» Hire Marketing Generalists, Harvard Says

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Image: "UG" by Justin P. Lambert .

Marketing was once easy. In fact, it was often synonymous with advertising. You hired an artist to depict happy people using your product, wrote an accompanying paragraph or two extolling the virtues of life with your brand, and you ran that piece in major magazines or on your favorite television network. Very straightforward.

Today, marketing is not so easy. While advertising remains one method of generating sales leads, the tactics required to place your brand in front of the people who will purchase it have ballooned exponentially:

  • Websites.
  • Social media.
  • Mobile devices.
  • Email.
  • Search engine rankings.
  • Co-creation.
  • Crowdsourcing.
  • Events.
  • And advertising.

Like a tree, marketing continues to sprout new branches despite what its gardener may prefer. The knowledge capital required to run an effective marketing department can be staggering, and passive advertising no longer cuts it.

Our profession matured into a level of complexity unique to our age, and this maturity demands a breadth of skillsets to tend it. You can either hire an army of specialists or hire several generalists.

Which person should your marketing department prefer? Here's a hint: the Harvard Business Review thinks you should hire generalists.

Effective Hiring

Articles like those featured in HBR and GeekWire describe the benefits a "generalist" -- also known as "full-stack" -- marketer can bring to an organization. For example, sophistication.

A sophisticated marketing campaign incorporates different ideas in a unified voice. Your marketing becomes unified when individuals on your staff can do some of everything, eliminating the disharmony that comes from too many opinions embedded into your creative process.

Generalists pool internal knowledge from different areas to achieve a sophisticated result.

Specialists team with other specialists to achieve a result. These dissenting voices often produce an unmemorable outcome. At worst, it's confusing.

Generalist Strengths

Relying on marketing specialists instead of marketing generalists is ultimately a shortsighted solution.

A smart generalist can absorb new information and reach competency very quickly. This competency may only net you 80% mastery of a particular marketing subject, but 99% of the time, near-mastery is all you need. When the situation requires 100% depth in a particular marketing topic, you are likely pursuing either a fringe case or an overkill solution.

Then you move on to the next campaign.

This new campaign may look different than the one you just finished. Your generalist can switch gears and speed up. Your specialist pulls over to wait for another expertise-matching scenario, and that's unproductive.

For the win

Modern marketing is complex. The required knowledge comes from many different areas, and that knowledge must have a variety of technical and artistic skills to support it.

So in our modern age, hire the generalists for your marketing department, and hire based on capacity to learn more rather than "5 years doing the same XYZ". This is how you future proof your lead-generating machine, and that grows your bottom line.

What do you think -- generalists or specialists for your marketing department?