Nerd finger by Bayat on Flickr Geek Marketing, I'm actually truly glad that Steve Rubel named it this. It's simple and explanatory of how a new ethic is emerging in marketing. This format is more realistic and relationship driven. Realistic because it doesn't try to fool itself into thinking that any measurement formerly known as ROI means anything. Click-throughs and traffic and numbers of hits don't really do it, although if sales are involved, sales still say something. But not everything.

I'm thankful for everyone who is talking about this...mostly because it is both a pride and frustration of mine to have a role so ill-defined. As I spent many years doing the 'traditional marketing' thing, I know I could just do it. I could just whip up a strategy and execute on it. And it would net good stuff. I was always quite talented in that department. But I can't anymore because I discovered a wholly different approach years ago that is way more effective, but still quite unproven (although it is a fallacy that traditional marketing is proven. It isn't. It's just been around long enough that we are used to it.). So, it is with pride that I'm part of a generation that is paving the way to a new marketing philosophy. But with pioneering comes resistance and I meet endless frustration with people who want to define and describe and test and do all of the things the former system was so awful for.

Even so, there are some definining characteristics of Geek Marketing. I think that Steve did a fine job in his article on giving a high level definition of this. However, I have a few more thoughts on it (being a first-hand Geek Marketer and all). So, what DO Geek Marketers do? Here are just a few of the better defined roles:

  1. We understand the tools intimately.

    Not the technical parts, although that is a minimal requirement. A geek marketer also understands the nuances and subtle 'rules' behind using these tools. There are lots of grey areas of behavior on an app like Twitter, for instance. There is a certain balance between personal and promotional. There is a line you can cross between being a conversationalist and being a broadcaster. Everyone has a different threshold for tolerance (some will never tolerate a link to a press release, others don't mind), but a Geek Marketer will know when this happens.

  2. We understand how to handle feedback.

    We've heard a million times that customer feedback is crucial to building relationships and the future of your product. Yep. But not all feedback is good feedback. And sometimes customers don't know what they really want. I wrote a post a while back on how to handle feedback. Good Geek Marketers have a knack for this through years of empathizing with people and having a good eye on the marketplace.

  3. We speak from the customer point of view with an understanding of the engineering point of view.

    The main point of being a Geek Marketer is that, even though we are the customer's advocates, we also empathize with engineering. This is something I used to struggle with as I was so tied to customer satisfaction that I had knock-down battles with engineering all of the time. This wasn't so productive. As I grew to understand the technology and limitations as well as an engineer's perspective, I was able to communicate much more effectively to end up with solutions that pleased the customer and didn't alienate the engineers.

  4. We raise social capital daily.

    This is a tireless job and is the most important one, IMO. Social capital is the currency anyone working within communities trades in. And, as I have noted before, social capital only increases as you give it away. This means that a really great Geek Marketer needs to get involved in the good things going on in his/her community (like BarCamp, etc.) and spend alot of time concentrating on ways to make the net (and even the world) a better place for others. The more you do this, the more social capital you will have, the more you offer your clients and companies. Credibility and trust are, above all else, the way to raise social capital. In an open world, every step you take is being watched.

  5. We integrate marketing wholistically.

    Not in the sense of the wholistic world where marketing controlled the message at every turn. Instead, Geek Marketers know their message is only as good as their product and their promise is only as good as their delivery. Everyone needs to be on board with that. Management, engineering, business development...everyone. It is about everyone working together to create a kickass customer experience, not just slapping a coat of paint on it to make it seem that way. This means that Geek Marketers work with product managers on the product, business development on the partnerships and Q&A on support. There isn't a piece of the process that Geek Marketers don't touch. (and remember, it isn't control, it's a team effort)

  6. We provide or maintain the nerd values for the organization.

    If the company or client doesn't already have this, the Geek Marketer helps provide the direction in how a company can "do well by doing good". Previous marketing roles didn't take into consideration that there was anything else but 'doing well', but Geek Marketers understand that it isn't just about that, especially in today's market where the market IS a series of conversations (stronger than ever) and 'doing good' is rewarded by those conversations. I love this quote by Craig Newmark of Craigslist about nerd values:

    Well, there’s a basic cliche that I guess applies: “Doing well by doing good.” We don’t think of ourselves as do-gooders or altruists. It’s just that somehow we’re trying our best to be run with some sense of moral compass even in a business environment that is growing. We’re seeing the beginnings of a kind of environment like we saw during the bubble.

    We’re just trying to do our best to maintain that moral compass.

  7. We are your personal trainers.

    For all of those thousands of little things you didn't realize you could be doing or should not be doing because community and openness and all of that new 'web 2.0' stuff doesn't come naturally to you, the Geek Marketer will be your guide. Just like when you go to the gym and need to take time and be easy on yourself as you get into shape, you need to do the same with your community compass. A good Geek Marketer won't introduce you to others until you are ready to meet them (usually when you have gained enough social capital to be on equal footing) just like a good personal trainer won't give you the big barbells until you are ready. And, just like your fitness trainer, you will probably hate your personal trainer from time to time. Forgive him/her. S/he just wants the best for you and getting into shape takes hard work.

  8. We are agile.

    Unlike traditional marketing, we don't control messages, craft messages or even really plan messages. We listen, learn, roll with punches and get more and more adept at predicting customer needs, rather than reacting to them (or assuming things). As Steve outlines in his article:

    Geek Marketers create competitive advantage through rapid-fire testing and learning. The people I know in this role are shepherding the development, testing and measurement of all kinds of groundbreaking marketing programs.

    Geek marketing is like agile development. Start simply with what we know today and keep building on that with feedback, experience and lessons learnt. There will be lots of unanswered questions going into a relationship with a Geek Marketer, but the deeper you get him/her involved, the better the result.

It's always a bit difficult to describe what we, personally, do, but I don't think that is a bad thing. Just because it can't be narrowed into a neatly wrapped box doesn't mean that it isn't helpful and we aren't working hard towards a positive end for everyone.

I actually calculated the 'wins' with clients in our current 'non-definable' state versus the marketing firm I worked with years ago. The money spent was way higher, the efforts put forth were way more arduous and stressful, yet, the marketing ROI really only got as high as about 55% return (and that is an estimate). Our embrace the chaos way has yielded us 70% wins - whether through partnerships, growth, community goodwill, buzz, etc. If I took the goals that clients had going into the relationship and measured the outcomes, it looks way better than traditional marketing ever did and the goals aren't much different.

So, what is Geek Marketing?

It's an emerging art that rests heavily on the notion of social capital and is incredibly customer satisfaction centric. But mostly, it's just emerging.

::bonus: John Dodds talking about Geek Marketing eons ago.