Marketing Specialists vs Marketing Generalists
I was at a party last weekend. “So what do you do?” somebody asked. An innocent question with genuine interest behind it.
Even now, aged 37, the ‘what do you do’ question still gives me mild heart palpitations…
At a glance I have to suss out the person I’m speaking to. What would they likely most like to hear about? Do I talk about my day to day work? Or do I lead with the long term vision?
Unless you are a plumber or some universally understood trade, it is difficult to answer “what do you do?” and also do yourself justice. “Who do you serve?” is a better, more generous question. But still, you need answers to both.
I’m a marketing generalist at heart. In isolated contexts I’m a good copywriter. I’m good at pay per click management. I’ve a decent grasp of marketing automation. A client once remarked that I’ve been on a ‘grand tour of marketing’. What I really do it tie things together coherently with story.
The business growth advice I’ve received has always been to specialise, or niche down. There are two ways to specialise: by function or by vertical. You can specialise by what you do, or by who you do it for.
Every time I’ve tried to specialise, I fail. Clients who hire me to manage their Google Ads quickly find me poking around in their landing pages, lead magnets and email sequences. Clients who hire me to write email sequences find I will nag them about writing a book.
Some clients like this, but others are like “Christ, didn’t we hire this guy to write seven emails??”
The proposition broadly is: hire my for X and we’ll figure out what really needs doing. Which is hard to sell as a package.
I recently finished reading A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century, by Heather Heying and Brett Weinstein. The book describes humans as a broadly generalist species. According to the authors, the human niche is niche switching. We can turn our hand to a wide range of things.
Generalists also fare better in changing times. In more settled times it pays better to become a specialist with deeper experience in a specific niche or field.
I believe the opportunity to ‘generalise’ in marketing has opened up. You can put yourself in a category of one by helping a client with initial strategy and building a ‘Version 0.1’ cross-channel implementation of that strategy.
For instance, I can help you create an initial Facebook Ads campaign, if that’s what the initial strategy calls for. I can get the thing off the ground. More crucially, I can make sure that your Facebook ads connect properly to your marketing automation system, track people correctly and trigger relevant follow-up messages.
However, if you want to develop your Facebook Ads beyond that point you need to hire a specialist. Managing Facebook Ads at scale isn’t really what I do. The wheels do eventually fall off the bus.
As the client you’re in a strong position having been through this initial round of work. You’re MUCH less likely to lose your shirt hiring a specialist if you already have a somewhat successful campaign in place tied to a well thought out follow-up system.
If you’re a marketing service provider (rather than a client) then you do need to specialise, at least on the outside. Perry Marshall is still known as the ‘Google AdWords guy’, even though 95% of what he does isn’t remotely related to Google any more. But it attracts people in. Once they’re in Perry’s world they find a rabbit hole of deeper, more fundamental principles.
Like Perry I teach fundamental, cross-channel principles. The Story Copywriter Community is the place to develop your storytelling skills across multiple media. Whether you write a lot or write a little, you’ll improve your writing.
This month our focus in the community is on ‘lead magnets’. I’ll be holding a webinar for community members on Thursday 17th November, with a recording available if you can’t attend live. Following the webinar there will be a writing challenge running until the end of the year.
(It doesn’t matter what you specialise in – you’re going to need an effective lead magnet!)
If you’re a marketing generalist who writes, I’d love to have you in the community. You’ll find a small but growing community of like-minded individuals.
Read more here
For existing members the webinar details can be found on the ‘Zoom’ tab within the support forum.