No one can deny how much marketing has changed in the past ten years. The rise of internet, smart devices, social media and other digital mediums have transformed a once hard-nosed, stagnant industry.
Digital ad spending surpassed print years ago, and is on the verge of becoming the largest channel of all. In 2014 it accounted for 28% of all total media advertising spent, up from 25% in 2013.
This trend has given rise to some pretty wacky new titles for marketing hires. Esoteric names like “Growth Hacker” and “Marketing Ninja” grew in popularity but didn’t really mean anything (they subsequently stopped being used because, well, they’re stupid). Despite the funny names, most CMOs knew what they wanted but lacked a way of describing it.
Gone are the days of old Mad Men creative types sitting in a room coming up with ideas. Brands needed tools, data, and information analysis in addition to ideas.
The world of advertising needed technical marketers.
A “technical marketer” is an advertising executive with knowledge and skills that extend far beyond coming up with clever logos and commercials. They know how to code, build scripts, work with APIs and manipulate statistical data. They can automate sales processes and discover trends in customer behavior. They turn the art of marketing into the science of sales.
People like this are rare, very rare. Someone who can blend creativity, psychology and branding with code, statistics and math. They are the new Don Drapers of the advertising world, and there aren’t enough of them to go around.
The technical marketers that are available usually work for themselves, or do freelance work. Ilan Nass, founder of Taktical, a performance marketing agency in New York City, is one of them.
Adding Fuel to the Fire
I met Ilan, along with the agency’s director, Derek Rubinstein, at his office, a wide open shared space in New York’s posh Soho district. The office, known as the Fueled Collective, is a beautiful space that mixes old world English antiques with hyper modern flat screens and computers. Young tech-savvy startups fill the space. Ping Pong tables stand against vintage leather couches. A dichotomy of style that I would soon find out is a perfect analogy for him.
Ilan and Derek are not your usual geeky tech guys (although they would argue that they are very much geeks). Ilan carries himself with all the trappings of a CEO. Swagger and a strong handshake. When he speaks, he talks quickly, often jumping from one subject to the next. As Rubinstein tours me through the space, his charisma emanates as we pass others in the office who move to greet him. He knows all of their names, and is sure to smile and tap them on the back.
At first glance, one might think that Ilan and Derek are surely salesmen or maybe motivational speakers of some sort. However, as our conversation continued, it became clear that I was dealing with geeks in the purest form.
Once the conversation began to roll, Ilan began to explain the dizzying array of tactics and methods his team uses. He dropped phrases like “Multivariate testing”, “Scraping”, “Data Mining” and others. He seemed amused at his own ability to confuse me. But then again I am easily confused.
Ilan also raved about Buzzfeed, an often mocked but wildly successful tabloid style blog reportedly worth over $1 billion. “Nobody realizes the genius behind what Buzzfeed did,” Ilan explained. “The whole thing was built on data. These nutjobs even created scripts that would test their Facebook posts and remove weak ones within 30 seconds. They analyzed which words in titles got clicks and counted how long articles have to be to get shared. Buzzfeed is a technical marketer’s mecca.”
At one point during our conversation, his computer screen was interrupted with a notification from a client. “You guys were right,” the message read, “your version works better, you can change it now.” Ilan explained that he had been arguing with this particular client who didn’t like a sales page he had designed for them. So he tested it against their own design.
“They didn’t appreciate the psychology of it,” Ilan explained “their design had far too many facts and benefits listed. The Rational Choice Theory in economics argues that too many choices hurt sales. I understand that they’re excited about their product, but that’s just not how the human mind works.”
Ilan is a rare confluence of personality traits. He is Nate Silver’s math whizz, Mark Zuckerberg’s computer geek and Don Draper’s charismatic swagger. Those traits are exactly what make him so drastically valuable to the brands that hire him and his team. His clients have earned millions of dollars with Taktical’s methods, and one in particular recently raised a round of $25 million. The CEO is quoted on Taktical’s website saying that they are the reason their marketing is so successful.
At this time, Taktical lists it’s standard rate at $250 per hour, like that of a high priced lawyer. However, for many clients who can’t afford the rate, the price can go even higher. Derek Rubinstein, the firm’s Director and Paid Media Specialist, has spearheaded “Taktical Labs,” a program that takes revenue shares and, in some cases, equity ownership in it’s clients in lieu of fees. The operation oversees multiple elements of a startup’s growth.
“We figured it was time to start benefiting from our hard work.” say Rubinstein. “Our clients do very well and we wanted to be a part of it with them. It incentivizes us because the rewards can be great.”
Leading the Trend
Tech startups, which are raging in popularity, lead the trend in data driven marketing. Most young startups dedicate most (if not all) of their marketing dollars towards digital. The reason is, of course, the information. Digital channels provide deep, accurate and immediate information on exactly what marketing tactics are working, and how well. A talented technical marketer can analyze this data and build tools to exponentially increase success .
Skilled marketers often congregate to discuss methods and help each other. One such group, dubbed “The Online Geniuses” uses Slack to chat with each other and regularly holds meetups. The exclusive group’s founder, David Markovich, says that his group regularly receives requests for new members, but he is forced to turn them away.
The need for technical marketers has also spawned training programs such as Programming for Marketers, run by Justin Mares, which offers powerful training videos to teach marketers to beef up their skill set. Finding these types of people can be a daunting task, so recruiting agencies are gearing up to fulfill these needs.
Bonnie Zaben, COO of AC Lion in New York says “Big data has hit marketing and tech skills are beating creative ones hand down. These days, your in-house marketing person needs to be more adroit at data and demographics than print ads and product placement.”
As more data needs push into the world of marketing, companies may have to start re-defining what they think a CMO should be.
This article was written by Steve Olenski from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.