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In a large digital landscape, having a generalist profile allowed me to progress and develop skills that otherwise would be out of my range. But, what is a generalist digital marketer, what do they do, and how did I end up becoming one?
Although not used very often, the expression “generalist” can be linked to almost any job title, from marketing to design or software. In some areas, it is replaced by the probably more common term “full-stack,” referring to someone skilled in more than one area. In short, a generalist digital marketer is someone that developed skills in more than one digital marketing field, such as CRM and Advertising.
How to develop skills in different marketing fields?
In 2020, Hallam, a multi-awarded agency from the United Kingdom, developed its 3rd version of an infographic comparing the London Tube to a Digital Marketing Map. The map includes several fields of knowledge, with each Tube line corresponding to a major area that links to others.
The significant fields of knowledge are selling, strategy, social, advertising, content marketing, analytics, web development, search marketing, and new emerging fields. Each major field is then split into smaller areas of expertise. For instance, to fully master the content marketing line, a professional must understand Blogging, On-Page SEO, and User Experience.
As a visual representation, the Digital Marketing Map intends to provide guidelines to create a full digital marketing strategy. However, from a career progression standpoint, it also carries insights on what to learn based on the knowledge you already have. For instance, if you have experience in lead generation, a natural field to explore would be email marketing. Or, if you mastered content marketing, you might want to learn more about search marketing since the two lines (light green and dark blue) are connected for the most part.
Like what happened to many others, my path to become a generalist digital marketer started with blogging and then moved to email marketing, social media, SEO, CRM, and other fields. Though the progression was not as organized as it is on the map, it occurred out of two things: curiosity to learn and the need to answer new challenges.
How to foster generalist profiles?
There is not a single recipe, but there are measures a company can implement to foster growth and curiosity, so professionals become skilled in more than one area.
Initiatives such as offering courses and workshops can be a part of the process, but these should always come with a real challenge, like a new position or an expansion of the responsibilities. Having a real challenge makes sure the new skills will be put to practice, granting that they’ll not be piled as theoretical knowledge in the back of the professional’s mind.
Besides real challenges, adaptable environments with multiple projects can also foster new learnings. It is not happenstance that generalist digital marketers flourish in startups and digital agencies that require them to manage various projects at the same time.
From a managerial standpoint, using a marketer’s full stack of skills can be beneficial for the company as a whole. Long ago, a CEO from a North-American company wrote a blog post about what he learned in his first year in the position. One of his main outcomes was that most people have multiple fields of interest, so instead of hiring someone for every specific job, he could ask someone already hired to expand their responsibilities and perform new tasks.
By expanding responsibilities, the CEO managed to hire one less position, increased the company’s productivity, and dealt with the sense of lack of progress that was grassing.
It is also important that decisions such as this are taken collaboratively, considering the professional interest and wellbeing. No professional can master all areas, and neither should be forced to learn something they are not interested in. Besides, new responsibilities and skills must come with new benefits, like better salaries.
Opportunistically forcing an employee is counterproductive, undermining relationships and nullifying the trust environment required for a generalist digital marketer to flourish.
What are the pros and cons of being a generalist digital marketer?
Becoming a generalist digital marketer has pros and cons. Despite the list that follows, each professional is one of a kind, and therefore some pros and cons might apply differently.
/ Big picture: by understanding the digital landscape, generalist digital marketers tend to be able to create more solid products, easily identifying flaws and potential improvements across websites and digital presences. For instance, Product Marketing Managers are usually required to have a similar profile due to the need to cover different product requirements. On the other hand, someone who specializes in just one area tends to have more blind spots, not being capable of understanding the product as a whole.
/ Expertise: the main con of being a generalist digital marketer is that, by learning different fields, you can’t master all of them in the same way. The generalist professional will probably have strengths and weaknesses, while an expert in a specific master field will have a more in-depth knowledge of that area. Also, with the fast-changing landscape, it is much harder to keep up in multiple fields than to pay attention to changes in a specific area.
/ Market demand: overall, the word “generalist” tends to be perceived as something not premium. Therefore, specialized positions tend to be more well paid than the general ones. Regarding this topic, the recommendation is to be clear about the skills you have and how in-depth they are so hiring companies can make an informed decision. It is not uncommon for a generalist digital marketer with experience to have more experience in an area than someone who only performed a specific job. But again, each case is a case.
/ Expectations: generalist professionals are required to have twice the effort managing expectations. Being generalist digital marketers, sometimes they are expected to master all areas. Therefore, it is necessary to make clear what is the professional stack.
/ Adaptability: due to the largest stack, generalist digital marketers tend to adapt more easily to new challenges, seeking to expand their knowledge fields.
Lastly, from a personal standpoint, the main advantage of having a generalist profile has to do with the multitude of tasks you can tackle, making every day different from the previous.
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