The phrase “T-shaped marketer” is a metaphor visualizing a marketing professional’s skill set in the shape of a capital letter “T.”
The horizontal bar across the top of the letter “T” represents a broad range of marketing functions in which the T-shaped marketer has a general understanding and basic skills.
The vertical bar of the “T” represents one area where the marketer has deep expertise. This expertise greatly surpasses their knowledge and skills in any other area.
For example, a product marketing manager is likely an expert in product marketing. It is also likely they have working knowledge of other marketing functions, like public relations (PR) and social media marketing.
Marketing is a multi-disciplinary profession. It involves writing skills, creative skills like graphic design and video production, analytical skills, product expertise and plenty of others.
It’s unlikely that we can become absolute experts in all of them. That’s where the concept of being a T-shaped marketer comes into play.
It is a skills composition that enables marketing professionals to double down on the areas we are best at, while also developing a basic, yet invaluable skill set in other marketing disciplines.
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The marketers who are able to achieve this type of expertise find career success for several reasons. There are two reasons in particular I want to focus on:
“I think it’s time right now, whether you’re 9 or 90, to stop trying to to fix the things you’re bad at and to focus on the things you’re good at.” — Gary Vaynerchuk
He explains why focusing on your strengths is a recipe for going further in life than you would trying to fix all of your weaknesses or becoming perfectly well rounded.
Great athletes are a good analogy for this. They focus so meticulously on perfecting one craft that it propels them to greater heights than if they had taken a more balanced approach. Being a lesser athlete who is average at a few other things would not deliver the same level of success.
Going back to marketing, let’s say you’re an amazing PR professional. Which path do you think has the greater chance of success?
Both of these paths can certainly lead to success and path two might be better suited for many people.
However, if we are comparing apples to apples, I’d argue that the first individual will go further, faster.
That is because their deep expertise in one area will make them stand out and lead to higher paying jobs and positions with more responsibility. It’s harder to stand out like that if you are average at everything, but not great at any one thing.
Once you lead with your strength (the vertical bar of your T) and use it to stand out and maximize your career opportunities, then you can branch out and gain expertise in other areas more easily.
This same concept applies to growing marketing channels. Leading content creators advise people to start by focusing on growing one channel until they see success. Then it will be easier to leverage your existing audience to seed growth on additional platforms.
The key takeaway is that going deep and succeeding in one area makes it easier to succeed elsewhere later. This is one of the biggest benefits of being a T-shaped marketer.
The advantages of having deep expertise in one marketing function are clear. What about the value of the horizontal bar, or your generalist expertise?
Whether you are operating as an entrepreneur, the sole marketer at your company, or a member of a large marketing department, being a T-shaped marketer gives you the ability to collaborate with others.
Let’s look at a fictitious example in which you are the copywriter working on an email newsletter.
In this scenario, your writing strength is why you are assigned the copywriting task on this project. Your broad understanding of the other professionals on your team is what will make the project an even greater success.
In this example, great writing skills are why you are at the table in the first place. However, it is your ability to appreciate other aspects of marketing that enables you to play a greater role in the overall marketing function.
The horizontal bar of your T and the adaptability that comes with it will make colleagues in different roles enjoy working with you. That is what will enable you to act as a great collaborator and key contributor regardless of the marketing project at hand.
My career path saw a similar progression to the fictitious PR professional mentioned above, but for a different marketing discipline.
I started out gaining social media marketing experience that became the cornerstone of my first marketing internships and my first full-time marketing gig.
I was able to land my first full-time marketing job because I was pretty good at social media marketing. That was my foot in the door.
In the three years I spent with my first company, I was able to branch out to other marketing disciplines. I picked up skills like event marketing, email marketing, product marketing, visual branding and graphic design.
Not only was I able to ride my social media marketing expertise to land my first job, but it also opened the door to filling in the horizontal bar of my T with new skills and experience.
Fast forward to my second marketing job. I was in a position as a marketing manager with a broad purview that included social media marketing, product marketing, PR and others functions.
I learned later on that the social media performance my first company demonstrated helped me land my second job. My new company was in the same industry and their marketing team had been tracking our social media success and noticed the impact of my work.
The vertical bar in my T had driven my career forward once again.
Today, I serve as the head of marketing for a technology company. In this role, I oversee all areas of the horizontal bar on the marketing T — product marketing, PR, demand generation and yes, social media marketing.
I don’t think I’d be in this role had I not approached my career as a T-shaped marketer. I still rely on my social media marketing skills and associated digital writing skills every day. This is the core of my skills profile as a marketer.
As for the horizontal bar, it my cross-functional knowledge in other areas that makes it possible for me to lead those functions. I am able to guide specialists like product marketers and PR professionals in their respective disciplines and help their work align to the greater goals of the marketing department.
Let’s look at a few other examples of T-shaped marketers and discuss how their unique skill sets translate to career success.
PR professionals are strong communicators. Whether in-house or contracted as a freelancer, they serve as the absolute expert on PR, media relations, and written content within a marketing team.
In the graphic above, this skill is made clear by the length of their T’s vertical bar. This individual’s knowledge, skills and experience in PR surpasses all of their other marketing and communication skills. It is why they are brought onto a team or hired for a project.
As you can see by segments of their T’s horizontal bar, they also have expertise in other areas:
In this T-shaped marketer example, PR expertise makes them a key part of a marketing team with an area they clearly own.
On the other hand, their broad range of basic skills in other marketing disciplines makes them a great colleague and informed collaborator.
Product marketing managers are experts in product communication. It is their job to deeply understand a product and to develop messaging and marketing campaigns that effectively communicate its value.
In the graphic above, this ficticious product marketing manager’s skill is made clear by the length of their T’s vertical bar. This individual’s knowledge, skills and experience in product marketing is deeper than any of their other marketing expertise.
Similar to the PR professional example, the product marketing manager’s T has a horizontal bar depicting their varying degrees of expertise in other marketing functions:
Artificial intelligence technology is a boon for marketers. It can help us speed up existing tasks like content creation and accomplish new tasks we previously didn’t have the technical skills for.
For example, if you are primarily a written content creator, perhaps video production or graphic design are not strong suits. That no longer has to be the case.
Generative AI is a tool you can use to support both of the bars in your T-shaped skills profile as a marketer.
In terms of the horizontal bar of your T that represents areas in which you only have basic skills, AI is now your collaboration partner.
If you have zero knowledge of graphic design, or need to improve upon your writing skills, you can use AI software applications to make you “dangerous” enough to complete those tasks with an elevated quality bar.
For example, you canuse ChatGPT to help you draft written content and tools like Midjourney to produce images for you.
Generative AI has made it easier for marketers to explore other disciplines and we are no longer blocked by skills gaps. Adding new skills and expertise across the horizontal bar of your T just got easier.
As for the vertical bar representing your strengths, AI can help with those, too.
For example, perhaps you are a great writer and the vertical bar of your T is made up of communications skills — you write great blog posts, email newsletters, social media post copy and press releases.
Now you can use generative AI writing tools to help you write outlines and first drafts, come up with title ideas, write captions and take on any other writing task you can think of.
In this scenario, your strength just got a boost where you can save time and produce more content.
I spoke earlier about the value of doubling down on your strengths. It’s a powerful proposition considering where you can leverage AI to elevate your skills and expertise in your best marketing discipline.
Our industry is changing fast. Social platforms are evolving, AI is proliferating content creation and consumer expectations are evolving.
As a T-shaped marketer, you will be well-suited for this fast paced environment because your deep expertise in one area will enable you to stand out amongst the noise.
At the same time, your broad spectrum of skills and knowledge will enable you to adapt as new marketing strategies, platforms and best practices arise.
I hope this breakdown of the T-shaped marketer concept is helpful as you consider your own marketing skill set and the next stages of your career path.
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