Do You Need to Be Technical to Do Marketing in Tech?

I am sometimes asked if one needs to be technical to be successful at marketing of technology products. This question is particularly relevant to product marketing.

The short answer is “it depends”.

It depends on how you define “technical”. Let me explain.

Sometimes when people use the word, they talk about functional technical skills, i.e. being able to use marketing tools. And sometimes they talk about product-related knowledge and skills, i.e. knowing how tech products work.

So let’s break this down into two parts.

Marketing Tech Stack Knowledge

First, let’s talk about functional skills. In other words, should one be technical enough to use marketing tools?

The answer: “yes”.

I believe that in this regard marketers should, indeed, be technical.

There might be exceptions to this rule but it would serve most marketing professionals well to be able to use or at least be familiar with the main marketing tools.

These include tools for analytics — such a Google Analytics or Kissmetrics, tools for email automation and CRM — such as Mailchimp, Hubspot or Salesforce, tools SEO — such as Google Keyword Planner, etc.

You don’t need to know all of them and you don’t need to be an expert — unless your specific role requires it. But you should be able to use basic functionality independently and understand the role that these tools play. These skills are even more important for professionals in DemandGen roles, professionals who focus on research and analysis, and professionals who specialize in certain channels.

The actual tech stack will differ from company to company and role to role but being comfortable with these tools and being “technical enough” to be able to use them is a major advantage if not a requirement. 

The tools are constantly evolving as more and more areas of marketing are getting disrupted by technology. So being able to keep up with this pace of innovation is going to be increasingly important.

Now, let’s approach the question of technical skills from the product angle. 

Technical Product Knowledge

Should one have a deep technical understanding of the products they’re marketing?

The answer: “it depends on the customers and the product”.

There are multiple levels of “technical” here. 

One can be:

  1. As technical as the average successful customer of the product — understand how the product works.
  2. Technical enough to understand conceptually how the product is built.
  3. Technical enough to understand in the detail how the product is built. Plus, and the underlying technologies it’s built on.

In my opinion, the answers to these are in turn:

  1. Yes. Especially if you work in product marketing.
  2. It’s “a nice to have” for product marketing. It’s usually a “no” for other marketing roles. And it’s a “yes” for product managers.
  3. No. Leave this to technical product managers and engineers.

As you can see the most important thing is to be as “technical” as the average customer who can successfully use the product. 

An Example

Let’s consider a real world example.

Instagram, GitHub, and Amazon Web Services are all tech products. But you can use Instagram with zero tech skills.

So to successfully relate to Instagram users, you’d need to understand how they interact with the product and what functional, social or emotional benefits they derive from it. You would not need to understand what servers are used on the back-end, how pictures are compressed or how password security is ensured.

Using GitHub and Amazon Web Services, however, would require a certain degree of technical knowledge. So getting the necessary skills to use these products would make one a better marketer. This doesn’t mean becoming a software engineer, only being familiar with the use cases, benefits, challenges, and features. The only difference is that, compared to Instagram, the use cases are more technical and features are more complex.

To recap: the most important skills for marketers are understanding the customers and being able to successfully communicate to help the company reach its goals. That’s why becoming “more technical” should not be the end in itself but rather a means to this goal. And that’s why the answer to the question depends on your customers and how technical they are.

In fact, knowing too much about the product in too much detail can sometimes interfere with one’s ability to empathize with the customer and talk about the product in a way that customers would understand.

Do you agree or disagree?

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