Only three years ago I routinely advertised for the job of digital marketer. 

Doing that today would be like going into a restaurant and ordering a piece of cake — who knows what I’d get — chocolate, carrot or coconut? 

The digital marketer job title has become irrelevant. The explosion of new tools and digital channels make it impossible for one person to be an expert in everything. 

The digital marketing job title is giving way to more specialized titles and functions such as email marketer, customer acquisition specialist, marketing data analyst and social media marketer. While specialization is a necessity and brings with it many benefits, specialization also creates a number of challenges for both organizations and marketers.

A Blueprint for Hiring

For organizations — particularly those that are budget constrained (which is just about everyone) and startups (who never have any money) — affording a highly specialized marketing team can be challenging. So what to do? 

In my experience the best approach is to start with three strategy basics:

  • What are your marketing objectives?
  • What’s the best way to accomplish those objectives?
  • What are the essential programs and tools that will help you achieve those objectives?

If you can answer those questions, you’ll have your blueprint for hiring. Note that in thinking about the shape of the organization, the need for talented people who can establish strategy, create an overall tactical plan and develop the positioning and messaging that resonate with prospective customers NEVER goes away, regardless of the percentage of budget allocated to digital. 

The digital world has opened up an incredible number of new channels that make it easier than ever to communicate with prospective customers, making it tempting to skip the hard strategy stuff and just start typing. 

But remember these words — “don’t start the conversation until you know what you want to say.” Someone in the organization needs to drive the strategy and messaging.

Finding the Semi-Specialist Marketer

With a strategy in place and priority programs defined, the next step is to define the resources needed to support those programs. 

In an ideal world, you would have a specialist for every function. But in the real world, budgets rarely afford that luxury. The trick is to look for logical grouping of skills to create a semi-specialist function until such time as you can afford deep specialization. 

For example, a customer acquisition marketer with skills in lead generation, email marketing and marketing automation. Or a content marketer with skills in email marketing, blogging and social media. In creating the job description and in recruiting, it’s more important to focus on the key skills and level of those skills than getting the title exactly right. 

When you assess organizational needs against budget constraints, define what must be done in-house and what can be outsourced to external resources. In the same way that organizations are becoming more specialized, agencies are also becoming more specialized. Agency Spotter puts the number of marketing agencies over 126,000. 

Agencies can offer a very cost effective way to augment the capabilities of your in-house team. My preference is to work with specialists not generalists, I find it’s more cost effective and I get better results. Before hiring an agency, I ask to see examples of their work and their marketing technology stack. It’s one thing to claim to be a digital marketing expert, it’s another to back it up with proof points.

Marketing Technologists: The Magicians who Map the Data Model

At the top of my organizational wish list is a marketing operations team staffed by marketing technologists. These magicians map the data model to ensure that data moves across the technology landscape in a coherent and useful way. They manage and measure the overall performance of the marketing technology suite, discover and implement new tools and technology and serve as the marketing liaison to the IT department. 

It is this group that ultimately glues everything together and makes it all work.

In my last column I wrote about how to convince your CEO to invest in digital. There’s an organizational parallel here as well. 

If your CEO is not well versed in marketing, chances are they don’t understand its technical nature or complexity, and that you and your team don’t have the deep experience to manage the entire marketing and sales funnel internally. Make it clear up front which skills the team has and doesn’t have and where augmentation is necessary. Without that you end up with mismatched expectations, frustration and budget-based roadblocks.

Advice for Marketers: Specialize

This changing organizational landscape can be challenging even for marketers. In the “olden days” of three years ago, being a digital marketer meant having basic skills in email, blogging, social media, paid search and Google Analytics. Nowadays that is rarely sufficient. 

Marketers should ground themselves in an area where they are comfortable and most likely to succeed, master that area and the tools that are critical to domain expertise, and then look for logical extensions of that area. In searching for new opportunities, be flexible around job title and look for job descriptions that suit your skill set. Use your technology expertise as a selling point in your cover letter and interview. When an email marketer tells me they’re comfortable with MailChimp and Constant Contact, I feel hopeful that they will be able to master other email platforms if necessary.

This is a challenging but exciting time for marketers and organizations. We are navigating unchartered territory as teams work to harness the explosion of marketing technology into functional integrated systems that create the magic company to customer connection. 

Professional and organizational innovation is happening in lockstep with technical and market innovation — it’s a great time to be a marketer.

Title image "Woman calling" (CC BY 2.0) by  Uncalno