Blog post

The Age of the Full-Stack Marketer

By Jake Sorofman | April 22, 2015 | 1 Comment

digital marketing

You’ve probably heard the now-classic Gartner prediction that, by 2017, the CMO will spend more on technology than the CIO. It’s news to exactly no one that marketing—once seen as the department of tchotchkes, irony and snark—has become a bona fide technical discipline.

Today, 81% of enterprises have the equivalent of a chief marketing technologist looking after a rapidly growing marketing technology stack. Marketing has, indeed, become a technology game.

So it should really be no surprise that marketers themselves are starting to look a bit like engineers …

Welcome to the age of the full-stack marketer.

I’ll admit that I had a strong urge to reject this concept, which has been kicking around for a while now, mostly in the world of startups. Like its showy cousin, the “growth hacker,” it always struck me as just a little too smug, a little too self-congratulatory and of the moment to be taken seriously as a lasting idea.

But once I got past my cranky, old-man fist-shaking, I recognized that it’s a concept I can get behind. Why? Because, the full-stack marketer—much like the full-stack developer—knows how to get stuff done.

To understand the full-stack marketer, it’s useful to consider its engineering antecedents.

Software developers used to work in relative isolation, bound to a layer of a multi-tier stack:

  1. The presentation layer focused on UI;
  2. The middle (or application) tier focused on business logic; and,
  3. The data layer focused on, um, data.

Underlying this were more and more layers, generally managed by IT: operating systems, middleware, servers, network, storage, security, data center facilities, etc.

The instructions were to stay in your lane, owing to the fact that technology was hard, expensive and skills needed to wrangle it were specialized and in short supply. Needless to say, it slowed things down and distanced contributors from actual customers worth serving and business problems worth solving.

But, thanks to competition and cloud-based abstractions, much of the cost and complexity have gone away, liberating developers to exercise other layers of the stack in the service of better, faster outcomes.

Similarly, most marketers were traditionally bound to their own lanes. From UX to SEM to content to campaigns to measurement, the lines were bright and the boundaries were clear. Similarly, this had a tendency to slow things down and distance marketers from actual customers and business problems.

Like the full-stack developer, the full-stack marketer is a self-sufficient utility player who can contribute value at each layer of the stack. Rather than seeing the world through the provincial lens of a specialized domain, the full-stack marketer focuses on customers and outcomes and finding the fastest, most efficient paths to moving the needle for the business.

Of course, you may wonder whether this full-stack thinking is a luxury afforded to only the smallest and nimblest companies among us. After all, specialization of duties is required to scale any organization.

That is likely true, but the principles of full-stack thinking are as applicable to a team as they are to any individual marketer. I’ll discuss that next week.

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1 Comment

  • Just what we need – another marketing title right? As someone who probably fits the bill though, I think you’re making a lot of sense.

    New marketing technologies like demand side platforms (DSPs), dynamic content optimization systems (COSs), and data management platforms (DMPs) open up great new possibilities for marketers to test, optimize, and personalize targeting and messaging. The tough part is integrating the power of these resources into early strategy and communications planning where they can deliver maximum impact.

    A Full-Stack Marketer (needs more acronyms…FSM?) is able to bridge these gaps and connect strategic, creative, and technical marketing efforts. Full-Stack Marketers will never take the place of specialists – but they will definitely be key players in future integrated marketing programs.