A new breed of marketer is combining a marketing background with a hardcore interest in technology and social anthropology, a cross-disciplinary hybrid that is able to bridge the traditional divide between digital and marketing.
Steve Rubel, who first identified this fresh strain of marketers, writes in his blog that dozens of Fortune 500 firms are hiring geek marketers to take control of the complex, digital world they have found themselves in, as technology transforms business.
The rise of digital media has created enormous challenges across functions and skill-sets. Marketing has borne the brunt of this, as, for many businesses, digital has opened up a direct communication channel to their consumers.
As this has evolved, marketers have been faced with more data, and more ways of using it. From cookies to behavioural targeting, RSS feeds to dynamic keyword insertion, technology has brought complexity to their roles, and firms that have mastered this have created competitive advantages for their businesses, leaving others behind.
But while businesses have wrestled with the fusing of technology and marketing, digital has brought other skills together, too.
The role of the media agency is changing. Traditionally, they have used consumer insight to fill holes in other people's media. They use relatively shallow consumer understanding to determine where they should place the messages that they have been given, but have no influence on what should be said.
But in digital, the lines between creative, content and media have blurred. Consumer insight is no longer the sole responsibility of the agency creating the TV ad - instead it is coming from those who understand how an audience relates to its media. Executing these insights is not straightforward either.
Ideas cross between the creation of content - be it widgets, advertorial or social networking - and 'traditional' creative ideas involving ads, and media ideas.
When the Talk to Frank drugs advice scheme wanted to extend its reach using the web, it worked with MSN to create a bot, a computer program capable of responding to questions about drugs in everyday language. It knew that more than 50% of teens used instant messaging every day and within 12 weeks more than 250,000 teens had added the FrankBot to their buddy list, having more than 1m conversations with it, and asking more than 20m questions.
This is not just a media or a creative idea. It is a hybrid, with technology added in. It would be relatively easy to discover that teenagers have high usage of instant messsaging. But a traditional response to this would have been to place ads in this environment.
Instead, the creators of this programme reflected the way their audience used this medium. They embedded themselves in their consumers' usage of messaging, making themselves a part of that consumption pattern. The result was a 17-fold increase in conversations with teenagers.
The ability to fuse technology, marketing, media and creative is a potent driver of effective communication - but it can only be delivered by people who understand the digital habitat and the behaviour of the people who live there.
Whether you call this marketing, advertising, media or technology, this hybrid approach is increasingly important in the digital age. So, step forward the geek marketer.
- Andrew Walmsley is co-founder of i-level
30 SECONDS ON ... STEVE RUBEL
- Steve Rubel is a digital marketing strategist with more than 15 years' experience.
- He is currently senior vice-president at PR firm Edelman, having moved to the firm in February 2006.
- He previously spent five years at CooperKatz & Company where he advised clients on using blogs.
- Rubel started his own blog, Micro Persuasion, in 2004 about blogging in the PR industry. He also writes a bi-weekly column for AdAge Digital.
- He was included in Media Magazine's '100 People to Know in Media' list in 2005 and the AlwaysOn/Technorati Open Media 100 list in 2005.
- As Edelman's blogging expert, Rubel was criticised when one of the agency's clients, Wal-Mart, helped pay for a couple to blog a trip across the US during which they parked at local outlets of the store. Rubel denied that he was personally involved in the project.