The Relationship Between Marketers and Developers

I’ve been reading with some interest a debate that seems to have escalated out of all proportions between various marketers and developers within the games industry (one of whom is my lovely twin brother Stew). In an attempt to further exacerbate the situation I’m going to wade in with my two-penneth about, more generically, the relationship between marketers and developers. It’s one that can become frayed very easily, as the aforementioned debate has shown (although, all involved have managed to keep it friendly, which is nice to see on today’s internet!)

So just to recap on the story so far: this whole thing kicked off as a tweet which escalated into a blog post by Stew, who it seems was attempting to set the record straight. Such is the nature of the 140 character limit, he felt that the original point he was trying to make was being completely taken out of context.

Gamesbrief founder Nicholas Lovell then posted a rebuttal on his own site, picking Stew up on one of his key points, that “Where you have no marketing budget, the product is all you have, so it needs to be the right product for the platform and audience.”

Player three came in the form of “first person marketer” JP Sherman, Who also made a post on his own blog drawing on the previous two, disagreeing slightly with both on various points.

What I hope all three can eventually come to realise is that they all actually agree with each other, although probably don’t realise it. From my perspective, Stew’s post was a thinly veiled attack on bad marketers (in the guise of an attack on marketing generally), Lovell’s was an attempt to defend marketers (having taken Stews general comments to heart), and Sherman, although the most thorough and incisive read, had taken the argument to an extreme it probably was never supposed to get to. Gentlemen: If any of you ever find yourselves happening upon this post, please read the following statement:

Crap marketers are bad for your company, good marketers are good for your company.

That’s what you all think, right?

Unfortunately, marketing is something it’s possible to “wing”, because it’s possible to do it very badly with the basic skills you learn at primary school (reading, adding up…) and there is nothing more frustrating, particularly to a developer, than being exposed to a bad marketer with a loud voice and a hunch. These types are really dangerous to have in your organization; avoid at all costs.

All three articles tightrope along the idea of marketing being either a science or an art, with Lovell mostly leaning towards art and Sherman leaning towards science. Stew seems to be the guy at the bottom setting fire to the safety net. In practice, it’s Sherman’s argument that is the most convincing. Marketing, whilst requiring a modicum of creativity, is largely a science. In web development, we even have concepts such as multivariate and a/b testing which physically prove that very point.

I did some work with a large user experience firm a little while ago and was recounted the tale of an organization that they’d worked with prior to us. Extensive testing of various website layout configurations had been going on for many years, one of which had emerged as the clear winner in terms of conversions. The company involved was able to produce six images, each showing one of these layouts (the winner and five inferior designs).

These images now form part of a “marketing test” that the aforementioned user experience firm perform to demonstrate the importance of testing ideas before implementing them. All six images are placed in front of a company’s marketing team and they are asked, between them, to come to a decision on one. What normally happens is that the team start out by voting, then start to chat amongst themselves (during which time, votes shift). Eventually, one of the team will appear to emerge as the “alpha marketer”, who the others begin to converge on. By the end, the team have unanimously decided on what they believe to be the best design, with a few stragglers clinging on to their insistence that one of the others is better.

And, I’m told, no team has ever passed the test.

You can take a punt on hunches, and sometimes you’ll be right and sometimes you’ll be wrong. It is perfectly possible to be a marketer while ignoring all of the science behind it. You’ll be a rubbish marketer, and developers will hate working with you, but you’ll be a marketer none the less. Exposing developers to bad marketers tends to give them a bit of a jaded and largely incorrect view on what the role of a marketer actually is. While nearly everything in Stew’s post is exactly correct and based on fact, you can’t help but read it as the desperate scrawling of a man who has been exposed to one too many self serving, pen pushing yuppie wannabes over the years.

As for Lovell’s argument, yes marketing does involve creativity but if anything it’s way more in the science camp. Marketers often forget that developers are creative too. What developers do is an engineering discipline and as such is one that requires creativity. The marketer is the person who is (from the developers perspective) turning their sacred cow into big macs; it’s perfectly understandable that they’re going to get a little tetchy if they’re asked to change minor things such as colours or font size based on nothing more than somebody else’s personal preference: It’s basically like telling them that their original creative vision was rubbish and that you know best because you are the marketer.

Putting yourself forward as being “more creative” than someone else can be a very insulting and offensive thing to do because it’s basically an assault on someone’s natural ability (can creativity be learned? The jury is out and that discussion certainly isn’t in the remit of your average marketing person OR your average developer). If it’s not by their own admission, telling someone that you’re more creative than them is actually very rude, and you should find a way to manage any disagreements rather than simply calling rank. One easy way to do this: Back up all decisions with a reason!

All decisions should have a “why”. Speaking as a developer, there is nothing more refreshing than working with a marketing person who has done the research, and can tell me exactly why certain things perform better than others. Sherman’s post struck a chord with me because I have witnessed, with my own eyes, very similar situations to his “buy now/Buy Now” scenario, although Sherman seems to suggest that there is a catch-all right answer to this that only a marketer would know, which is completely incorrect and a little hubristic. Some things work in some places, others in others. You don’t need a marketer to test that, just a few simple lines of javascript and some HTML in the case of a website.

Changes as simple as the colour of a button on our websites have been shown to increase sales. Probably the only part of Sherman’s article I disagree with apart from the above is the “making sausage” analogy itself, because I believe it is perfectly possible for marketing and development to occur harmoniously, given good project management (although, Sherman was speaking about this from a games industry perspective, which from what i hear is a bit more sausagy than the web world).

Anyway: This whole debate has been intriguing and I hope to see more such discussions in the future from all three of these guys, even if I do disagree with almost everything they say.

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