You Will Never Catch Up With Modern Marketing

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What are your go-to items to feel better?

I have two. The first is food. I am more than happy to spend extra money to make sure food tastes fantastic. Fortunately, I live in Houston where amazing food is on every corner. 

The second would be my obsession with books. I can't leave a bookstore without spending decent money and am always reading 2-3 at a time. The breakdown is one audio, one e-book, and one physical. When I am driving, I am listening to the audiobook, when I am at home I alternate between the e-book and physical book. I can't get enough of them. 

I needed a pick-me-up this past weekend and headed to a local bookstore. My intention was to find a book that covered the full spectrum of modern marketing. I am talking UX, design, analytics, web development, and everything else labeled as "marketing."

After looking at a dozen or so, I realized there was no comprehensive book and ended up with a nice find, Draplin Design Co. Pretty Much Everything by Aaron James Draplin. As much as I am enjoying the read, I realized modern marketing entails too much for any one book. 

The next day I came across an article explaining how CMO's have the shortest tenure of c-suite executives . . . yikes. It all suddenly hit me. 

Modern marketing has infiltrated all aspects of a business and it's impossible to catch up with every trend. I already knew this was an issue, but what does it mean for us marketing professionals? How do we navigate a complex industry? 

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

I enjoy meeting young people who aspire to work in the marketing industry. I still consider myself one of these young people and then realize I have been doing some form of sales and/or marketing for over a decade. That last sentence made me feel old. 

Back to the real young people. When they ask for advice, I respond with a question like a true marketer. The question I pose is "do you want to be a specialist or generalist?" In this one question, a lot can be learned about someone. Are they the focused type which will be great at a few things and move their way up through an agency or in-house department? Or are they a generalist who can fill dozens of holes depending on a project. It might take them longer to climb the ranks, yet they could become a Director or CMO with enough time and experience. 

Neither is better than the other and both are essential for businesses to grow. 

Have you thought about your skill-set? No matter your industry, are you a specialist or a generalist? Let's look at some of the pros and cons of each in the marketing world. 

Specialist

A specialist is a go-to person for defined problems. In marketing, they are your high-level graphic designers, developers, researchers, and other experts. These are your hired guns. The benefits should be obvious as they are brought onto projects for specific tasks. 

Larger companies rely on specialists to perform excellent work within a set of boundaries. If you are a specialist interested in marketing, I would recommend finding a position in an agency, as part of a team, or a freelancer with a niche offering. 

The negatives of specialists are just as obvious as the positives. They are skilled at certain tasks, but won't have the toolkit to meet multiple demands. Small businesses usually require their marketing professional to wear many hats and perform 12 different items in a day. Those demands do not fit the skills of a specialist. For example, some of the best graphic designers I know have never overseen a campaign or conducted marketing research. 

Again, both specialists and generalists are valuable in marketing. The key is to determine the requirements of a company or project to identify who is needed, sometimes it's both. 

Generalist

Here is your multi-tool. These people are dangerous in many areas but not necessarily the best at anything. They can usually code, design, oversee campaigns, understand analytics, and more. I would give generalists a slight edge (because I am one) over specialists in one major area. Most businesses are fluid and marketing changes frequently. A great generalist has enough skills to keep projects moving and can assist anywhere. However, they have deficiencies. 

Generalists face the issue of being good at many things, but an expert of none. Large companies rely on specialists to focus on exact tasks. A generalist might not have the skills to compete at the highest level in any one area. Also, on a practical point, generalists can become bored with doing the same thing over and over. One of the most enjoyable aspects of my work is being a generalist. Some days I am working on technology integration, others I am focussed on design, then there is web development, and analyzing metrics. Each day presents a new problem which requires various skills. 

At the risk of sounding redundant, it needs to be mentioned again. Marketing demands specialists and generalists. When egos are removed, they can even work together to create amazing campaigns. If you are a generalist, let the specialist do what they are great at while you fill gaps. 

Who are You?

Let's circle back (gross, did I just use business jargon). This article started with the realization marketing touches every part of a business and continues to expand. Some of the items I deal with on a weekly basis with my business Elisha Consulting include: 

  • Campaign Strategy
  • User Experience (UX)
  • Web Development 
  • Collateral Design
  • Google Analytics, Search Console, AdWords 
  • Internal & External Communications 
  • Software Integration & Coding 
  • Social Media Management 

Marketers can become experts in any of those areas or become dangerous at all of them. Moving forward, it seems like there is a trend for Directors, Executives, and CMO's to be more generalist than a specialist. Yet, that does not mean you should be a generalist. Instead, figure out what you want to do first. If you love to create and think about graphic design daily, then you should master your craft. Same for any specific area of marketing. 

On the other hand, if you want to oversee campaigns from start to finish, then you should likely go down the generalist path. Stay updated on current and future trends while getting your hands dirty. Well, as much as marketers can get their hands dirty. What I mean is learn how to use the Adobe Creative Suite, know the basics of HTML/CSS, write as much as you can, and develop a campaign checklist. The more you know, the more valuable you will be and you never know when a project will require you to dabble in design, coding, or analytics. 

Whether you are in marketing or not, hopefully, the above helped you identify if you are a specialist or generalist. Once you know who you are it becomes easier to define and achieve success on your own terms. Embrace who you are and place yourself in the optimal place to succeed. Don't act like a specialist if you aren't and don't try to do everything if it's not your jam. 

Knowing yourself is essential to career fulfillment. 

Matt Avery