Steve Rubel has an interesting opinion piece in Advertising Age: As Technology Develops, So Does Role of Geek Marketers.
His basic premise is that, given the increasing technification (yes, it is a word) of a range of consumer products, marketing types are often out of their depth, because marketers and technologists speak a different language:
With CEOs demanding accountability and time spent online climbing, chief marketing officers are on a push to embed technology into every facet of their strategy. But marketers and technologists are not exactly two peas in a pod. They speak different languages. Marketers like GRPs (gross ratings points). Geeks like APIs (application protocol interfaces). Dilbert mercifully pokes at these differences. It’s all very Mars and Venus.
The solution, for Rubel, is the development of a new breed of marketers – geek marketers:
Enter Geek Marketers. These cross-trained specialists are fluent in both worlds and bridge them. They are marketers by trade, yet they also have a hard-core interest in technology and social anthropology. As curious individuals, they are constantly studying how digital advances are changing our culture and media. Armed with these insights, they regularly apply them in a marketing context by working closely with brand teams to codify new best practices.
I think Rubel has got this completely wrong. Marketing is marketing. It does not, and should not matter whether you are selling a ‘bleeding edge’ gadget or a potato. The marketing process is precisely the same.
The objective of marketing is very simply articulated as this: to sell more things, to more people, more often, for more margin.
There is, of course, an array of processes, inputs, knowledge and expertise that must be pulled together in a coherent and consistent fashion to achieve this, but that fundamental process does not alter just because you are selling something that has LEDs, or silicon chips or requires software.
Understanding the market, what it wants and how to give it to them (or, more accurately, how to lead consumers to conclude that what they want is what you have) is what marketers do. They either understand the how’s and why’s of marketing, or they should be doing something else.
Marketers do not need to walk in the shoes of their customers, nor do they need to share the same passions as their customers. They do, however, need to understand the market, their product, their customers, how that product is perceived by their customers, and what motivates their purchasing behaviour. They also need to be able to synthesise all that understanding to create a compelling story for each different consumer segments they are seeking to target.
Marketing has never been about a love of, or deep technical expertise in the product, or even the ability to fluently speak ‘producteze’ (ok, I made that one up). You don’t need to be a car enthusiast to market cars effectively. You do not need to be a globetrotter to market travel products effectively. You don’t need to be a surgeon to market hospitals or health insurance effectively.
You most certainly don’t need to be a geek to market technology effectively. You just need to be a marketer who understands – and is good at – your job.