When Programmers Need Marketers

Thought Leader – Strategic Solutionary – Creative Ideation – Digital Marketing Strategy – Emerging Media Strategy – Integrated Demand Generation – Markup Manipulation – Brand Strategist – SEM

If you’re a programmer these words might make you feel unwell. To an outsider it seems like the Marketing crowd dresses themselves with esoteric buzzwords in order to mystify and confuse the rest of us. But to be fair, most (real) marketing professionals are creative and brilliant problem-solvers and avant-garde engineers within their own culture — just like most programmers. It’s best not to mark and avoid the otherworldy marketers, though it might be tempting. Whether or not we understand their language and their seemingly mystical approach — we need them.

In just under four years at Intridea we’ve grown organically from a small 3-person startup with a great idea to a full-fledged, profitable company of nearly fifty employees. Most of us work remotely, and we are spread out across the United States and even across the world in a few cases. There are certain aspects of this operation that we have mastered over the years: we know how to hire brilliant engineers and designers; we know how to deliver outstanding quality; we know how to nurture a strong and respectful relationship with our clients. But as our company grows to new heights we encounter new challenges. Currently we’re faced with the challenge of hiring a strong Marketing Director to build and promote our brand, develop advertising strategies, and help to increase our presence. Finding the right person is a lot harder than we thought it would be.

As a web and mobile development shop, we have interviewed our fair share of developers over the years. Github is a service that has actually made this task significantly simpler. It’s hard for a sub-par developer to hide behind bad code that’s visible to the world. And since most Ruby and Rails developers these days have Github accounts, it has become easier to make more informed decisions about who to hire. The same cannot be said for hiring marketing professionals. As a company of developers, designers, and QA engineers entrenched in the web and mobile development communities, we’re not exactly tuned in to the wacky world of marketing. Trudging through the marketing muck (and trust me, it gets mucky) has proved to be toilsome.

The biggest problem is that there isn’t a clear way to vet people that claim to be marketing professionals. We have found that simply looking at their career history is not a good enough indicator of their level of competency. It’s too easy for marketing pros to sound “expert” by lavishing their resumes and Twitter profiles with extravagant buzz words and phrases. And every marketing expert and their first-born have worked for at least one large corporation. Who’s to say that they actually did anything of value during their one year stint for Pepsi Co? Or that they were actually responsible for the strategic branding of Urban Co-Op Something-or-Other that sold to Bigger Co-Op Something-or-Other?

Additionally, it’s hard to find a Marketing Director that has experience working specifically with web development companies and distributed teams. A Marketing Director for a growing Ruby on Rails and mobile development shop will need a different set of skills and expertise than a Marketing Director for a large Fortune 500 company. And since most marketing experts are not programmers or techies in general, they won’t already be familiar with our culture or our existing brand and strategy.

Marketing experts and people pretending to be marketing experts are both good at one thing: they know how to talk. They sell themselves really well. So how do you tell the really good ones from the “I have 3000 Twitter followers so I’m a marketing expert” types? We don’t know. And that’s why we haven’t hired a Marketing Director yet.

How do other growing companies approach this problem? Aside from combing through resumes and giving thorough, speculative interviews, how do you sort through the scores of self-proclaimed “gurus” to find the brilliant marketing types? We know that marketing is a legitimately necessary field and that most of the people in that field are awesome at what they do. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of noise at the entry level and it can be difficult to identify the true experts. Without code samples and a tight-knit community, it’s hard to know who to trust and where to find the innovative marketing experts that can really take our brand and presence to the next level. We would love to hear how other development companies have approached this challenge!

If you’re reading this and you’re bursting to tell us that we’re totally wrong about marketers, and you know because you happen to be the kick-ass marketing expert that we’re looking for, then send us an email and tell us why we need you. Talk to us candidly about what makes you different from the rest!