Discover your Digital Marketing Specialization: The T-Shaped Marketer model
Published May 3rd, 2019, updated February 1st, 2023
Summary - T-Shaped Marketers have a skillset that spans the foundational landscape of digital marketing; this is illustrated by the horizontal part of the T. The vertical part of the T represents the depth of knowledge and expertise in specific areas. For example, an individual could have longer branches for content marketing and branding versus web design. T-Shaped Marketers help round
Marketing is a very broad field, which means there is ample opportunity to specialize as a marketer. We go to school to learn a bit of everything, but have the unique opportunity to really hone in on what it is we excel at and enjoy most as our career progresses.
This is what the T-Shaped Marketer model is for, to help you figure out the foundational skills you need and what channels you can become an expert in. Let’s have a look at it!
T-shaped Marketer model
In a nutshell, a T-Shaped marketer will have basic knowledge of the foundational marketing skills plus they will have one or few main channels in which they specialize in.
The model is useful to help you gain a profile of yourself and your team members so you can figure out where your team strengths lie and where you might need to outsource.
On a very high level, a T-Shaped Marketer’s model would look something like this:
On a more granular level, a typical T-Shaped diagram will look like this example from Buffer.
So what exactly is a T-Shaped Marketer anyway?
Let’s start by diving into the details of a T-Shaped Marketer. T-Shaped Marketers have a skillset that spans the foundational landscape of digital marketing; this is illustrated by the horizontal part of the T. The vertical part of the T represents the depth of knowledge and expertise in specific areas. For example, an individual could have longer branches for content marketing and branding versus web design.
The concept of T-Shaped Marketers originates from the HR world. The T describes one’s abilities from a depth and breadth stand point. How much do you know? How well do you know it?
T-Shaped Marketers help round out teams, with everyone being able to support one another but also take leadership roles on projects that they are well versed in.
The base knowledge of marketing foundational subjects is the most important part of the model. Every marketer should strive to have a general understanding of these.
These are the marketing subjects that you can use across several if not all channels.
This is the fun part. These are all the areas you can explore for growth. Things change very quickly in every channel. New tools, new practices, new results, new regulations... Being an expert in all channels isn't feasible.
So most t-shaped marketers have a good foundation and a basic understanding of each channel. They know the benefits and drawbacks of each channel but they also has very deep expertise on a couple.
How our marketing team is made up
At Klipfolio, the Director of Marketing selected his team based on these strategies. Out of a team of 10, we have content writing, CRO, community, SEO, graphic design, web design, and automation as some of the key “expertise” amongst our teammates.
How this applies to marketing teams today
A ‘traditional’ marketing team can look very siloed.
In a modern marketing context, effective marketing comes from every member of a team being aware of the ‘fit’ of other team members, and have an understanding of how their ‘piece’ fits in with what others might do.
No matter your level of experience, it’s important to be asking the right questions, involving other team members and folks from other teams, all at the right time. This will ensure that everyone involved knows that they have a huge responsibility in the execution of the marketing-driven project.
This is why we need broad-minded, functional,‘T-shaped’ marketers; people who make decisions with team dynamics in mind.
Our take on the 2019 T-Shaped Marketer
Digital marketing in constantly evolving, so we thought it was time to take a stab at updating the diagram. We tried to link some of the core foundation skills with a channel expertise. For example, a deep understanding of copywriting can allow you to carve a nice expertise in SEO and content marketing, while a solid foundation in data and anlytics can lead you to a role focused on automation or reporting. Some of our team members had the chance to attend the Growth Marketing Conference in Toronto, and, after chatting with tons of people in the industry to get consensus, we have crafted a new spin on the original T-Shape.
Everything starts with understanding your customers and your audience. This is where behaviour psychology and research come into play. Understanding the real pains to be solved. Mapping and owning the entire customer experience, customer advocacy, understanding customer journeys and building solutions that solve those pains.
Positioning, Drift says “Companies can no longer differentiate on features in a world of infinite supply. Brand. Brand is the only true marketing advantage.”
Branding according to Bezos is “what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Branding is creating energy and a story around a company beyond the product and its features.
Your brand consists of the overall experience people have while interacting with your company and your product. It isn’t one distinct thing, it’s all things, working in unison.
Also known as storytelling, it's the art of crafting an expression of an offer for a product or service and framing it in a way that’s creative, interesting and appealing. It's something machines are never going to be great at. It's a highly meta-level conceptual subject, things that machines won’t be great at, at least not right now...
Understanding a product, an audience, their painpoints and wording that in a way that converts customers. That's always been and will always be a foundation of marketing and can be used across every channel.
It’s important to track customers end to end on their journey and clearly define what we consider a conversion from one step to the next.
Data and Analytics
A/B testing principles. The process of analyzing, transforming, and modeling data with the goal of gathering insights, informing conclusions, and decision-making. Using a lightweight BI tool like PowerMetrics to analyze your data and gather insights means that you can easily share the findings with the entire marketing organization (and beyond).
HTML and Design
An emphasis on stakeholder management, training and empowering employees, leading by example.
Now it’s your turn
I hope the T-shaped Marketer model has encouraged you to reflect on what areas of marketing you excel at and are most important to you; understanding your t-shape can help you determine which skills you can refine and which direction to grow in.
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