How Marketers Can Communicate With Development Teams (Including Scripts)

Last Updated: December 4, 2019

Developers and marketers have to work together so that the marketing websites produce the best ROI for the company.

Sometimes the two teams feel like they speak two different languages, and this leads to frustration, and sometimes both sides being at odds with each other.

Let’s bridge this gap. We’ll take a look at why this friction exists, how to begin to work together with development teams, and we’ll take a look at a practical example to illustrate the concepts. 

The Trust Gap, or “Don’t Touch My Stuff!”

There is an inherent trust gap between marketers and developers. Some tools like Google Tag Manager involve placing code into a website. Many software developers won’t like this.

Imagine if a software developer approached you and wanted to put his spin or maybe a paragraph that he wrote into your blog post. Or perhaps he wrote this remarkable chapter that he wants to put in the company’s newest ebook. How would you react?

I expect that you’d be doubtful. That’s exactly how a developer feels if a marketer approaches him and says, “Please let me put this little bit of JavaScript on your website.”

Yes, the website indeed belongs to the company, not the developer. However, the code used to build the site is something that developers have painstakingly written. They care about their system as much as you care about the things that you’ve written.

Understanding this mentality will help you not to take offense when developers look at you strangely or refuse to put marketing code into the website without first looking at it or questioning you. 

Use this new understanding to begin the process of working together. Ultimately, both of you want the same thing. To start this new adventure, let’s learn some of the developers’ language. 

Developer Language Primer

You don’t have to understand software development to understand some of the terms and Concepts developers use every day. Let’s do a crash course on developer language so that you can communicate with developers even if you may not be fluent.

There is common ground between marketers and developers, primarily if you use Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, and Google Data Studio. These tools require some degree of technical understanding, so you’re further along than you think you are.

Even so, some confusion comes from the fact that marketers may refer to terms a little differently than a developer would. Misunderstandings can arise when the marketer is referring to something that the developer knows but calls it something different. The main point may be lost.

Here are some terms you may hear a developer say why you speak to them and what they mean…

JSON – JavaScript object notation. JSON in JavaScript is the preferred method of formatting data. As we’ll explain later, you’ve already seen JSON if you’ve used Data Layers in Tag Manager. JSON is a common way of transporting data between machines over the Internet.

Object – Think of an object like a bucket of data. Objects can be digital representations of something in the real world or could be abstract. Objects hold data and state.

For example, when you log into a website, there is an object somewhere in the code that represents you. It will hold your username, your real name, and perhaps other data like your email address or whether you have admin privileges in the system.

The program uses objects as a quick reference point when it has a question. Say a particular function of the application requires admin privileges. The program will go to the object holding your information and ask it, “Is the currently logged in person an admin?” Then the program will change its behavior based on the answer to the question.

Think about the Q.I.A. Method, but for programs

Key-Value Pairs – Key-value pairs are the individual pieces of data within an object. The “key” is the label for the data.

In the above example of logging into a website, a key could be “username” with a value of “measurementmarketingrocks.” When admin functionality is required, the program will find the value of the key “admin.” If the value is true, then the program knows you’re an admin.

Help Them Understand the “Why”

More important than speaking, all the technical terms will be helping the developers understand why you need to add this code in the first place.

Developers want to help you; they’re just busy like you are. They’re on the hook for a mobile redesign of the shopping cart, and Visa isn’t accepting applications for some reason, so they have to debug that for the next several hours. Wait, what is this data layer thing you need again? Now you want a Facebook pixel? 

Instead of telling them what they need to do, ask for their help. Explain to the developers why you need specific functionality and what goal you’re trying to achieve. They may know a better way then you do.

You and the developers are ultimately on the same team. You both want the company to prosper. You happen to go about it in two different ways.

If you can’t meet with developers for some reason, then you can provide a screenshot that shows the data that you need and where you need it to go. Armed with this information, the developers can give you the best options to accomplish your goal.

You could send them a screen share, a simple video using a tool like Loom, and explain to them what you need, where it will come from, and what the purpose is. What’s the developer understands these things they will be more likely to work with you instead of against you.

Establish that you understand the code belongs to them, and you’re both working together to accomplish a business goal. 

Teach developers the concepts behind custom templates in Google Tag Manager. Once developers understand the tools available and how they work, they will not only come up with unique and creative solutions but may be willing to do some of the work as well.

(NOTE: Want to save time and improve your measuring with the most useful and popular tags? Download the GTM Cookbook. Filled with “GTM Recipes” for quick implementation.)

Get your FREE GTM Cookbook

An example: Google Tag Manager

Let’s illustrate the concepts of communicating with developers by using Google Tag Manager as an example. GTM is a likely reason for the marketing team to want to add code to a website.

First, let’s think about communication methods. The best way to communicate with a group of busy developers is quick meetings with lots of visuals. Keep your sessions to 15 minutes or less, if possible.

Don’t waste time trying to explain what you need. Instead, take screenshots of the webpage at different points in time and show what data you in the data layer at each.

For example, you could take a screenshot of the website before the user is logged in and show what the data layer looks like at that time. Then log in and show that the value for the key “visitorLoginState” should be changed to “logged-in.” Use the preview mode to capture the changes as they happen, so the developers know what to change and when.

If the developers are new to Google Tag Manager, explain it in their terms to reduce confusion and misunderstanding.

Here’s what you can say: “Google Tag Manager allows us to place JavaScript into the page that pushes important data to Google Analytics. We can use the data to build reports and understand how our users experience and engage with our website.”

The developer may have questions about the structure of the data and how it works. Now you can use the developer lingo you learned earlier to explain what you need in just three sentences.

“Tag Manager has a data layer that it adds to the window object (this is the representation of the browser window in JavaScript). A data layer is a JSON object that stores the key-value pairs we need to be stored in Google Analytics. Tag Manager sends them to our analytics, which we then use to create reports and dashboards based on user behavior.”

Some developers may worry about security with JavaScript. They don’t want code they don’t know performing functions on the website. In this case, custom templates can be used to allay their fears. Custom templates allow developers to create code in a controlled, sandboxed environment. The system will be more secure because it hides access to critical functions within the browser. It’s also reusable.

[Script] Explaining Google Tag Manager to Your Dev Team

It might help to see a sample conversation with your developers. Here’s a script to use when explaining why you need specific data pushed to the data layer of Tag Manager.

Marketer: “Hi devs. Thanks for this quick meeting. I’ve brought screenshots of what we need, and I’ll hand them to you for your reference. It should demonstrate what we need and when.”

Dev #1: “Wait, hold on. Can you explain again why we need to add more JavaScript to the page? I’m not familiar with Google Tag Manager. What is it used for?”

Marketer: “Sure. Google Tag Manager allows us to put small snippets of code into a page to gather data on the behavior of our users. It pushes this data into what Tag Manager calls a “data layer.” The data layer is a JSON object added to the window object of the page. It stores key-value pairs we need for our analytics platform.”

Dev #2: “We have strict security controls. We can’t have code manipulating the window object of the browser. It’s not safe.”
Marketer: “Tag Manager has taken care of that concern. They’ve released a feature called “custom templates” that allows us to push data to the data layer and perform other functions from behind an API. It sandboxes the code to prevent any dangerous stuff from happening.”

Dev #1: “So Tag Manager will fire a piece of code at a certain time, which will send data to Google Analytics so that you can build reports?”
Marketer: “Yes. I’ll show you screen by screen what data we need and where it will come from. I’m not going to tell you how to write the code. I want to make sure you know what we need and why we need it. The rest is up to you.”

“For example, on our first slide, we ask for a push when the user logs in. We need the value of “visitorLoginStatus” to say “logged-in” at this point so that we can use that as a custom dimension, and I can build a report of just what our logged-in members are seeing. I’ve included some example code of how to do that push from Google’s documentation for your reference.”

Dev #1: “That makes sense. Let’s get started, and we’ll ask questions we have as we go.”

Solid communication leads to more “High-Fives”!

PRO TIP: Those in our Measurement Marketing Academy have access to a host of Google Tag Manager Workshops and training you can use get the most out of Tag Manager. Check out our Introduction to Custom Templates in Google Tag Manager workshop (and grab your developers so they can take advantage of this excellent feature).

Communication > Confusion

Communication is a two-way street. The more you understand about the challenges developers face, the more you can adjust your approach. Stop telling them what to do and start asking them to help you solve business problems. You’ll see a difference in their demeanor.

Not every developer is going to become marketing’s biggest fan. But you can help build good relationships with the development teams by trying your best to understand each other. Work as a team to accomplish a business goal. Be respectful of their time and priorities. Sometimes you may have to be patient.

Finally, be helpful. That’s the most significant piece of advice I can give. Show your developers screenshots. Show them the documentation that explains how Google Analytics and Tag Manager work. Send them our GTM Cookbook, so they know the best tips and tricks for using Tag Manager.

Then enjoy the marketing utopia of having the developers on your side.

(NOTE: Want to save time and improve your measuring with the most useful and popular tags? Download the GTM Cookbook. Filled with “GTM Recipes” for quick implementation.)

Get your FREE GTM Cookbook

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