Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Age of Specialization

Not to take anything away from polymath geniuses like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, but it sure must have been a whole lot easier to know everything when there wasn't all that much everything to know.

And not to compare the average marketing person of yore to Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, but I'm sure there was a day and age where an experienced marketing person could pretty much know just about everything there was to know about the elements of marketing.

But as with everything else these days, those days - if they ever really existed - are likely coming to a screeching halt.

I started thinking about this when I read one of John's recent posts in which he wrote,

So here's a recommended new year's resolution for 2008: don't throw out the past and don't forget history. Old media still matter (and in some market segments, matter more than new media). For marketers, the trick is to remember the whole picture - not just the most exciting shiny and new parts of it.

While John's post had a specific angle to it (he was talking about audience size), the more general point can be made that marketers need to incorporate "the new" (online advertising, social networks,SEO, e-mail blasts...) into their bag of tricks, without letting go of "the old" (print advertising, direct mail, live events....). Just because there's new stuff to know doesn't mean that we can or should toss out the old.

This makes life more demanding for marketers.

There's a whole lot more to know about these days - and as the pace of change accelerates, it's just going to get harder and harder to keep up with everything. Thus, we will see more and more specialization within marketing.

To some extent, this is nothing new. Most of us have specialized in some way shape or form: We do B2B, or consumer, or non-profit marketing. We develop expertise in PR, or direct marketing, or marcomm, or product marketing.

But I have a sense that it will become less and less possible for people to utter the words I've spoken on more than one occasion: "I've done everything on the marketing continuum, from write specs for a product to assemble the trade show booth."

In fact, as more and more gets added to the marketing continuum, it becomes less and less true for me. I've done a bit of SEO and e-mail marketing, but virtually nothing with - say - building an on line community.

Say, maybe "they" were right and the Internet does change everything...

So what's a marketing professional to do?

Whether you're a solo practitioner, individual contributor, or marketing manager, you need to make sure that you keep up with what's new and exciting in marketing.

No, you don't need to become an expert in everything that's new and exciting. You just need to know a bit more than that it exists. You need to know what "it" is and what "it's" used for. You need to have at least a vague idea of whether you even need "it." And you need to know who would do "it" for you if you needed "it" done. In other words, you need to know what you don't know. (And not draw a complete "duh" blank when someone asks you about one of the new-fangled ways of doing marketing.)

Clear enough for you?

The point is that there's a growing body of things to know about in marketing, and not all that much that has (yet) fallen off the table.

Sure, there are virtual trade shows - but there are still physical trade shows, and if you pick your spots and work them well, they can be excellent venues for finding new customers. Sure, there are online communities - but there are also user groups, where your most rabid customers gather in the flesh, and want to hear from you about what's new and exciting. Sure, there are opt-in e-mails, but there's also good, old-fashioned paper-based direct mail campaigns.

In fact, I can't think of one thing that I was doing twenty years ago in marketing - other than print thousands of copies of the new brochure - that I wouldn't also consider doing today. Trade shows. Direct mail. Breakfast seminars. User groups. Collateral. Sales tools. Advertising. PR. They're all still in the mix - it's just that mix has gotten more intricate and more complex.

If you're a marketer who's been around for a while, make sure you keep your awareness level of "the new" high, but don't necessarily abandon the areas where you're the expert. You never know when a twenty-something will need your help, say, assembling that pesky trade show booth.

1 comment:

Mike said...


I agree whole-heartedly.

Look at one example: the relatively new fascination with "user-created content." Many experts see it as the death-knell of traditional media, because today's media-savvy young consumers trust each other more than they do us. In addition, thanks to the likes of You Tube and social networking sites, lousy production quality has become the new, acceptable standard.

I'm not really worried, though. (I don't think self-dentistry will really catch on, either.) Certainly anyone can be creative. But owning a camera doesn't make you a director, nor nor does typing on a computer keyboard make you a writer. Sooner or later, the prevailing level of mediocrity will become tiresome, and quality messages, delivered skillfully, will always stand out.

I'll make room for new media in the toolbox, but I won't be throwing out the hammer and screwdriver to make room.

Sure, if you asked young consumers, they might answer that the only things that influence them are "new media." I don' believe them any more than I believe those people in focus groups who say they want commercials that simply present the facts. In reality, they'd never even NOTICE commercials done to that directive.

So, yes, as you suggest, we should become as adept as as possible at using "new media" of all kinds, when appropriate. But they have not rendered traditional media and marketing tools obsolete, nor will they any time soon.

There's nothing wrong with a specialist; just don't expect to get a very broad (or profitable) perspective from one.