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How Marketers Use SQL

How Marketers Use SQL

To understand why SQL has become such an essential tool for marketers in 2021, it’s important to remember the foundations of marketing. Whether you are selling a product or service, or generating outreach for a brand, marketing is all about designing effective multi-method communications to reach target audiences. This makes information gathered on target audiences solid gold for marketers -- the more you know about who you are trying to reach and what they want, the more effective your marketing campaigns.

In modern marketing, collecting and analyzing consumer information is almost entirely database-driven. Cutting edge analytics tools and CRMs can capture customer sentiments and future desires better than ever before, so robust databases that intuitively filter through the noise and collect critical data are the endpoint that makes these tools effective. And that’s where SQL comes in.

While some marketers will still turn to their IT department to get their critical info, many marketers are beginning to bypass that step and work directly with databases. A basic knowledge of SQL can help make that process even easier - and in this guide, we’ll explore just a few of the ways that marketers are leveraging SQL like never before.

What Are The Basics To Know About SQL? 

Structured Query Language, which is often referred to either as an acronym or as “sequel”, is a basic programming language used to retrieve collected data from databases. It gained a widespread following among software developers, database developers, and administrators, but has expanded beyond those skill roles to a much broader audience in recent years.

To get an idea of what SQL actually does though, the trick is to know about the query -- the most useful and common tool when working with SQL. An SQL query uses a set syntax to request needed information from the database. While the actual technical language and terms behind it are more complicated than most novice users can master, SQL doesn’t necessarily require you to have that extensive of a set of knowledge (although taking an SQL coding class can certainly help!). 

For example, one of the basic elements of SQL syntax is the JOIN keyword. In layman’s terms, SQL joins bring different tables together so the data can be analyzed as such. Marketers might find themselves using SQL joins if a company stores different categories of customer data in different tables, or if managers want to compare relevant data from elsewhere with the existing company database. 

How Is This An Improvement Over Traditional Marketing? 

Think of billboards and advertisements you’ve seen plastered over city bus stops and taxis in any city you visit. These methods reflect the long-held traditional view of marketing -- that saturating a particular area with visually captivating advertisements is the most effective method of outreach (along with TV and radio ads during popular programs). This is reflective of the lack of nuanced data available to marketers for years -- because you were unable to micro-target specific customers with specific profiles, blanketing a market would at least generate some conversions by reaching as many eyes as possible.

There are some other issues with this “old” way of doing things:

  • Marketing campaigns were often impersonal, since a blanket campaign is targeting an entire population, as opposed to the interests or needs of specific market segments.
  • Collecting data was almost entirely reliant on customers volunteering that information themselves (such as through a survey or feedback form). This is also obviously a bit unreliable, as customer sentiments could be affected by their particular experience with your brand or product.
  • Data collection and analysis took much, much longer than it does today -- aside from waiting for customers to volunteer info, sorting and analyzing that data required much more human brain power and capital.
  • Measuring the effectiveness of a campaign was also largely guesswork - it’s hard to tell how many eyes have actually seen a billboard, so even measuring conversions (say, from scanning a QR code on that ad) couldn’t be balanced against how many people never interacted with it.

What Does SQL Offer Marketers Instead? 

By using SQL to analyze your databases and follow a data driven marketing strategy, you can be much more effective at organizing, analyzing, and applying data to your marketing campaigns.

Here are just some of the ways SQL will make you a better marketer:

  • Marketers can be either generalists or specialists -- SQL allows for both.

Marketers were long trained (in academic or internship programs) to establish themselves as either a generalist (with broad understanding of market cycles) or a specialist (working in a niche area like coding, designing, or data analysis). However, as more and more marketing professionals have taken data science and programming classes, there are more prospects than ever before who can fulfill both roles for a company. Thus, learning SQL and using it to buttress your marketing resume can make it much easier to get hired.

  • SQL can supercharge a marketing team’s performance and ability to deliver results.

Where once, marketers were forced to wait for IT professionals to help collect, analyze, and then communicate data to your team (and then to your bosses), being your own IT professional can save valuable time by eliminating these unnecessary steps. By managing your own data, you can move more quickly in terms of shifting strategy or reallocating resources to deliver measurable results that will both reflect well on you and help your business or service succeed.

  • SQL gives you a much more accurate snapshot of your audience.

Anyone who has seen the “inside” of SQL queries and their interactions with databases can tell you that the amount of data you can collect and visualize on users reaches truly Orwellian proportions these days. While we don’t suggest you manipulate customers, SQL can help break down assumptions that aren’t grounded in evidence within your marketing team, and can let you focus on what you truly know about your clients’ sentiments and future needs. This helps both short-term and long-term strategy planning, and can help you conserve and better manage valuable human resources and marketing budgets.

  • You’ll be able to perform your own quantitative analysis.

Remember when we mentioned how tough it was to truly measure the effectiveness of traditional marketing campaigns in a pre-SQL world? Quantitative analysis is where SQL truly shines, in allowing you to sift through raw data to generate customer profiles, measure interactions and conversions with different forms of outreach, and figure out valuable data like how much it costs to convert particular types of customers to your brand. Being able to synthesize this data and then present it to decision-makers is rapidly becoming a job requirement for many modern marketing professionals.

How Should Marketing Professionals Go About Learning SQL? 

Starting with an introductory coding class that focuses on the SQL language and how it interacts with databases is a great start! SoloLearn allows even complete newbies to programming an easy method for learning SQL through the SoloLearn app, with some useful learning features that can help you add this skill to your marketing repertoire. These include:

  • A scaffolded course structure that lets you progress through all of the essential tutorials you need to learn SQL, at your own pace.
  • Coding challenges and quizzes to help you recall and master the concepts you’ve learned as you progress, so you can maximize your SQL knowledge.
  • A robust coding community - perfect for discussing coding concepts, getting questions answered, and meeting fellow coding learners.
  • A code playground, where you can practice with live code and build projects to see the concepts from your coding classes in action!