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The T-Shaped Digital Marketer

Digital marketing is one of the few careers in which your professional trajectory is completely in your own hands. As a digital marketer you can chose to specialise in certain skill-sets, have a broad-based approach, freelance from home or work for an agency. Up-skilling yourself and taking your career in the direction of your choice is quite literally at your fingertips. So where do you want to go in 2017?

The generalist vs. the specialist

A recent Digital Marketing Talent report has shown that hiring trends have begun to shift towards those with experience in certain areas. There is however much value and employability in being what has been coined a ‘general specialist’ – having a broad knowledge of the industry but a specialist skillset in one specific area.

This is also commonly referred to as a T-Shaped marketer. Think of digital marketing as a “T”. The horizontal line relates to your broad-based knowledge across all the digital marketing disciplines whereas the tail of the “T” (the vertical line) is the skillset that you specialise in. You are basically ensuring that all your eggs aren’t in one basket.

It cannot be denied that having a broad-based knowledge of the digital marketing industry paired with a set of specialist skills will be in your favour – whether you’re already a professional in the industry, or checking it out for the first time. The marriage of creativity and analytical thinking is central in today’s landscape of digital marketing. An article recently posted in The Guardian states that: “Companies will increasingly look for rounded individuals who can combine analytical rigor with the ability to apply this knowledge in a practical and creative context.”

Furthermore, The Economist recently compiled a report in partnership with Marketo which found that: “CMOs want people with the ability to grasp and manage the details (in data, technology, and marketing operations) combined with a view of the strategic big picture.”

Erin Everhart, current director of digital marketing at 352 explained that:  “One of the biggest things I see is that people are too specialized. It’s great, and you definitely need something to hang your hat on, but we’re at a position where I can’t hire someone who’s only going to do PPC or only going to do social. Basically, we look for good, creative marketers, who can come up with creative ideas across any medium, even if they’ve never worked in that medium before.”

The problem is that these T-Shaped marketers are few and far between. Studies show that 64% of digital recruiters experience shortages of skilled candidates for marketing positions.

Get yourself into gear

The evidence is heavily in the favour of the T-shaped Marketer. So select your skillset and run with it.

A specialist skillset is one of the most valuable tools you can have as a digital marketer. It gives you the ability to choose the career path which best fits your lifestyle and personality. You could very easily slot into almost any digital agency or you could freelance and work from almost anywhere around the globe – while bringing in the foreign bucks. Remember, the term ‘freelancing’ is a flexible one. It doesn’t only refer to an individual with episodic income who works for themselves and gathers their own clients. It may also refer to someone who either has a part time job and gathers income by doing many small jobs on the side; or a person with a dedicated job who increases their income by working on other projects on the side. Digital marketing is a career with much flexibility – make sure you are taking advantage of it.

Not everyone is a natural born marketing manager and most certainly not everyone has the creative mind-set required of a content manager. Whether you are already in the industry or not, it’s vital to recognise your strongest skillset and pursue it – and it’s never too late to change direction. Previously gained knowledge or experience in digital marketing will never be wasted and can only work to your advantage.

What are your Soft Skills?

Technical skills can be readily learnt for each specialisation within digital marketing, however each specialisation inherently requires specific soft skills from an individual – such as personality traits, interpersonal skills and thought processes. This is great to consider when starting a career in digital marketing, and even more important to consider if you’re already in one.

Some examples, you say?

A marketer in the field of SEO would require both analytical and creative skill-sets with an inkling toward research and a proactive personality. Campaign Managers on the other hand require a more strategic mind-set while also needing broad-based creative and analytical skills. As with any management position, leadership skills and the ability to effectively work within a team-based environment is key. Those in the field of Social Media need to first and foremost be brilliant communicators, able to bring a persona to an online platform. A Content Manager needs to be able to easily think outside of the box in terms of new and cutting edge content strategies.

From the above we can begin to see how almost every job under the digital marketing umbrella requires a unique combination of both analytical and creative skill-sets (eg. A Content Manager would be about 80% creative and 20% analytical). As some would say, it’s the marriage of the left and right brains.

Marketer-Brain

Source: http://blog.marketo.com/2012/01/the-right-brain-vs-left-brain-of-marketers.html

Ashley Friedlein, CEO of Ecoconsultancy punts the need for ‘pi-shaped’ marketers who have: “ a broad base of knowledge in all areas, but capabilities in both ‘left brains’ and ‘right brain’ disciplines. They are both analytical and data-driven, yet understand brands, storytelling, and experiential marketing.” In this analogy, the two prongs of the pi symbol ( ? ) correlate respectively to the creative and analytical processes – the left and the right brain. Hopefully by now you’ve picked up that Friedlein is referring to the Greek symbol for ‘pi’ and not your grandmother’s Lemon Meringue.
So, what’s your combination?

Neil Pursey

Founder of Webgrowth. He has been optimising websites since 2006. He has since done guest talks on SEO at Wordcamp, University of Cape Town, Blogger Food Indaba and others.. Co-founder of the GROW Academy, a South African initiative to educate the youth in digital marketing. He heads up the SEO sessions at the GROW Academy.
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