The T-shaped Marketer

Social media has changed the marketing game dramatically! The marketing industry is bigger and more powerful than ever before. Social media has lowered the barrier to entry in advertising and has caused the whole digital marketing space to crop up. Social Media Marketing (SMM) has created many opportunities for people to start their own businesses and escape the 9–5 rat race, making marketing a much sexier career path. Between Facebook, Tik-Tok, Snapchat, Instagram, Linkedin, Youtube, and yeah I’m probably missing a lot more there are literally dozens if not hundreds of ways to do SMM. Within Digital Marketing, and business in general, there is much debate about whether you should specialize in one method or be a jack of all trades. Continue reading if you want to gain a better sense of direction in your marketing strategy.

The shiny object

photo credit: Ralph Ravi

In the fall of 2015 Tai Lopez dropped $1,000,000 on an ad campaign, the “Here in my garage” video, that established him as a thought leader in the Entrepreneurship community. Not too long after that he started selling a course that teaches people how to start their own Social Media Marketing Agency (SMMA). If you don’t already know, an SMMA is a consulting business that runs ads for other businesses on social media platforms. This business model costs almost nothing to start and has very little costs, can be done remotely, and can be done by anybody as long as they can find the clients. The ‘start an SMMA’ fad really took off in 2018 and by 2019 it seemed like everyone and their dog was trying to start one. Marketing was suddenly being put in a very sexy light! VP of Marketing was always a prestigious title but then it became associated with moving to Bali and driving Lambos, thanks to the marketing gurus and their “buy my SMMA course” ad campaigns.

Specialist or generalist?

photo credit: Dex Ezekiel

As you could imagine, these SMMA course ads attracted a lot of people who just wanted the good life but weren’t actually serious about marketing. As you might expect most of these people didn’t last. In addition to the ‘gold digger’ mindset I just mentioned, many people failed at SMMA because they were too generalist. They were offering all kinds of services across various platforms leading to very vague offers that weren’t appealing to clients as well as making it impossible to get great at anything. On the flip side, those who made it had narrowed focus. They would only offer one or two specific services and only work with one social media platform, such as only offering Facebook Ads. They were able to drill down and focus on that one skill and provide exceptional service in that one area. Unfortunately this led to tunnel vision, many people were able to know their platforms and the algorithms behind them very well but were unable to see the big picture.

Everything was fine and these agencies were able to get their clients results just fine. However, when the global pandemic hit in March 2020 everything got flipped on its head. Many businesses were shut down or drastically altered and the previously effective advertising strategies were no longer effective! Many of these marketers had been too bogged down in small details to be able to pull their heads out of the muck and look at the bigger picture. They were not able to see that the ads they offered were interconnected with all other aspects of the businesses they were helping such as finance, sales, product, management, HR, and more.

Problem focused, scientific and artistic

photo credit: Paul Pineda

While being a generalist isn’t effective, being a narrow specialist like the facebook retargeting guy or the tik-tok ads specialist isn’t the way to go either. In business there’s a fixation for specific technologies which is stemmed from a solution oriented mindset. Here is the thought process of a marketing guru…

These people obsess over their solution when they should instead focus on the problem they are looking to solve, this is usually getting more customers/clients to the business. For this reason it is important to remain detached from any particular platform and be open to a variety of things that could get customers in the door.

Good marketing is a combination of art and science. You need to create captivating content or visuals that will engage the audience, the art. You also need to run ad campaigns, track them, and assess whether or not they are working, the science. When running ads, there is the hypothesis that the ad will work and the campaign can be seen as an experiment. Like a science experiment, you have to test the campaign long enough so you can tell if it works and you must track the results so you can prove your hypothesis correct or incorrect. A truly successful marketer would have a little knowledge about a lot of things; how businesses work, the niche that their clients are in, sales, finance, customer support, copywriting, design, and the scientific method. But then have very strong knowledge of advertising for a specific type of business or on a specific platform.

These people are often known as T-shaped because they have sense on a broad range of topics but go very deep on a narrow specialty. It may take more time to become someone like this but the time is more than worth it. When you become T-shaped yourself you will stand out more, deliver better service to your clients, and be able to start building a moat around your agency.

Final words

photo credit: Elio Santos

The Digital Marketing space has blown up like crazy, the shift became especially notable when thought leaders like Gary Vee and Tai Lopez started talking about it. Many people have seen new opportunities in starting Social Media Marketing Agencies But the hype attracted a lot of people looking to get rich quick. There are millions of digital marketers out there but those with a broad business understanding in conjunction with a deeply studied specialty will rise to the top. A skilled marketer will understand how the world works but also offer a specialty (t-shaped), they won’t be a narrow minded specialist or a jack of all trades yes man. Taking the time to become t-shaped will pay off greatly in the long run.



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