@madpilot rants

What if we treated marketing like we did code?

As someone that started writing code at a young age I, like many others, have learnt my trade via books and google searches and long hours in front of a keyboard. As the Internet engulfed our lives, solutions to problems and access to really smart people has become just one stack overflow or Github repo away. The software world really is one of knowledge sharing. It’s pretty ace.

I’ve been doing a lot of research in to marketing and sales lately for my startup, and I’ve found that the same really can’t be said for the marketing world. While there seems to be a lot of information out there, when you dig a little deeper it seems to be a rehash of a couple of ideas, a lot of link-bait lists and offers to increase my conversions by up to 250%! If I sign up to a newsletter and pay $35 a month and follow 12-simple steps that point me at a $3000 seminar.

It’s got me wondering though – would it be possible to treat marketing the same way that we treat code?

If you think about it, there are a lot of similarities between writing code, and running a marketing campaign:

  1. It’s a creative exercise. As I keep telling non-programmers, it’s not paint-by-numbers. Sure, libraries can help solve problems, but more often than not you have to engineer your own solution, or modify something else to get it working right. From what I’ve seen, marketing is the same. There is some starting points, but you need to work out what will work in a certain situation and adapt.
  2. Regardless of how well you plan, you’ll get thrown a curve-ball that means you’ll have to re-think your strategy
  3. It’s testable. Not in a unit test sense, but in a benchmark sort of way. You can do something measure it and wok out what works best in a given situation. Big-O notation for marketing, anyone? Bueller?
  4. There is a lot of self-proclaimed experts – the difference here is the output of coders can be read and assessed by anyone. Marketeers just say they are experts.

Of course, they aren’t exactly the same either:

  1. Lot’s of people make software for fun. Just look at the number of open source repos on Github. I don’t know of people that do marketing just for fun – they might find it fun, but at the end of the day, they are doing it to make money.
  2. There isn’t much actual sharing. People don’t like giving away real numbers, because they are doing this to make money and that’s a trade secret or something. It’s the equivalent of closed source software, I guess – not that there is anything wrong with it, but if it’s all closed up, it makes getting to the knowledge harder.

The question that I’ve been asking myself, is could be open source some of this stuff? Can we write up some marketing experiments and techniques, with actual results and share them for others to take inspiration off?

What is we wrote that our marketing experiments up and posted it to Github, so others could fork, implement, and improve? A library of marketing libraries for want of a better term?

Is it possible to modularise and share marketing ideas while cutting through the usual online-marketing expert bullshit? Can marketing be something that we play with for no better reason than to learn something or does it have to always just be about making a buck? What, in my n00bness have I missed, that makes this ultimately a stupid idea? Or is this actually something that could happen?

Lots of questions, not too many answers. Leave a comment, or let’s discuss it on twitter.


  1. This is brilliancy, and I think more people (particularly in startups) are beginning to get it. As more data becomes available, marketing can become a much more metric-driven field.

    On the sharing side, I have found many people are glad to share the general principles and a few case studies while keeping most of their specific techniques secret.

    From what I can tell this is due to two reasons:
    1. Competition - Many specific techniques would become useless if the whole world tried it.
    2. Repeatability - Even while marketing can be data driven, particular techniques often can't be repeated across different industries, companies, or even years.
    1. So I'm not nuts thinking about this :)

      You make a decent point about the efficacy of copycat marketing, but surely there is enough tried and true techniques that aren't viral one-offs.

      The repeatability issue might not be that big a deal - to stretch the analogy, it's like finding a library that kind of almost does what you want. It's not about cut-and-pasting code, it's about getting the inspiration and it triggering a though stream that will solve the problem.
  2. Hi, as an ex-developer who now works mostly on marketing, I totally agree with your ideas. For me marketing is fun, because I try to plan and execute everything as a controlled experiment, work on sprints and measure the final outcome. If you would like to form this sharing into an actual project, I'm here to help.
    1. That's great! I'm seriously contemplating just adding some gists to Github to start. I'll ping you offline.
  3. Like the way you're thinking, meftos! Few thoughts, being more on the marketing side:
    - another difference between the two is that with software dev, you're more or less defining the flow of the users journey, whereas marketing there is so many various channels and varying journey paths to get them to that end goal.
    - definitely agree that methods vary over industries, and even small biz vs big biz in the same industry
    - marketing is often the kind of thing that gets outsourced to agencies, and has generic rules applied to it at that point, which lessens the impact; but in reality, it's one of the most important things to direct yourself, because you're the one that knows your customers the best.

    On the concept of 'marketing libraries', I've seen a few of the bigger marketing automation software companies (Exact Target, Eloqua) doing what they call 'play books', where they have some best-practice processes templated with all the inputs and triggers and everything set up for you (eg. http://cl.ly/RyRH) - this is obviously product specific implementations, but the concepts are definitely something that could be extracted and shared, i.e. recommended number and timings of emails sent out, etc..

    I'm definitely keen to see what you come up with, and happy to contribute as well... I must say, it's been interesting watching you (and others in the same space) make the transition from being hardcore devs, to realising you need to be somewhat savvy marketers in order to make your startup work - you seem to be doing it well! :)
    1. A playbook. I like it. That's exactly what it is. *Quickly changes metaphor to a sporting one*.

      On the point of outsourcing to agencies, it's analogous to outsourcing to a Software Development house - I guess where this idea is useful is for the do-it-yourselfers, who then transition to hiring people to do stuff?

      I think the fact that it various so much between industries is the reason we need it - the more information and examples you have, the better decision you can make. And, just in the way we steal ideas from other programming languages and platforms, the things that work in other industries might translate to ours?

      Cheers for the comment :) I feel a little bit like a dog in front of a computer wearing a tie, but I'm learning.
  4. Interesting idea, I'd love to see how it evolves.

    Open sourcing information of any kind is a worthy and noble exercise. But what information are you looking to collect? Your playbooks may end up reading like telemarketer script, and that just puts the project in the same space as the $3000 seminar, except... y'know, cheaper.

    Marketing can very easily be the tawdry cousin to psychology, with none of the class. When you map process for marketing you end up fumbling through social networking and memetics looking for a reason to why people buy your product? when the only static answer that appears is "because the entity with the money (resource) wanted it at that time, for it's own reasons".

    Might I suggest a more holistic, patchouli approach? Ask instead "Why do I sell this? What is my offering?", on a constant review cycle, you know what you are selling so you know all the metrics or can ask others for honest appraisal of your metrics. Customers will more readily approach a recognizable product with reliable 'known' data surrounding it. Save the spin for those who are hiding something.

    Then again, I've always been blunt, and I don't run a Fortune 500 company, but I do understand what makes me happy.
    1. Hey Satch,

      To take it back to my analogy, if I'm writing some software, I look at what I need to achieve, see if there is a library I can plugin that does exactly what I need (Minimal amount of work, just some plumbing), or one that is close that I can modify or take inspiration from (More work, as I need to delve in and write some code), or write it from scratch.

      Let's assume most fall in spot two - which they do, and which is good as this is the most interesting. You get to see how other people solve problems.

      Ultimately, this is what I want: a resource of ideas that I can look at, study and adapt. It's not a "Do this and you'll succeed in marketing" list, it's a way of seeing how other people solve problems, and then modifying or extending that solution for my own problems...
  5. After some discussion with @samgabell on twitter, it looks like Stack Overflow might be a good place to start. And it looks like others have had a similar idea: http://area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/51786/marketing

    So if you think this idea might have merit, go and subscribe; and ask or answer some sample questions so the Stack Overflow team will consider it as a real category.
  6. It's a nice idea. There are definitely people who enjoy marketing for fun. Me, for example.

    I think one reason that open sourced code works so well is that the direct result of coding is creation and problem solving, rather than profit. People are generally happy to contribute toward solving other people's problems. Whereas the purpose of marketing is to turn this creation into profit. People much are less enthusiastic about helping others generate profit without getting a cut for themselves.
    1. Your point about the purpose of marketing is an interesting one. You say, though that you enjoy marketing for fun, then surely that is a counter example? There are heaps of coders out there that don't dev out side of their 9-5 and don't contribute to Open Source. So if there are enough people out there like you that do it for the challenge, or because they enjoy it, it could still work.

      The way I treat open source "I found this useful, I'll put it up and see if others find it useful too". That is why most of the stuff I post is libraries that you can use to build up a product - I rarely publish entire download-and-you-are-ready-to-go products. This is where I think Open Source marketing might work - you release tidbits of techniques in isolation that you can take, mold and apply elsewhere. At the stage you would release this stuff would be after you have used it and taken the value you need from it. This might work better with an example...

      Say you do marketing for a SaaS product in a different vertical to me, but with the same audience, and we are roughly the same size. Chances are the stuff you do, may work for me. Once you complete a campaign, you write it up explaining what you were trying to achieve, roughly what you did, and what you found out. It's already worked for you, so the value in it is possibly less (Unless it's super repeatable, but even then you are ahead of me, so you are at an advantage). There is still work for me to do to take that plan and make it work for my customers, so you haven't done the work for me, you've just pointed me in a direction.

      I guess the point is you've already derived the value from it, you've already "taken your cut".
  7. There are two books that must be read by those interested in marketing.
    1. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which best explains the process behind marketing (the general gist: put the right words in the right order and in front of the right people).
    2. Scientific Advertising (http://www.scientificadvertising.com/ScientificAdvertising.pdf)

    Like developing software, marketing is contextual and specific. However, unlike software, marketing does not have a "source" in which can be "opened". There are results, based on the analytics data of a business over time, generally measured against redesigns and changes of copy, but getting this data is less like reading open-source code, and more like seeing a product's design change over time. It's valuable, but you can't exactly copy-and-paste someone's data and place it into your product - it's not portable.

    The best example of what I think you're looking for is Marketing Experiments (http://www.marketingexperiments.com/) which show a series of before-and-after shots of websites, with figures of how well the redesign changed conversion (if at all). These, if studied in detail, can explain what is worth optimising and what isn't - but it doesn't show the finer-level implementations of the process, as open source code does.

    I hope that helps.
    1. Cheers for those book recommendations.

      If you marry the changes over time, with some data, you have the "source" I'm talking about.

      The Marketing Experiments is a good example of what I'm talking about. I'm coming around to the idea that this is about inspiration, more than copying and implementation. It's not about cut and paste, it's about collecting more data to make a better decision on what to try next.
  8. I 100% agree with this! I don't know about any of you, but in my company I'm 1 of 2 people in digital marketing. I'm largely in a silo. I spend most of my time looking for answers to questions and I have found that a lot of the blogs out there are just fluff. So far some of my favorite sites are ones that provide actual examples like avinash kaushik's analytics blog, bryan eisenberg's blog or even the course available at market motive. I believe as marketers we have to change the way we do things and stop "marketing" Ourselves (which is where the fluff comes in) and actually work to help eachother succeed. I think sometimes we tend to believe that we are successful because we do things COMPLETELY different than our peers and that's our competitive advantage but after attending some tech talks at my company run by developers for developers I learned that being willing to share your "secrets" will just push you to learn some more.

    So in short - to start thinking more like a developer less like a marketer you could:
    1) network (like the real way..) with other people in different companies and industries - exchange GTALK or Facebook information, and start REALLY Talking. Ask eachother daily questions, Exchange ideas, talk over big changes in the field and making sure you do share your secrets, reports, tools, tactics with them.
    2) everytime you have the opportunity to present in front of a crowd - STOP providing fluff and give other people real world examples, analytics, tactics and case studies that will improve them when they leave.
  9. I don't think you're crazy for thinking this way. As a digital marketer who is constantly looking for new resources and articles talking about different marketing channels, I believe there isn't a one stop resource. You have to build your own or participate in all the communities out there. There are some staple resources for online marketers like Inbound.org, Hacker News, Moz, SEW, QuickSprout, etc... At the end of the day there might not be a go to place to exchange ideas but I think this weeds out a lot of the people who aren't passionate about their career or work. I also think the concept that everyone is fending for themselves and trying to make a name for themselves as a consultant or go to agency creates a large magnitude of resources vs one central community. I do see a growing trend of user aggregated news sites like Inbound and GrowthHackers where people submit articles they find useful and begin discussions.

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