Be a Marketing Specialist, Not a Generalist

I’ve been a MENG (Marketing Executives Networking Group) member for almost a year now and have had the chance to talk with some very smart MENG members. 

From a discipline standpoint, I’ve found that there are two types of MENG members – marketing specialists (i.e., social media, search, direct marketing, etc.) and marketing generalists (“I’m a marketing expert”).

If you are a specialist, you can probably stop reading. If you are a generalist, I hope you become a specialist one day.

Why you ask?  Here are a few reasons.

  1. A Marketing Generalist Search Does Not Exist
    Just think about Google for a second.  People go to Google when they are searching for something specific or have a specific problem.  Even this guy, who calls himself a marketing expert, really positions himself as an online marketing expert. This company has grown like crazy over the past few years because of their sole focus on web content strategy. So, when people search for you (consultant) or your company (marketing executive), what do you want them to type into Google?
  2. What Can You Be the Best in the World At?
    When I work with companies on their content marketing strategies, I always ask this question, “What do you need to be the leading expert in to drive your business forward?” The answer to that question is telling for three reasons.  First, it identifies the areas that they feel they can be the expert in.  Second, it identifies the products or services they need to sell that drive the business.  And third, it should identify a customer challenge or their informational needs.The right answer to this question usually defines a niche and a buying group (i.e., 3D design engineering consulting for manufacturing executives). BINGO! Now there’s an area that you can be the expert in.  No company in their right mind would answer this question as engineering, so why should you say that you are a just a marketing expert.If you can’t identify an area that you can be the best in the world – or at least the possibility – you may be doing the wrong things. BTW, my expertise area is content marketing.
  3. It’s Impossible to Differentiate
    We win business or customers because we’ve shown enough value that people are willing to pay for that value in the form of products and/or services.  Most likely, we’ve differentiated ourselves enough from the competition or internal resources to get this business.The marketing generalists I talk to comment a lot on integration and planning and blah blah blah.  Not that those aren’t important, but people don’t buy for that reason.  They buy because you are the expert that will solve their specific problems. How can you be interesting to your customers if you are talking about the same thing as someone else? You can’t.  That’s the exact reason why you don’t see a lot of marketing generalists succeed with their personal social media. It’s not defined enough, thus not interesting enough for the right kind of people.
  4. People Buy Inspiration and Higher Purpose
    I’ve been blogging recently on the concept of higher purpose content marketing. The basic premise is that we (brands) create content that has nothing to do with what we sell (in the case of Southwest – plane rides), but what we stand for (everyone deserves to fly, no matter what). Without defining your specialist area, it’s almost impossible to inspire and it’s most definitely impossible to communicate a higher purpose that drives behavior.

So, if you happen to buy into this as a marketing executive, either personally or for your company, what should you do? My advice would be three things:

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  1. Create Your Own Category – Define a specialty area that’s all yours. Citrix GoToMeeting has done this with Work Shifting. I’ve tried to do that with content marketing. David Meerman Scott has done this with his New Rules of Marketing series. What category can you create?
  2. Develop Consistent, Remarkable Content about Your New Category – You need to put your publisher’s hat on and develop the kind of information that positions you as the true expert over your new domain. Since creating a new category is not easy, this will take months of banging the content drum.
  3. Spread the Word – People aren’t going to go looking for your new category. You need to spread the word.  Go out to the people – the blogs and forums where your customers are at – and start sharing this helpful information.  Be the giver.

As long as your new category clearly solves your customers’ problems, this can work. So, marketing generalist, what’s your specialty? Let us know in the comments…

Author: Joe Pulizzi is a leading author, speaker and strategist for content marketing. Joe is first and foremost a content marketing evangelist, and founded content marketing client-vendor matching site Junta42 as well as Junta42’s how-to sister site, the Content Marketing Institute. Joe is also co-author of the highly praised book Get Content Get Customers (McGraw-Hill), recognized as THE handbook for content marketing. Joe can be found on Twitter as @JuntaJoe.

*This post originally appeared on the MENG blog and is reposted with permission.

Photo is Technology Links a Deployed Surgeon with Stateside Specialists by MC4 Army.

  Discuss This Article

Comments: 5

  • Beth Harte says:


    You know I totally respect you, but I am not on board with being a marketing specialist (i.e. “I specialize in SEO, content or PR”). I have seen way too many people get laid off because they were specialists that couldn’t carry a heavy load when times got tough or because they couldn’t think strategically beyond their own tactical area and didn’t offer value across the department.

    I am a marketing & communications generalist. My focus is integrated marketing & communications, which includes product development, product marketing, distribution, pricing, marketing communications (PR, direct mail, SEO/SEM, social media, etc.), branding and PR (for those who segregate PR from marcom). Yep, ’tis true I’ve done it all…that’s the beauty of IMC (and working for startups!). ;-)

    If you’d like to argue that I am an IMC specialist, I’ll concede to that.

    Beth Harte
    Serengeti Communications

  • Joe – As discussed previously on the MENG board, I strongly disagree with this argument. It may be that marketing consultants need to position themselves as specialists to build their business, and even that marketing job seekers may need to claim a specialty to fit a job description, but a career marketer needs to be a jack-of-all-trades.

    When I started at P&G over 25 years ago, my boss told me that my job was to think like a general manager, to anticipate and solve problems. I do not believe that has changed. Marketing, more than any function, needs to transcend function.

    If it helps to position yourself as a specialist, great! But think of yourself as a specialist at your own risk. As Beth says in her comment, “I’ve seen too many people get laid off…”

  • Beth and MP…I appreciate the comments.

    Beth, I do think that IMC is a specialist area. I’ve been following Don Schultz for years and his books on IMC. That is a very particular specialty of marketing…so in my book, you have positioned yourself as a specialist to the highest degree. And, done a darn good job at it.

    Regarding the laid off issue…here’s a story for you.

    While at Penton Media, a publishing company, we had many production specialists. They were experts in print production. Simply the best. Unfortunately, they didn’t notice the fact that their specialist area was changing…to more online and print integrated production. Still a specialist area for sure, but changing. Those people that didn’t make the switch were, yes, laid off, because that specialist area wasn’t needed anymore in the company.

    At Penton (and other companies I worked with) there weren’t many generalists. Maybe publishers, but those people were always experts at generating revenue.

    Of course, I think we are all splitting hairs…but look at it this way…how many speakers are in demand to talk about “general marketing?”. How many books today are hot off the press on “general marketing?” Not many.

    MP – Sounds like your specialty was to analyze and solve problems. Not a general expertise area in my opinion ;)

    Thanks again

  • NinaB says:

    To me, what you are saying above is “build a brand around your slant.” And with that angle I agree completely. But I think you tangle the issues — a lot — to style this as the difference between a specialist and a generalist.

    A generalist is usually a big picture thinker who connects the dots in ways the specialist may not, and in that sense, is more likely to be a good analyst and commentator. But finding an angle to feature, or a niche to refine is a marketing strategy that works very well in a ‘noisy’ environment. In a way, you could call it ‘self-tagging.’

  • Ad Majorem says:

    This is a subject near and dear to my heart. I am actively training my employees to be Renaissance Practitioners, or specialist-generalists. First, we recognize that everyone has a specialty, and that’s a good thing. Second, we must admit that marekting today is like a Gigantic Venn Diagram, where all the disciplines interconnect. Third, it’s imperative to be a good generalist, so you can play on the team. Here’s my thinking:
    …and Joe, yes, we will always need specialists!

    Steve Schildwachter

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