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Why "Full Stack" Marketers Are The Future of Digital Branding

The archetype of the indispensable, jack-of-all-trades startup employee doesn’t just apply to engineers anymore.

[Image: Flickr user Joseph Morris]

The term "full-stack developer" has been buzzing around the Internet for years as shorthand for a coder who can build everything from the back-end server to the front-end design and controls.

These optimally skilled people have inspired a "do it all" attitude across the entirety of the tech industry. Given their fragile nature, it’s clear that startups in particular need these jack-of-all-trades types. But that doesn’t just go for the engineering team.

With the relatively recent introduction of data-driven marketing, digital marketers are finally earning their keep in the eyes of the tech community. While full-stack devs are busy writing code in multiple languages, the ambitious "full-stack marketer" is carving out a comfortable place in startup culture.

This recent shift in digital marketing raises quite a few questions and reveals much about our values and our vision for the future of the industry. To dive deeper, I recently spoke with six full-stack marketers during a SpinnakrTalks panel to discuss where we’re headed. You can see the whole conversation here, but I’ll outline our main findings below.

Marketing Fluff Does Not Exist in the Digital Realm

Digital marketing is so much more than it used to be; it’s so much more than the "fluff" of the past, and full-stack marketers are proving this with their daily successes. That age-old marketing joke about not knowing which half of your marketing spend is going to waste is no longer true.

With data analysis skills, full-stack marketers can segment social media management and sharpen branding. Zapier’s Wade Foster outlined 21 skills that startups should look for in a full-stack marketing hire. Among them are SEO, PR outreach, A/B testing, lifecycle marketing, content distribution, and coding. During our conversation, Wade remarked that the reason he wrote about 21 skills was purposely to illustrate how diverse marketers at early-stage companies need to be. And when I asked our six panelists about what makes a successful digital marketer, almost all replied that the ability to measure, adjust, and measure again is key. WebbROI’s Casey Armstrong said it perfectly: "If you can't measure your efforts and make decisions on them, what's the point?"

First Came The Growth Hacker

The concept of technically driven marketing harkens back to the time of the growth hacker, the magical marketing-engineering hybrid who we haven’t heard much about lately. At the beginning of the year, it seemed like everyone was talking about growth hackers, but overuse of the term caused it to become stale.

I suspect that the growth hacker of yesterday is becoming the full-stack marketer of tomorrow, only this facet of their marketing faces in-house. Full-stack marketers need to get the technical team to keep the company marketing-friendly. Mention’s Clement Delangue noted that a successful full-stack marketer should be able to convince the rest of the team that marketing matters using the data and analytics collected on a day-to-day basis. In other words, FSMs should be able to let their work make the case for more of their work.

Don’t Try To Be An Expert In Every Layer

The marketing stack is complex and traverses every surface of the marketing funnel and the customer lifecycle. The beauty of a full-stack marketer is that he or she knows how to reach and engage every single touch point of these funnels and cycles. That’s why it’s important to understand search, social, blogging, PR, email marketing, remarketing, lead nurturing, and everything in between. Having this wealth of knowledge, however, does not mean that full-stack marketers need to be experts in every layer of the stack, but a company is better off hiring someone who has novice-like skills in HTML/CSS and search marketing and can build on those as needed, rather than someone who is solely driven by creative ideas.

Being an ambidextrous thinker—that is, using both the left and right brain—makes full-stack marketers qualified to work at lots of companies, and doesn’t pigeonhole them into one specific niche or industry. Bislr’s Gonzalo Mannucci was spot on when he said "startup culture has made marketers the ‘entrepreneurs of their own careers,’" and that we’re building "career security, not job security." If you can grow one company using the right tools and skills you can surely iterate on the process and improve upon those same skills at your next job. Doing so is simply a microcosmic action stemming from a person’s work-related successes.

Master The Generational Link

Having studied generational characteristics and influence during college, I started to see a connection here. Gen Y and its desire to experience "startup culture" in the workplace (i.e., entrepreneurial spirit, casual dress and environment, flexibility, work/life balance, enjoyable perks) has begun to influence larger, more corporate companies. The reasoning is that if these are the types of environments our incoming workforce craves and wants to work at, larger companies will need to adapt to accommodate them, or Gen Y employees won’t stay long term.

With startup-born full-stack marketing, I can see how this shift could start to permeate traditional marketing practices, just as startup culture as a whole has begun to influence the traditional business world. It will no longer be enough to come up with great ideas, you’ll need to know how to execute them as well. And given that technically knowledgeable marketers are so much more efficient, it’s plausible that larger companies will want teams of full-stack marketers, rather than continue to team creatives with the tech-savvy employees and mediate the back-and-forth until projects are completed to perfection. G2 Crowd’s Eric Metelka says we’re already seeing this happen: "Look at the movement to learn to code. There's also a lot of movement around data science. Both of these will bleed into marketing for the better." Let’s hope so.

So Where Are All the FSMs?

The problem now is that every early-stage tech company wants full-stack marketers, but there aren’t yet enough to go around. Red8’s Victor Ramayrat explains that this is "why full-service agencies still exist, albeit at a higher price tag." So does the rise of the full-stack marketer mean the death of the digital agency? Only time will tell. For now, it’s important to continue to support and encourage the thirst for technical knowledge that full-stack marketers crave. Now, if you’ll excuse me—Dash, SumAll, and WordPress are calling.

Rishon Roberts is the marketing manager at Spinnakr, a new kind of analytics that takes action for you. She’d love to connect with you on Twitter.