Marketing is neither science nor art.
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Madmen's days of all-nighters, heavy drinking, smoking cigars and coming up with game-changer last minute slogans like "it's toasted" seem far gone when we think about digital marketing today. We are in a different moment where we have data points to back up our bets and make the best calls possible to ensure our solution resonates with the right customer at the right time.
Initially, many thought of marketing as an artistic, risky, and uncertain activity (literally something for mad men and women). Today, we find ourselves in a systematic, organized, and nearly scientifically predictable space. We no longer need to run massive research initiatives to ensure our product works, but rather, we do iterative, incremental changes to ensure we hit the right nail.
We do so to the point that we have found ourselves in this imaginary binary: we are either data-driven (and ignore qualitative contextual information) or brand-driven (missing data-driven patterns and data). But, as we have mentioned in several previous essays, this dichotomy is false, dangerous, and ultimately a damaging belief for anyone trying to improve their marketing programs and formation as marketers.
After discussing with Adrienne Barnes her perspective on marketing, the importance of mixed-method research, and how performance and qualitative info complement each other, we realized there are very few resources to help you become a well-rounded marketer. And so, in this piece, we will share some of the marketing fundamentals we believe you need to better understand marketing and some resources you can check out to level up your marketing blindspots.
Digital Marketing fundamentals
To be a good digital marketer in a hyper-connected world, you need to master three fundamental skills:
Figuring out who your buyer is: No matter what your industry is, understanding your buyer and their problems will allow you to improve the product, so it solves their problems, as well as refine how you communicate your solution to your audience.
Deeply understanding your product/solution: The best marketers have a clear understanding of what their product is, its features, limitations, value proposition, and the triggers that lead people to purchase. You are not just "marketing" the product; you need to empathize with your customers and their problems/use cases.
Understanding your market: Beyond the product, you must understand the other players in your industry. This will allow you to figure out how to differentiate your product, how to improve your offer, how to better select your ideal customer, and some ways/channels to connect your offer with your customers' needs.
That's it. It seems simple, but in reality, it does unfold into a myriad of additional skills that take a long time to master.
To figure out who your buyer is, you need to master the following:
User research skills: Whether quantitative or qualitative, you must be able to investigate who these people truly are and how to translate them into your marketing strategy. This skill is transversal, and it overlaps with product and market understanding, but regardless of where it sits in the organization, what matters is that you take the time to understand customers deeply.
Channels / online behavior: Beyond the user research skills, you also need to understand where and how they spend time online. Once you do, you can set up a system that allows you to understand their actions in relation to your product and how they translate into revenue-connected signals.
Tracking and measuring: This connects with our previous point, but beyond the channel, you must also understand where they are in the funnel (multi-channel), how they move from one stage to the next, what leads them to buy, etc. This involves CRM systems, automation, and being close to the product team to understand updates being released, among many other activities.
To deeply understand the product, you must push beyond traditional marketing disciplines and learn from other areas:
UX/UI research & design: understanding how product teams iterate their development process is an essential skill marketers (well-rounded marketers) can develop. This will help you discover customer problems you can communicate later on and how they evolve from an idea to a feature. It does not mean you need to become an expert in UX or UI, but you must have the capacity to translate their world to the user and, likewise, to communicate user insights back to the product team.
Product development: You don't need to become a product manager or an actual developer to excel at marketing a product. But, having a clear understanding of how the product development processes work (execution and sequencing) and what it takes to add or deprecate features will help you improve the marketing activities around the product.
Your experience with the product: Yes, believe it or not, it is possible to find marketers who sell a product they have never even tried. We are not saying you have to be 100% proficient and know the product inside-out, but experiencing the solution and emulating the JTBD it solves does not hurt your marketing activities.
Finally, deeply understanding your market means you are curious about your category, competing products, and solutions. This means being on the lookout for trends, new features, and products, paying attention to your competitor's marketing strategies, and understanding where you stand in relation to the rest of the players. If you have difficulty understanding where you stand in the market, try abstract exercises, such as imagining your brand at a category party. Now guess who the DJ is, who is hitting the dancefloor, who is sitting quietly at the corner, etc.
Now that we have gone over the fundamentals, let's talk about the two types of marketing profiles that are more predominant today.
The data-driven marketer or the post-internet boom marketer is a person that understands how to articulate technologies to generate revenue. We all know someone who figured out how the internet worked early on and made lots of money. Their income came from positioning a keyword, selling ads, or creating a funnel with a magnetic product. Whatever it was, these dataists often lacked traditional marketing training and, instead, understood how technologies and algorithms worked in a new dimension... the online world.
Note: Performance marketing is not exclusively digital. But, having several digital data points you can track sure simplifies the job.
Today, data marketers make a living because they understand how a particular digital machine works. They know how brands can build systems that improve efficiency and generate positive outcomes, and they create playbooks and patterns to minimize the effort required to successfully drive revenue.
In a time where our reality is so deeply intertwined with our digital existence, like in Paprika when it comes to dreams, this is a mighty feat.
They are the whisperers responsible for the success of all applications and software we use to manage our digital lives. From the social sphere (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.), our professional sphere (LinkedIn, Teams, Slack, etc.), our safety sphere (1password, LastPass, etc.) to pretty much any dimension you can imagine.
If you are part of this segment, chances are you dominate the technical, tactical, and strategic ways to build digital artifacts that generate revenue. However, you may lack some of the abilities and context that more traditionally trained marketers have under their belts.
To become a little more balanced and learn how to incorporate qualitative insight into your data-driven mindset, we recommend you check out the following resources:
Resources to learn more about brand marketing.
This great thread on brand frameworks.
The perilous mythology of brand marketing for digital products.
This great thread about community-led companies.
This is Marketing by Seth Godin - This book provides an overview of what marketing is from a cultural perspective.
Contagious by Jonah Berger - Here you will learn what are some of the principles of virality, and how you can implement them in your marketing strategies.
Dollars and Sense by Dan Ariely - In this book you will learn how we misthink money with countless validated scientific psychological experiments.
Talking to Humans by Giff Constable - This is an intro to UX book. You will not become an expert at talking to your customers, but it will help you understand what to do to improve your current process.
The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene - The author explores historical patterns that allow him to understand how humans behave. As a data marketer, this will help you identify how contextual factors can massively impact your experiments.
The brand-driven marketer is the one that probably watches mad men, probably spends an insane amount of time trying to come up with a fresh concept, and looks at numbers as a consequence of insightful marketing campaigns. They are probably trained in marketing and advertising and have had to read Lipovetsky, Bauman, and even the much simpler yet insightful Seth Godin at some point in their careers. They probably feel more comfortable at B2C marketing agencies and are avid hunters of trends, new series, concepts, and lenses to understand their reality.
Among the many skills they have developed, the most crucial one is perhaps a stellar understanding of cultural patterns. They are great at talking to people, running interviews, crafting surveys, and seeing what the common ideas upon which the product can build an empire.
A decade ago, they probably found inspiration in the Liquid Modernity concept, and today they probably find The Burnout Society Byung-Chul Han paradigm a bit more appealing. Even if they aren't super fond of philosophy, they still have accumulated significant psychological and anthropological insight that allows them to create successful campaigns that drive revenue.
It is their responsibility to deeply understand what is going on beyond data in their consumer mind. To find the values, myths, and stories around products that make consumers more inclined to prefer brand A over brand B. Ultimately, their job is to understand the zeitgeist of a particular category and user and figure out a bridge to trigger purchase behavior.
They also, particularly at the executive level, own a particular KPI and probably have to obsessively track it. However, their expertise usually lies outside the digital machine mechanisms that data-driven marketers have mastered, and they pride themselves on understanding culture rather than data. Often, they are the architects behind marketing strategies. Providing context and basic understanding upon which all other marketing department areas build and win a particular market.
In digital marketing terms, or from a more B2B SaaS perspective, they are the ones who deeply understand the ICP, the purchase triggers for the product, and the main stories that deeply resonate and become profitable for the company.
They guard the brand and its meaning and representation. Their obsession is to make sure everything the brand displays across all touchpoints with potential users is connected to the brand concept.
If you fall into this category, you may want to learn a bit more about data-driven concepts.
Resources to learn more about data marketing.
This thread on Facebook Ads
This article on why most analytics efforts fail.
This thread on product thinking.
Incremental ads testing at Netflix.
This thread on marketing mix modeling.
The PPC thermometer.
Other reads anyone in marketing must definitely check out
This newsletter with a great collection of strategy pieces.
The law of brand vs. performance marketing.
This article on how to hire a revenue ops team.
This piece on media mix modeling.