Posted on October 18, 2016 · Posted in Marketing, SQL

It’s a Database – No, It’s Hardware – No, It’s Software

It is no secret that, until the recent advent of data-driven marketing, most marketers have had difficulty understanding database tech speak, and vice versa. Many marketers still struggle, and over time, they become content to throw their hands up in despair.

In part, quite frankly, this bewilderment arises from the unwillingness of tech staffers to take the necessary time to explain their “secret sauce” in ways that can be understood by nontechnical thinkers. With my marketing students and clients alike, I find that one subject in particular creates confusion: “SQL” [pronounced “sequel”].

SQL can be confusing because the term has multiple meanings, each of which depends on the context of the discussion. Perhaps the following will help sort this out, in a general way.

#1  It’s Software:

tshirtSQL is an abbreviation for “Structured Query Language” – i.e., programming code for managing data. You will often hear programmers say they are “writing a query in SQL.” Here is an example of an SQL programming “statement on a shirt” – which illustrates how tech folks can often misunderstand their users.


#2  It’s a Database:

Data-driven marketers should know that a “SQL Server database” is a relational database – i.e., a set of storage files. A typical SQL marketing database would have the following storage files:tech image

  • A customer file (“grandparent”), linked in a one-to-many fashion to
  • An orders file (“parent”), linked in a one-to-many fashion to
  • A product file (“child)

And, on a side note, while you can create a database in MS Excel, the program is not considered a relational database.


#3  It’s Hardware:

hardwareAnd, just to keep things lively, “SQL Server” (or “server” for short) can also describe hardware. Picture a box (e.g., like this one from Dell) where SQL Server Management software and SQL database files reside.

It’s no wonder that some marketing folks struggle with clarity concerning SQL.Current thinking among educators and business execs is that, in this day and age, all students should be taught software coding.

Call me skeptical. For marketers, I prefer to advocate for more careers in hybrid skills, much like we see with the popularity of the business analyst career path.

I believe a “marketing analyst” should be a master communicator, with enough ability in both disciplines to translate marketing requirements for tech staff and to translate tech capabilities to marketing staff. Call it “bridging the gap,” as a “MarTech liaison.” Scott Brinker (@chiefmartec) often writes about this emerging topic.For instance, a MarTech staffer should be able to create point-and-click database queries and run reports, without knowing the underlying SQL language. Any marketing student or practitioner with this skill set will be well served—and highly sought after—as data-driven marketing continues to expand in the next decade.

If you’d like to know more about any aspect of SQL or to talk about how data-driven marketing can help your business, contact the WiseGuys marketing staff at 703-941-8109 or check out our blog for marketing tips.