Expert or Generalist: What Kind of Digital Marketing Talent Is Right for You?

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Digital marketers come in many forms, and not all of them are right for every situation.

Some are veritable Swiss Army knives; ready to tackle almost any job even when they’re not the best-equipped for any one area.

Others are more like a surgical scalpel or butcher’s knife; perfectly suited for a very particular kind of work but not the best choice for other jobs.

Each kind of marketer has distinct uses, and it’s important to select the best one for your needs. Choosing the wrong tool for the job ruins your marketing efficiency, leading to wasted investment into unneeded talent or lost quality and quantity of output.

Unlike the marketers of yesteryear, not all digital marketing professionals are comfortable working in a team oriented environment. Communication skills and culture fit have become just as important as outright marketing ability.

Avoid the problems that arise from hiring the wrong kind of talent by adjusting your marketing recruiting strategy to choose the right tool for the job.

The Generalist Digital Marketer

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The quickly evolving demands of digital marketing have led to the evolution of a crop of marketers that have dabbled in most its largest aspects.

While they might not dominate the marketplace with their overwhelming expertise, good generalists will at least put you on the map and keep you there.

They tend to be well-rounded, self-sufficient, independent doers with a broad vision. For instance, one might be part email marketer, part SEM expert, part web designer, part blogger, part social media manager, and part marketing automation expert.

Of course, that flexibility comes at a cost. Juggling so many skills spreads them thin, and you’ll rarely receive revolutionary deliverables or game-changing insights from them. But while they might not dominate the marketplace with their overwhelming expertise, good generalists will put you on the map and keep you there.

Situations that can make the best use of them:

  • SMBs: Organizations of modest size and tight marketing budgets are prime candidates for digital marketing generalists who can bring the basics in everything. When it comes to digital marketing, it’s usually best to have all your essential bases covered rather than overcommit to one tactic while neglecting the rest.
  • New departments, endeavors, projects: When you’re trying something new and need to build an entire infrastructure from scratch, it’s typically more effective to start with a foundation of very versatile individuals who can start getting momentum going on all fronts.
  • Very dynamic, uncertain markets: If your business operates on the absolute bleeding edge of marketing and needs to be able to constantly react in real-time to external forces, generalists offer more flexibility. So in environments where priorities can turn almost instantly and you frequently need to shift resources around to different areas, rely more heavily on marketers that can handle a more diverse set of challenges.
  • Organizations with low marketing needs: Some companies, even large ones, operate in industries with a limited amount of major buyers and sellers that are all aware of each other. In cases like this, personal relationships frequently overwhelm the need for extensive marketing capabilities. A skeleton crew of well-rounded, flexible marketers is often all that’s needed to oversee those relatively modest marketing needs.
  • Companies without long-term marketing plans: There are many reasons why a company might lack a cohesive, long-term strategy with consistent goals and predictable needs. If an organization is still struggling to find its identity or doesn’t have very strong marketing visionaries in its leadership, there’s little point in marketing recruiting that brings in specialized talent with an uncertain future. Generalist marketers will typically do a better job with the fluctuating, reactionary work than experts that specialize in proactive, consistent marketing.

The Experts

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Focused on one area of digital marketing and doing it exceptionally well, advanced marketing experts are consistent and precise. As long as you hire well, they’ll have a strong understanding of their role and how what they do fits into the big marketing picture.

They typically excel at operating as one part of a larger marketing machine, bringing extensive expertise and comprehensive authority on their area of expertise.

The best digital marketing masters have around 80% of their competence and experience in their niche, with the rest committed to the basics of other complimentary marketing verticals.

The best digital marketing masters have around 80% of their competence and experience in their niche, with the rest committed to basics of other complimentary marketing verticals. They might know enough about another field to communicate and collaborate with someone in it; but they couldn’t deftly step into their shoes and be productive.

These gurus deliver the most consistent, high quality results. But they can struggle to get things done when they’re not getting the support they need or are asked to perform functions outside of their scope of expertise. Here are some of the situations that call for an expert:

  • Well-established organizations in stable markets: Healthy large businesses with a set marketing path and consistent leadership will rarely encounter situations with frequently shifting and unexpected needs. They’re able to acquire more advanced expertise and effectively use it over a long period of time, complimenting it with other specialized talent to build and maintain a stable plan with few surprises.
  • Highly competitive markets: When a space is crowded, you have to go above and beyond to get your voice heard above the noise. The master touch of a razor-focused expert can offer the differentiation you need to attract attention that a generalist wouldn’t be able to deliver.

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