on a laptop, programming away
Marketers should be fearless in giving advanced programming tools a try PHOTO: WOCinTech Chat

Today’s marketers get bombarded with new martech tools almost weekly, if not daily — at least I do. 

And if other marketers are in the same boat that I am, they face a constant flood of calls from solution providers asking for a few minutes to demonstrate the latest, greatest way to solve business challenge number 2,678.   

R Programming for Marketing

But one tool that I think marketers can and should get to know more intimately is a growing developer favorite: R programming. 

R programming is an open source language used for statistical modeling and data visualization. The programming language typically operates via a terminal on a laptop, but there is also development environment software available to make R more user-friendly. 

The most popular integrated development environment (IDE) among practitioners is RStudio because its quad-window view allows users to see their results in the terminal alongside a whiteboard platform. 

In Search of a Clear Statistical Overview

Why should marketers seek out R programming? For starters, it can help them take a deep-dive look at how the details of a predictive model will fit into and support overall their business plans. 

That’s because many times marketers tout predictive models as analysis panaceas without having a clear statistical overview. And lacking that overview can sometimes cause those professionals to push the process over to an IT or developer teammate. 

Respect the Agile Process

That approach risks undermining the agile management process because it pressures that teammate to be the salvation to whatever technical problems have bedeviled the team. 

In fact, seeking a single tech savior is not the best approach for discovering how to unlock the benefits of an advanced tool. For best results, an enterprise must look to a team of people who can tie data exploration and analysis to specific processes within the organization. 

That way, the data becomes more meaningful when marketers can use it to inform their overviews of product, service and customer. 

Practice Makes Perfect 

A second reason that marketers can benefit from R programming is that it comes with a trial data set. Users can type ‘data( )’ into the terminal to load a file of data tables. 

Some of the data is admittedly old. For example, one file called ‘mtcars’ references several discontinued automotive makes and models. 

But the tables can still be useful in reinforcing data hygiene concepts such as tidying data, as well as for practicing modeling concepts. Using the practice data sets gives marketers a low-intimidation, low-risk way of understanding the elements of R modeling using examples that are simple in practice and scale. 

Streamlining Repetitive Tasks 

Another advantage is that there are many packages available for R that can help with repetitive tasks such as API calls to databases and other solutions that are specific to business platforms.

The developer community that has arisen around R thus far has had a dedicated focus on science and biology applications but that is rapidly changing. In the last few years, more business applications have introduced packages that allow R to play well with business software.   

Start with RStudio or Eclipse

To start, marketers can download R programming on their laptops and then look for RStudio or another IDE called Eclipse to use. Most help articles and YouTube videos will steer users, especially beginners, toward RStudio for use with R programming. 

There are also a few articles that discuss how to run R programs in a cloud setting using Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services (AWS).  

Marketers Should Embrace Martech 

The chance to experiment with a tool like R programming should be a part of every marketer’s work experience. As martech has taken over the business environment, it has brought with it developer practices such as DevOps, a catch-all term that refers to the intersection of software developers, IT and marketing automation. 

The end result is a push for marketers to be aware of enterprise martech tools and understand how those tools can impact their work at hand.    

One way marketers can build their experience is to find opportunities to work in teams with varied skillsets. Doing so will hone their capabilities by watching how others utilize the tools available. 

The experience can also reveal what is possible with programming technology, as well as pitfalls to be avoided. In a CMSWire post last year, I shared my experience with an AT&T-sponsored hackathon in Fishers, Indiana and how it taught the value of exposure to a diverse set of skills.  

Be Fearless 

As martech becomes the new normal for jumpstarting initiatives, marketers should be fearless in giving advanced program tools a try.

Building the right infrastructure to uncover business advantages from data will require more understanding of the underlying principles behind today’s best martech solutions, and R programming is a great place to start.