  1. Whoo hoo! Finally, I’m no longer alone in the world. There are two of us who find this situation frustrating! Thanks super duper ever so much. I actually feel elated after reading this post!

    • I’m pretty sure there are more than 2 of us! We’ve got to stick together…

  2. I must offer a dissenting opinion. I couldn’t disagree more. I am a marketer who believes that anyone can in fact do marketing and that today’s modern entrepreneurial developers understand both the nuance of code and how to speak to their target audiences. I’m so tired of the myth of “secret sauce” and it’s no surprise to me that those in support of this article are 50+ women. The tech world is no longer dealing with your Grand dad’s gold wire frame glasses engineers. I propose that the modern developer is both more sleek and savvy than you, and that just because you read one of these white papers doesn’t make you expert. My other objections, adding legitimacy, to my case include your choice of blogging platform, design, and use of cliched meme. Come to think of it… maybe marketing isn’t for just anyone after all!

    • Ouch! I don’t believe that marketing is a ‘secret sauce’ – but I do think that it requires focus, writing skills and the ability to look beyond your own perspective to that of your audience/buyer. Developers are my best friends and resources in technology marketing, and many understand their audience well. This is certainly true of the entrepreneurs, who must understand their markets to survive. I’m delighted for you that you’ve only run into the sleek and savvy ones, I hope this continues to be true for you.

  3. Hi Brad–where I work, my team of 20 & 30something men and women thinks this post should be laminated and preserved in the Smithsonian for posterity. We get great, fantastic ideas from our developer colleagues. We also get horrible, terrible ideas that would cause our lead flow to plummet if we actually implemented them. Whether the ideas given to us from non-marketers are good or bad, there are indeed marketing best practices (if not a so-called “secret sauce”); a good team follows them while recognizing that these best practices will constantly change and evolve over time.

  4. Brad – I was a developer for several years who now works in marketing. The tone of your response is exactly what my opinion was when I was a developer (and somewhat justifies the point being made in this blog). Today, wearing my marketing hat my opinion has totally changed and I look back at how naive I was at the time.

    I have no background or qualifications in marketing. I studied Computer Science and have been a geek for almost 10 years but I love doing marketing. Throughout my career most marketing departments I’ve worked with totally sucked because they weren’t focused on what matters in business and software.

    Social media is definitely allowing developers to play a bigger role in marketing, but there’s more to marketing than writing a blog or sending a few tweets these days. I’d love to see more developers in marketing roles, unfortunately the stigma attached with marketing makes this less attractive.

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