A young, fresh-out-of-college marketer who was just starting out approached me the other day. She was smart, she was ambitious, and she was hungry for some advice. What should she focus on moving forward?

My answer: drill down on the marketing aspects that interest her, but stay T-shaped.

There has been much talk in digital marketing circles about the T-shaped web marketer. Rand Fishkin’s summary is excellent, and I recommend you check it out if you haven’t already. In a nutshell, a T-shape marketer has a good overview of all the different digital marketing disciplines (so organic and paid search, social media, email, user experience, display advertising, web design, content marketing and so on) and goes deep into a single or a few of them.

I have met many digital marketers, adept at managing highly sophisticated and accurate online campaigns for household brands. However, outside of their immediate area of expertise, some of them simply didn’t know much. And we are all aware of how quickly things evolve in the digital sphere. To hyper-specialised digital marketers, going T-shape is a shrewd move to ensure their relevancy, regardless of the fate of their specialism.

But the value of the T-shape model goes beyond web marketing: it applies to all marketers. Our discipline has changed so much in the last fifteen years that we can only begin to imagine what it will look like in the next decade. The real urgency is to apply the concept to the wider marketing discipline so that, as professionals, we get over the obsolete online marketing vs. traditional marketing debate.

Don’t get me wrong. Marketing is becoming so sophisticated that it’s often not realistic to expect a single person to be an expert across the board. It’s ironic, then, that an increasing share of the value that a marketer brings to the table is linked to his or her ability to see the big picture and make connections. The fact is that, as marketers, we need to understand the different options available to us across the board if we are to leverage them effectively.

The various pieces of the marketing puzzle must fit together to deliver the best campaigns possible. An email marketing expert has to “get” the overall communications strategy. An SEO Manager requires a top-level view of all marketing efforts, both online and offline, to spot opportunities for organic website optimisation. And increasingly, product marketing specialists must understand channels such as social media to embed virality into the product or service offering.

Going T-shape is not easy, particularly beyond a certain point in our careers. It takes time, effort and willingness to learn, but if all marketers embraced the T-shaped approach, the discipline would be much richer for it.

As for the young marketer, she immediately understood the idea. She’s going T-shape, specialising in social media and content marketing, and I’m sure she has a bright future ahead of her.

(If only I’d had the sense to ask for advice at her age… )

Happy marketing!


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