Everything has been pretty hectic around most aspects of my existence lately, so projects like the Social Media Thunderdome have ground to a halt, but will start again soon.
Currently, I've spent the last few days programming (something I've been known to do sporadically for work) and it got me thinking about how useful it is in the overall scope of Advertising and Media. I know every position in marketing/media varies in the way computer science and programming can be applied or proven useful, however, I think that a variety of reasons exist why understanding such can help how you think about Marketing Communications. Most people in Advertising or Media outside of specific programming related jobs, myself included, don't have specific Computer Science qualifications. In spite of this, I don't think it should discourage anyone from understanding general concepts or even go on to teach themselves a language or software package.
Understanding programming doesn't mean that you'll be hearing "Mr Szalinski, your 2pm client meeting is here.... "
In thinking about this, I've managed to come up with 5 reasons why I think everyone in Marketing should understand atleast basic concepts related to programming. This doesn't mean you have to go out and learn Visual Basic, C++, C#, Java, Fortran (god forbid) or Actionscript tomorrow, but as with everything in marketing, a variety of skills and knowledge can prove useful.
5 Reasons Why Programming Can Help You Understand Advertising & Media:
1.) Programming helps you to understand, shape and visualize data.
Data, be it consumer opinion, awareness figures, ROI calculations, channel prices, sales figures or anything else, is an integral part of creating and implementing effective Marketing Communications. Programming and software development can help to show you what formats data can be stored in, how it can be manipulated from those and what outputs are available. As more and more creative data visualization techniques are becoming popular, the ability to shape data into something more interesting than a simple Power Point chart is increasingly valuable. Working with even something as basic as data shaping macros in Power Point or Excel can cut research or development time by more than half, as well as reduce repetition in your daily work.
2.) An understanding of Programming helps you to understand the limitations and capabilities of digital creative content and social media.
There is no better way to understand what something can do than by seeing how its made. No one expects everyone working in fields related to digital Marketing Communications to be able to create it, but a few articles on flash development, web design or social network APIs can mean the difference between the ability to clearly explain what you're visualizing or waiting for someone else to find it for you. As more and more social media campaigns gain notoriety, the ability to track, understand and change communications messages and objectives hinges on the degree to which someone understands what the capacity of the medium is technically.
3.) Learning even the basics about how software is made can allow you to gain insight into how technology is developing
Technology is a broad and varied field which constantly expands and reinvents itself. Therefore no one is expected to be an expert on every established and emerging field. Finding something you're interested in though, be it mobile, desktop or other platform development, can allow you to see the shape of the field as it stands and where its going. The interplay between software and hardware development also allows those with an understanding of the field to view new platforms and technologies in a more application oriented light.
You don't need to know how to actually write an iPhone application to read about the technical developments coming out of the platform. Understanding the things that are being developed and the challenges they face on a more technical level can allow you utilize newer capabilities and concepts for communication efforts.
4.) For those that currently, previously or will work on technology based accounts (business or consumer tech), an understanding of software development will go along way towards shaping relevant campaigns and content
"Good copy can't be written with tongue in cheek, written just for a living. You've got to believe in the product." -David Ogilvy
I tried to find another Ogilvy quote about the need to become a master in the fields of your clients, but I believe the available one communicates the same concept. For those working on technology based accounts, a basic understanding of the field is a given. The insight given from learning about software design, as talked about above, can allow you to deepen this understand quickly and along a relatively clear path. For example, individuals working on accounts for a word processing software company would do well to read about advancements toward cloud computing based platforms.
Software exists as an interaction between what the user wants, what the developer does based on what he/she thinks they want and what is actually delivered. Understanding the development process allows you to see all sides of this relationship, something that can prove helpful in any part of a technology based issue.
5.) Learning more about how software works will help your overall computer skills by demystifying technology
I know from personal experience, that growing up learning how to use a computer in concert with learning how to program helped me to not fear breaking a system. Of course, a few computers took a while to rebuild during this long and still ongoing development process, but knowing how something works helps you to see its strengths and weaknesses. Knowing how software is written allows you to see that errors can (almost always) be fixed and crashes (most of the time) aren't the end of the world. Through a greater understanding of different levels of a technology, what at first seemed imposing, can later become second nature.
I've written this list from the perspective of someone who isn't formally trained in Computer Science. I've worked as a programmer before, but my education is firmly in the fields of Marketing & Psychology. I don't claim to be highly technical as I'm proficient in VB (and sadly VBA) as well as some C++ and web design, but even I'm currently intimidated looking at Actionscript (the current learning project). I'd love to know what people more and less technically inclined think of the list, so leave some comments below.