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April 16, 2014 // 5:00 PM

Is Coding the Next Must-Have Skill of the Modern Marketer?

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codingMarketing has evolved over time from “you can have any color you want as long as it’s black” to just-in-time marketing messages that encourage you to dunk in the dark.

We're embracing digital channels and understanding the need to create marketing people love more and more ... but do we actually grasp what's running behind the scenes of all these digital campaigns?

Code is what lies behind so many of our great marketing campaigns. Our websites, our emails, our apps and tools that are made to give your customers a better experience -- these all run because there are smart coders making them work.

So my question today is this: Since code is the basis for most of our marketing today, should marketers be learning to code? 

I'd like to argue yes, we should. Here's why.

Understand the Impossible

Getting to grips with code and understanding the structures that bring your sites, apps, and tools to life will give you a better understanding of what is possible in the first place. And here knowledge is really inspiration -- imagine going beyond looking at what others have done, and through to understanding what code can do so you can come up with new and innovative tools that truly delight your customers.

It is key here not just to understand code, but to get a grip on what tools your designer is using (and what other tools are out there). There is an array of helpful apps that let you quickly do anything -- from building forms, to creating buttons, to building sites, and other functionality. You need to know whether the tool offered to you is right, up to date, and will do what you want it to.

This knowledge will fuel your inspiration, and save costs and time.

Know What It Takes

My marketing mentor taught me that if you don’t know what’s involved in a process, you're not getting the most out of your budget. I’m far from saying that all suppliers will try and add a few hours to projects, but wouldn’t it be great to have the confidence to know when something is quoted right?

We all need to know what is involved in building a website, a form, and making a change to an app or your site navigation. Only then can we actually have an informed discussion about cost and timeframes with the people who will implement our ideas. Some coding knowledge will enable you to brief a web designer or developer much clearer on your idea, and you’ll understand when a “no” is a negotiation tactic rather than an actual expression of the impossible.

Having this knowledge about coding also helps us to choose the right company or designer to partner with in the first place, as it will help you determine whether they can do what you're asking them to, at the right price, and within the right timeframe.

Fix It Quick

I don’t know about you, but if a paragraph is just not doing in your CMS WYSIWYG what you're asking it to do, when an image is not resizing correctly, or the YouTube video you're embedding is just huge for some reason, you want it fixed ... now.

That’s the reason I learned about code. I didn’t want to be in a situation where I would have to call my web designer for every small change. So I went into the HTML view of my CMS, Googled code, and learned how to make small changes on my own. It has saved hours of my time and budget, and my patience is still intact. At meetings with my designer, I would also ask him to explain small things about code and I started to lose my fear of brackets, slashes, and &nbsp;. I can’t recommend this highly enough!

But a Little Distance Is Good

There is no reason why you shouldn’t learn about code. But I don't think a marketer should necessarily learn to code with the aim of becoming on-par with professional coders. In my humble opinion, you should leave specialized tasks to those who know how to do them right.

Web developers and designers have a very different skillset than marketers. As marketers we decide on strategic direction, look for return on marketing campaigns, and while we might have a good eye for design and user experience, the actual implementation skills lie with others. Often, we're also too close to our brands -- whereas a good designer will always bring in the expertise gained from different projects and current trends.

But don’t let this stop you from learning more about how code works.

Where Marketers Can Learn to Code

I started learning how to code by Googling pieces of HTML code. It’s a quick and easy way to find what a piece of code does and how to manipulate it. But this method won’t give you the real hows and whys behind it. Also, it gives you very little idea of how different pieces fit together -- like HTML and CSS, for example.

For this level of information, you need to get down and dirty with code and start building from scratch. If you have a developer in your organization who can teach, why not offer a free lunch to him or her while you learn from them?

For something more methodical, I'd also recommend you check out one of the many online courses available. Here are some of the big ones:

  • Code Academy - As they say themselves, this is all about learning how to code interactively and for free. Reviews are great and I know quite a few HubSpotters who used this tool.
  • w3schools.com - They have a variety of classes for different tools and levels. There is also the option to get certified in your news skill (there is a charge here) so you can show off to your peers!
  • Code School - This is another tool that lets you learn from home -- from the basics in HTML and CSS, to Javascript and other languages. Courses are paid but affordable, and you’ll get access to a variety of courses for your fee.
  • Make It With Code - They are very active in the debate on whether marketers should code and believe that yes, we all need a good understanding on what’s possible to create. This is a paid course and you’ll have access to support via IM.

Code is part of our Marketing DNA, and even if we don’t need to be able to build sites from scratch, as marketers today, we need to understand how it works to make informed decisions.

What do you think? Are you down with coding already? If so, how did you learn? Share it with us!

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Topics: Design

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