What was once a term of derision is now the highest form of praise.

Hackers are the resident geniuses that—by dint of preternatural talent, interminable focus and a mildly subversive relationship with conventions—always get the job done. In the world of IT, these are the system engineers who solve the most vexing riddles in the data center and the coders who can convert caffeine into brilliant software innovations by drawing magic out of thin air.

Part artist, part engineer, hackers don’t always follow the rules. In fact, that’s part of their genius. They’re creative problem solvers. They’re visionaries with the technical chops to back it up. That’s why hackers are always on speed dial, the hero standing by the proverbial bat phone. They operate in the spirit of getting things done.

Look closely at any IT organization and you’ll find hackers. But marketing? Traditionally, you’d rarely find a black shirt in this land of khakis. But that’s surely changing as marketing disciplines become so fundamentally dependent on technology.

That’s why Gartner sees technologists rising through the marketing ranks. Today, the vast majority of marketing organizations employ a chief marketing technologist in some form or another. Sometimes it’s a formal role with a direct sphere of control. Sometimes it’s less formal, simply a highly technical problem solver sitting in the marketing suite. A resident hacker.

We’re now firmly entrenched in the age of hacks, which are in effect “best practices” that would never deign to go by such a convention. Hacks are the proven shortcuts for solving problems in best MacGyver spirit, using chewing gum and bailing wire as a functional art form. Hacks are the codified patterns of the marketing hacker.

The idea of a hack isn’t to diminish the importance of quality. It’s simply to celebrate the primacy of progress. In the age of agile, progress trumps perfection because, when we contain risk with bounded scope and iteration, we can learn by doing. Hacks tell us that good enough is often good enough.

Of course, to suggest that the marketing hacker is an entirely new phenomenon is probably a bit disingenuous. After all, marketers have been working with technology for a long time and the skills required to master the digital marketing mix have always erred on the side of hackerdom.

What’s new, now, is that the challenges have grown more complex, interdependent and pervasive. Not to mention, more urgent. Which is why, as CMOs skill up to bridge the analog-to-digital divide, they need the support of creative problem solvers who can get down and dirty with technology.

They need someone who isn’t afraid to say CPM and IDE in the same breath.

What they probably need is a digital marketing hacker.


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