The Tech / Marketing Clash

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 07/02/2006

I definitely straddle the fence between the technical world and the marketing world. I am equally comfortable architecting/implementing enterprise-level systems that need to support thousands of simultaneous users-per-second as I am writing positioning and messaging, mission statements, identifying value propositions, and even illustrating concepts and delving occasionally into Flash animation.

And in my brief time in industry so far (about 14 years), I have more conflicts on the technical side. Only once was I at loggerheads with a marketing guy, and that was at Prophet 21 when the bubble was bursting and all his “CMO” ideas were based on bubblisms. At all other times, I have found marketing people to have the proper perspective when it comes to forest and trees. Marketing people, I have found, tend to see the forest, while Techs seem to live among the trees.

And this is strangely at odds with the general Tech attitude that marketing people are stupid. This is the general vibe that you get off of sites like SlashDot and Digg. I more often encounter techs who blindly adhere to what can only be described as religious dogma. There are strong loyalties to technologies and ideals within Tech that border on the fanatical, and sometimes blind them to bigger, better ideas… in other words, the forest.

Of my thought-heros, I definitely rank folks like Edwards Demming and Peter Drucker way up there. On the tech side, I tend to admire one-man idea shops, like the one-man-sub inverted airplane guy, Graham Hawkes or his counterpart in the sky, Burt Rutan. While I greatly admire the pure scientists that move us ahead on a theoretical level, I even moreso admire the ones that can make regular positive impacts on our lives. Serial inventors like Dean Kamen fall into this category.

All these folks have the same thing in common. They’re forest-seers, and can therefore have meaningful impact on our lives within a lifetime. I’d stack Demming’s business thoughts regarding total quality management against science any day. In fact, he’s another perfect case that straddles the fence between the marketing and tech world perfectly. He’s taken the scientific method and applied it to improving products and iterative product development cycles. He’s the guy often credited with Japan’s postwar recovery and move towards superior quality.

Anyway, when I get at loggerheads with Tech-types, it is inevitably because they believe they know better on some nuanced little detail that anyone with a brain could see. They are so in love with their tree, that they fail to see that the adjacent tree has grown just as tall, and is just as healthy, and took an entirely different approach to that detail.

Of course, I can’t generalize this about the whole tech field, and I do have specific cases in mind. But this often occurring strategy that you see in Digg and SlashDot of put-downs to anyone who enters the discussion who does not adhere to the Linux agenda. Or G_d forbid you use jargon that makes it sound like you’re a marketing person, or the game of geek-pile-on really begins!

Thanks to sites like SlashDot and Digg, Geeks are more powerful in the world than they used to be, because they have been granted a mainstream voice. And the democratizing nature of the Internet makes geeks more powerful in the short-term, because of their increased ability to operate difficult tools. But this newfound power is totally out of proportion to the “I know everything better-than-you, because I can configure Linux” attitude that you see everywhere you turn.

It’s the folks who have the deep understanding of the details, who can see how they manifest at the macro-level, AND who have left aside all their “tech” religious dogma that make the biggest difference. Nicholas Negroponte of MIT Media Lab fame is shaping up to be one of these folks with the one-child, one-laptop initiative, which plans to have full featured wicked-cool laptops falling below the $50/unit before this decade is out. While criticized for attacking the problem at the wrong point, I believe that Peter Drucker who defined the knowledge worker and how he/she controls the new means of production would approve.

The bottom line of this blog post I suppose is a message to marketing folks to not be intimidated by Tech. It’s way too easy for a tech guy to suddenly pull an obscure detail from his ass to make you look stupid. It’s an old trick from the “sysadmin-is-G_d” days. Those days are over, and it’s an employer’s market for tech. No matter how invaluable a Tech seems, or how deep their knowledge APPEARS to run, there’s 10 more just like him waiting for his job–or worse yet, 100 more ready to outsource his function. The ability to configure Linux does not make him better than you. Quite to the contrary, it means he is going to be wasting his time on things that should be non-issues, while you can focus on those unique characteristics of your company that no one else can provide. Is that marketing and NOT tech? Yes! Look at Apple for a textbook example.