Since it seems a common question in many marketers who want to stand out in their careers, I’ll address this subject based on my personal opinion and trade.
Last week, Miguel Murteira expressed how overwhelmed he usually feels when there are so many things there is to learn about marketing and asked me this question:
“How can someone craft and plan a marketing career path that’s relevant to the needs of our times?”
I’m about to answer as much as possible within the character limit. 😉
It’s a utopia to think that you can learn everything there is to know about marketing execution. Trying to be the best at everything isn’t real.
First, we need to understand that marketing is one thing while executing the tactics within the marketing strategy is another.
Marketing at its core basics hasn’t changed that much since decades, if not almost a century ago. It’s about deeply understanding our ideal audience and how our products and services can be relevant in their lives.
What has changed across the years is how we can make that happen. That’s because, as any good marketer, we must follow and be present where our audience spends their time.
Now, being an expert at something doesn’t mean that you don’t know other things either. I usually talk about email marketing and automation because it’s where I have more know-how, AND it makes it easier for my audience to place me on a mental shelf.
Having said that, I also know a great deal about lead gen, conversion optimisation, online presence, e-commerce, and the list goes on and on.
To be a Full-Stack Marketer, it’s almost impossible.
This is a simplistic approach to several branches that a marketer needs to have a great deal of knowledge of to make it a gold standard within our class.
The problem is that it doesn’t end here. I have no question in my mind that my knowledge of the legal aspects of marketing has saved me from serious trouble more than once. The same with the marketing performance I’ve gathered throughout the years and to understand the impact marketing can have on the business.
However, there isn’t a single course that can truly prepare you for these skills. It’s something you need to choose along your career path and decide what the right one for you is.
What Kind of Career Path to Choose From?
To help you define your path, I would simplify that choice into two (or three??) main categories as represented below.
Of course, it’s ridiculous trying to place everyone working in marketing in two or three boxes, but for the sake of argument, it does make sense.
The most common box everyone seems to fall into is the Marketing Generalist one. After all, we start working in Marketing after college, self-taught and changing careers, and we have a general glimpse of everything that involves marketing —or so we should.
As the name states, you have a general understanding of everything your marketing touches and some ideas on how to apply a few tactics to make it as cohesive as possible. What is hard to do in this case is to excel in any specific area. Why? Because you can’t be outstanding in a particular area if you also need to do everything else.
Have you noticed when Michael Jordan tried to change sports? It didn’t work that well. It’s not because he was a lousy athlete. It’s because it takes years of focus on that one sport to excel at it.
A family doctor is great for identifying many different health issues but can’t perform open-heart surgery. The same goes for any profession.
Then we have the T-Shape Marketers, the generalists, who have more profound knowledge, even though I can’t call them experts, into one or two main areas of marketing but have a practical, working understanding of all other domains.
Hard to grasp? It has this name because it resembles a big T.
The horizontal row represents all the marketing areas with working and practical experience, while the column represents the area with more profound knowledge.
And then we have the Marketing specialists. These usually focus on one area of expertise and stand out very easily in the market as the go-to specialist in that area.
They spend years perfecting their art and are always on top of the latest changes in their area. They know how to perform above average in that field and understand the trends and what we need to do today to perform at the top level tomorrow.
These Marketing Specialists need to be at the top of their game. It’s like comparing the top players of any sports team. NBA, Champions League, etc.
Think about Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Cristiano Ronaldo, Leo Messi, and it goes on and on. Whenever they enter the pitch, they make a difference.
Where Does Each Fall into the Market?
To better understand how to fall into each option along your career path, I’ve developed this chart to deliver a better perspective.
Now it’s a matter of doing your research about job positions for every single of these market needs, not forgetting about the salary you can get depending on what you choose.
Without doing proper research, based only on what I see the market asking for, I would say that you have much more job openings for generalists because it falls into the majority of the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and startups (really starting up) out there.
However, the salary is what it is unless you’re already around the CMO/VP threshold, and there’s a ton of competition because you can’t stand out quickly in your audience’s minds.
Then, the T-Shaped Marketer is in second place, better placed at larger teams or already jumping into the CMO/VP role after standing out in their careers.
Brands hire T-Shaped Marketers to give their support to a more specific area, but their broad knowledge of other areas of marketing causes an impact that reflects on the overall results.
These marketers are better rewarded in terms of salary and have a better chance of being referred when someone says they need someone to solve X’s problem.
Finally, we have the Marketing Specialists who usually carry temporary roles to solve a few problems or occupy one function within a company. For instance, data scientists, data analysts, CRM specialists, etc.
These specialists, like in many other professions, are better paid and have brands coming after them, not the other way around. That’s why many choose to be consultants or freelancers because they have more freedom to decide when and how to work under their own terms.
Yes, some freelancers fall into the rest of the marketing areas too, like generalists and t-shaped ones, but when companies hire a freelancer is usually to solve a particular problem.
How One Choose to be a T-Shaped or Marketing Specialist?
I can only talk from experience, and what I found to be easier to stand out in the market is to choose to be a T-Shaped or Specialist. Why? Because anyone in your audience will immediately think of you when someone needs a solution for X.
When you niche-in, we send a more straightforward message to your audience. Let’s take my example, for instance.
I usually introduce myself as an email marketing and automation professional. However, most of the people who reference me are for email marketing. Why? Because when we place an “AND”, we’re already stretching out.
I should be even more specific.
- I do email marketing for DTC brands in the cruises space.
- I do email marketing for SaaS retention.
- I do email marketing for E-commerce in the cosmetics sector.
It sends a clear message to your audience, and they can happily place you on that mental shelf.
Ok, but how can we build a career to stand out as T-Shaped and Specialists starting as anyone else being a generalist?
It’s not that easy to explain; it’s harder to do.
As you can imagine, the answer is the same as with an athlete. Work hard as you can to become the best in the field of choice.
- Practice every day —don’t slack on this;
- Study every day from curated and reputable sources —this never stops as long as you are active;
- Research regularly;
- Test theories;
- Get results consistently —make sure no one can say it was a lucky strike;
- Prove and build your case studies;
- Create a reputation in your field;
- Discuss your questions and learn from your colleagues and even competitors;
- Solve problems within your area;
- Find what other areas impact your area of expertise and learn what you need to know to impact your work positively;
- Find out how your work impacts the business results and ensure you have the data to prove you’re worth it big-time.
The reputation comes over time, but it helps if you talk about your area of expertise at least 80% to 90% of the time. If you disperse too much talking about other stuff, it becomes blurry to identify where you fit.
It’s crucial to communicate consistently within your channels and social media. You’re not building your reputation if you don’t produce content that shows how much you know about that area.
So consistency is really important, as you may already see many professionals state that repeatedly, but I’m also a big advocate for quality. When you can master to be consistent AND deliver quality simultaneously, you’re “in the zone”.
Some of the latest comments I’ve seen on my posts were that I delivered value regularly, and they were thanking me for it. That’s a confirmation that I’m on the right track. That’s what I am aiming for.
I know I’m off current, but I would rather have a bit less engagement and reach but have a better impact with my ideal audience. Of course, we can always sprinkle a few strategic memes or content that we know will drive more engagement to keep the algorithms running, but I would argue that the vast majority of your content should be of top quality.
The thing is, I’m posting almost every day. Trying to create valuable and quality content hasn’t hurt the consistency. It’s hard to get there, but it pays off big time when you get used to create it consistently.
I hope this can help you if you’re lost about what career choice you should make around marketing. If you still have some questions, I’ll be happy to help.
In what category do you think you fall? Are you a Generalist, a T-Shape marketer or a Specialist? I’m curious. 🤔