Generalist vs Specialist Marketers — The pros and cons


As marketing has exploded over the last 10 years, so have the number of specialist areas needed to support the function. This raises the question: are we losing the breadth of skill as the depth of skill increases? And are marketers of the future equipped to run departments if they don’t understand how the discreet aspects of marketing fit together?

The marketers of Ol’

When I started my career over (ahem) 20 years ago, marketing was a lot more straight forward. Sure, we still had specific disciplines – direct response, brand, product, PR – but many marketers (including myself) had the opportunity to get visibility across those disciplines and understand how they work together for the common good.

The by-product of this (IMHO), was the nurturing of strategic capability. That’s not to say all marketers of my or previous generations are strategic, but those who had that interest and capacity were given the opportunity to build their strategic muscle.

The marketers of now

By contrast, today, marketing is as cluttered as it is complex. We have a growing number of deep specialisations from search, social, conversion optimisation, demand gen, content…the list goes on.

Whilst these specialists are critical to providing the depth of knowledge and expertise required for success, they don’t often have the breadth of knowledge to understand how their piece of the jigsaw puzzle fits into the rest. This stifles integration, alignment, and the ability for marketing to impact business strategy.

Where to from here for marketers?

There’s no turning back the clock, and so whilst we currently have four generations in the workforce at the same time, the marketers of Ol’ and those of now can bridge the gap in-depth and breadth to muddle through. What happens in 10 years when deep specialists are put into leadership roles, expected to run whole marketing departments without the breadth of experience across marketing functions?

We need to arm our younger marketers with experience across multiple disciplines of marketing. Create agile marketing teams where representatives are working collaboratively to common programs goals. Here, they can teach each other, understand the nuances of one discipline and how it impacts theirs. Share in their joint successes and learn from failures.

Marketers who build this breadth of knowledge around the depth in their speciality will be primed to lead teams with more strategy, integration and impact.

But that’s just my opinion – I’d love to hear yours.


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