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Specialization or Jack of All Trades: Which is More Valuable in Digital Marketing?

A few weeks ago, my dishwasher decided to mysteriously stop working. Instead of cleaning my dishes, it spewed hot water and soap suds from the bottom and sides every time I tried turning it on. So I called Ron, a handy man I’ve known for awhile to come take a look at it.

Anytime I have a home-related maintenance issue, Ron is normally the first person I call. Electrical, plumbing, landscaping, appliances – Ron has a knack for sniffing out the problem and offering a cost-effective solution for me. As a general carpenter by trade, Ron brings a wide set of skills to the table that allow him to perform many different tasks at a respectably high level.

This time, though, Ron was in over his head. After toying around with my dishwasher for a bit, he decided that the job was beyond his ability, and referred me to a home appliance expert he’s worked with before. I called in the expert, shelled out a few more bucks than I had originally planned for, but the issue was taken care if half the time it took Ron to figure out he couldn’t handle it.

All of this got me thinking: when it comes to digital marketing, is it better to work with a “Jack of All Trades” type, or should you look for an expert in the area where you need the most help? Like most things in the online marketing realm, the answer isn’t cut and dry. It all depends on what your needs and goals are, as well as what type of budget you’re working with. Below we’ll examine the pros and cons in further detail.

The “Jack of All Trades” Digital Marketer

Need to create a Facebook page for your business? How about some quick keyword research to optimize your site for? Want to grow your Twitter following as well? These basic digital marketing tasks can normally be handled by someone with a foundational knowledge in several SEM disciplines. Usually, this person will have 1-2 years of experience using various platforms and carrying out basic – but important – tasks in paid, search, and social media marketing. While they can handle a wide range of tasks, they lack the in-depth knowledge to address complex issues or engineer advanced strategies in a given SEM field.

Pros:

  • A single individual can be called upon to perform various SEM tasks across multiple disciplines (paid, search, social, email, etc.).
  • With a solid knowledge base across multiple SEM disciplines, the Jack of All Trades has the ability to excel in one or more fields with some advanced training.
  • Most digital marketers start out learning multiple SEM disciplines at once, so enlisting the services of a Jack of All Trades can be a cost-effective way to get some basic digital marketing work done.

Cons:

  • The digital marketing landscape moves FAST – someone trying to focus on many disciplines at once may miss out on some small, but critical, updates in a specific field.
  • Basic SEO, PPC, or social media practices will only take your business so far. Businesses are investing more and more into full-scale marketing campaigns across multiple online channels, which usually requires advanced knowledge is a specific area of SEM.

Best Option For:

  • Small, “Mom and Pop” businesses with limited online marketing budgets.
  • Businesses in industries with little online competition.

 

The “Dedicated Specialist” Digital Marketer

Moving from a “Jack of All Trades” to a dedicated specialist is a normal progression for businesses looking to expand on their established digital marketing strategy. When a business or website is ready to roll-out a more aggressive social media strategy, for example, enlisting the services of a social media specialist is often the best route. Dedicated specialists will normally have 3 or more years of online marketing experience under their belt, with many of those years spent focusing on particular SEM discipline.

Pros:

  • Most dedicated specialists got there start as a “Jack of All Trades,” so they will likely have a working knowledge of other disciplines outside of their area of expertise.
  • A dedicated specialist can help grow a specific part of your overall digital marketing strategy far beyond what you may have thought possible, offering up suggestions for advanced strategies and implementing cutting-edge techniques that help separate you from your competition.
  • When you dive deep and perform exceptionally well in a specific online channel, the positive effects often spill over into other channels, helping to improve your overall web presence.

Cons:

  • With more knowledge comes a higher price tag. Dedicated specialists often command twice or more what an entry-level “Jack of All Trades” might.
  • When you focus on a subset within a larger industry, it can be easy to adopt a myopic view of things. Sometimes dedicated specialists miss out on how their work affects the larger digital marketing picture.

Best Option For:

  • Advanced sites and business who are ready to take their online marketing strategy to the next level.
  • Companies with the ability to invest in advanced strategies and who aren’t afraid to experiment with new tactics.

So, What’s the Best Option?

I posed the question to some of my fellow digital marketing professionals on Twitter, and received some great feedback. Christi Olson, Director of Search Marketing at Point It offered up this response that I tend to lean towards myself:

For those looking to enlist the services of a digital marketing professional, go with the individual who has a solid knowledge of multiple channels, but who specializes in the specific SEM discipline that will have the most impact for your business.

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