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Digital Marketing & Developer Role Transformation

The traditional divide between marketers and developers is blurring. Discover how CMS improvements and AI advances are changing developer roles and are bringing marketers and developers closer together.

Everything is digital now.

Since August-ish of last year, I've been working on a guide about 'structured content' for digital marketers and managers. A theme jumped out at me that I wasn't expecting: The relationship between marketers and developers is changing, and I think we're at a tipping point, thanks to AI.

All Marketing is Digital Marketing

Almost a decade ago, a guy I know, Paul (hi Paul!), told an auditorium full of marketers "All marketing is now digital marketing".

It's obvious today. It was less obvious, to some, back then. Even so, nobody in the room was particularly shocked.

But why bring up a story about a conference from many years ago?

Because even with that widespread understanding, many digital marketers still say things like "I'm not a techie, so...".

Yet, we're digital marketers – understanding the technology is integral to the job!

It's as if a person working a sales floor said "I'm not a people person, so....". It wouldn't make sense! That's *the point* of the job!

Less "development team" and more "digital team".

It's so much easier to do digital marketing, now.

10 years ago, integrating a 3rd party service into a website was a pain. Developers needed to write custom code or add iframes, ensuring everything worked seamlessly. There were countless conference calls to align marketing, programming, and vendor teams.

Today? Adding a script in GTM often handles the integration.

What about styling tasks that previously fell to developers? Many are now handled directly within the app through admin tools and menus.

Want to go dark mode or alter theme colors? It's a simple menu selection.

Changing the font? Adding images? Those are menu items too.

Tell the service to run under a sub-domain of our domain? A menu item, *but* this one is different? Isn't it?

Let's talk about that.

Implementation doesn't mean writing code

Marketing teams have tons of options to build sites without a developer.

WordPress is running more sites than anybody else and it's easy to style with a theme and extend with plugins.

Hosting services make things even easier. A team can buy a domain, get WordPress automatically installed, and have a site running in minutes. In an afternoon, a non-technical marketer can have a site ready.

Our developers have less baseline work to do as the CMS or host do more.

So, our dev team spends more time on more technical or higher value activities:

  1. initial configuration
  2. service integration
  3. styling
  4. custom site features

Developers have four core activities in the future.

Let's run through the four key activities for developers on digital marketing teams, then we'll wrap up this article by looking at how team dynamics are changing.

Site configuration

Even when we get a site pre-configured by a web host, it's a rare day when that's good enough. Developers can help with picky configuration matters like ensuring CORS is properly configured or debugging why the data layer isn't working between GA4 and our eCommerce plugin.

Often, these are the kinds of things a marketer might do once or twice in a career but a busy development team might face it on every project and if they are experts with our CMS, the can fix it in minutes.

Service Integration

When integrating maps, search tools, video players, and other things that go beyond an email subscription form, developers can quickly dive into the reasons integrations aren't working.

Now, I think all digital marketers should know how to open the developer tools in the browser because that's where things like Google Core Vitals lurks (and Chrome has tools to measure).

But, understanding reasons that a script stopped working or GTM isn't playing well with the vendor code needs a programmer. This is where expertise is critical.

Applying Styling

Of course, a great digital marketing team already has designers, UI, and UX specialists. Our developers are experts in taking what these folks create and convert it to the code for our site.

CSS can be quite complex. When you add in the quirks of our specific CMS, a developer who is an expert in our platform can quickly create the look and feel we want.

Custom Features

There seems to be a plugin for everything, until there isn't. These might be a really cool new way to let people view our products. It might just be a set of custom events for GA4 that we can't wrangle GTM to execute.

No matter the situation, the problem can't be solved with a plugin or default CMS features as our requirement is pretty darn special to our business. In this case, we need someone to write code and it's unlikely we want the marketer who says "I'm not a techie..." near that work.

From Techies to Collaborators, Skills are Shifting.

The Digital Skill Spectrum

As software vendors and service providers continue to compete, they will keep adding features to their offerings that simplify the once-complicated technical work with a menu or setting.

Today, to get a site running we need the following skills for most projects:

  • Vendor management and negotiations for contracts & maintenance
  • Forms integration for email sign-ups, etc.
  • Analytics and GTM implementation expertise
  • Technical SEO expertise (open graph, schema.org, etc.)
  • CMS admin experience
  • Programming / Data / IT Security skills

I've consolidated the developer-related work into a single bullet point to emphasize the shift. As AI tools mature, certain coding tasks will become increasingly automated. What does this mean for the skill spectrum?

  • Marketers will gain AI fluency: Understanding how to effectively prompt and leverage AI code generation tools will be valuable.
  • Developers evolve into AI supervisors: Developers will likely focus on guiding AI tools, refining the generated code, ensuring it aligns with project needs, and handling tasks that cannot be scripted or solved with a prompt.

This trend isn't entirely new, but the rapid reduction in routine developer involvement is significant.

In the past, tasks now handled by external services (and soon, by AI) required local developer time to modify locally installed software.

In the future, developers will assist with integration debugging, but ongoing maintenance will be handled by a service or with AI and costs will shift from salaries to service fees.

AI pushing things further

AI can write code, and its capabilities are rapidly improving. While it might produce 'awful' code today, it's already capable of handling simple coding tasks with well-written prompts. Here are a few examples of what AI-powered coding tools can currently do:

  • Generate basic HTML and CSS structures: AI models can create the foundational code for website elements like buttons, forms, and layouts.
  • Translate design to code: Some tools can take design mockups and generate corresponding code, streamlining the development process.
  • Debug code: AI assistants can identify common errors and suggest fixes, saving developers time.

Developers will get more productive. We'll still need them, but a developer team that isn't embracing AI to speed through routine boilerplate code tasks risks being outpaced by agencies as we lose business to competitors.

Organizations need to foster a culture of AI experimentation and provide training to upskill their development teams. This will ensure they can:

  • Evaluate and adopt AI coding tools: Developers need the knowledge to assess the capabilities of emerging AI tools and select the most impactful ones.
  • Create human-AI workflows: Understanding how to integrate AI outputs into the development process is key for efficiency gains.

Organizations will need to adapt.

IT departments often derive power from the specialized nature of their work.

As developer teams become more focused and digital marketers take on more technical tasks, the organization will also need to adapt. Power structures will shift as CMS maturity continues and AI gets smarter.

Developers are likely report into Marketing departments rather than be part of a massive IT hierarchy. Developers will still write code, but they'll also handle other integration and coordination tasks that might require entire departments today.

The bottom line is that marketers will have tools that help them move more quickly, but they'll need to think of developers as part of the team. The division between techies and non-techies is fading. The longer that marketing teams keep developers at arm's length, the more opportunity will be lost to capture benefits from new CMS, service, and AI capabilities.