45: An alternative to the T-Shaped marketer

The marketing landscape is vast, the landscape of doom has as many vendors as their are stars in our galaxy. The T-shaped marketer model is good for folks early in their career — perhaps. I think it’s too regimented, formulaic, and encourages marketers all to acquire the same set of skills — albeit with your own unique depth.

I propose a marketing constellation. Bare with me.

Like our ancestors staring up the night’s sky, you can use your imagination to come up with your own constellation. Maybe your skillset is an archer or a bull or maybe it’s a lion. Maybe depending on the season of your career, you have a different perspective.

So what is the T-Shaped model?

Horizontal line at the top – those are your skills. Vertical line that extends down from categories at the top — that’s your depth of skill. 

I first learned of the T-shape model from an article Brian Balfour wrote in 2014 where he describes a learning path for growth marketers and encourages them to see career progression shaped like a T with 3 levels.

Base knowledge: non-marketing specific, a base layer to build from, think behavioral psychology, analytics, positioning, design and ux, storytelling, research… 

Marketing foundation: marketing specific concepts that are used across channels, think experimentation, graphic design, copywriting, funnel marketing, HTML, customer experience.

Channel expertise: where most marketers eventually need to make some choices. Channels are ways you can reach an audience. They are ever changing and emerging, think FB ads, social, Seo, content, email, partnerships, product marketing…

So the recommendation is that you get as much breadth in the first two levels as possible to get a nice foundation.

When it comes to the 3rd level, this is where the vertical bar starts. You still want some kind of baseline across channels, but most marketers eventually become skilled at a smaller number of those channels and a deep expertise means a vertical T.

Brian’s model is focused mainly on growth and customer acquisition. Marketing isn’t just about reaching your audiences so to apply this to a more general marketing path, Buffer took a stab at it too.

Where is the model useful?

I find it super useful when discussing hires with non-marketing folks — explaining that this is the general skills I’m looking for in a new candidate.

So why does JT get cranky about it?

It pigeon holes marketers and over simplifies skillsets. It represents regimented thinking and I don’t like that. I think it’s an outdated model that doesn’t exactly benefit marketers. I admit, part of this is I can’t put my finger on it. 

I’m actually a fan of the t-shape if presented in the right light. 

But I do admit it’s a very simplified version of your potential areas of focus.

What I like about the model is that it encourages early marketers to get a solid foundation and base knowledge before necessarily worrying about specializing in a channel.

What does it mean to be a t-shaped marketer?

It means they have a solid foundation of concepts and channels but they are experts in one or a few channels. But it doesn’t mean you need to strive for a T. You can be a Y or a W or an M. you’re career could take you in many different paths.

Okay so why a marketing constellation?

Because you can’t be grouchy and complain about something without suggesting an alternative! 

It’s an understanding that — like the stars in the night sky — the potential skills you can acquire are varied and spread out. It requires imagination and storytelling to weave those skills together to create a representation of your skills. 

I also think it’s more likely to represent the potential depth and specialization of each area. Marketing automation isn’t just one skill. 

It could be: 

  • Lifecycle
  • Lead scoring
  • Project management
  • Lead management
  • Email operations and deliverability
  • Technical integrations

And you may be more skilled in one area of operations than another.


Intro music by Wowa via Unminus
Cover art created with help via Undraw

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