Building A T-Shaped Marketing Skill Set

Building A T-Shaped Marketing Skill Set

About a year ago, Rand from Moz wrote this article about the T-Shaped Marketer. Ever since I read it, I have spent time thinking about this both on an individual level for an SEO expert, as well as from an overall perspective for an organization that is focused on SEO. So, in this post I would like to talk about what the ‘T-Shaped Marketer’ concept means for Volume Nine. 

First and foremost, we are a service organization. That means our consistent, #1 goal is to always do what is best for the client. At the same time, we also want to do what is best for the company and its employees. What is great about this concept is that we get to do both!

The T-Shaped Marketing Skill Set

First, let’s talk about what a T-Shaped Skill set looks like. IDEO CEO Tim Brown talks in a little more detail about a how a T-Shaped person is also a great collaborator. He organizes team members into three groups:
  • Generalists – People who can talk the lingo and often sound like they are contributing, but really lack any depth in a particular skill set. This makes it hard for them to earn the respect of their peers.
  • I-Shaped Individuals – People who have developed an expertise and have depth in one particular area, but don’t really have much knowledge of other areas. In team collaboration, these individuals tend to focus on the same solutions consistently and to present their own ideas instead of thinking about the problem through a cross-disciplined approach.
  • T-Shaped Individuals – These people are subject matter experts in one area, but can understand and discuss general strategy in other areas. An example would be a subject matter expert in Content Marketing who also has a grasp and understanding of things related to technical SEO such as Site Hierarchy, Page/Site Speed, and XML Sitemaps. This helps the individual understand other approaches and ideas when presented in a group brainstorm.

Cross Discipline T Shaped Marketer

 How Broad Should SEO Be?

In a Whiteboard Friday from 2012, Rand included his proposed list of What Really Should Be Included in An SEO’s Job including:

  • UI/UX
  • Website & Page Speed
  • Accessibility/Responsive Design
  • Content Strategy
  • Branding
  • Press & Online PR
  • Classic SEO including keywords, links, URL structure
  • Hundreds of other things…

The first step in developing out a nice T-Shape skill is to honestly and accurately assess where the gaps are in skill set. Everyone’s T is going to look different. Self assessments are going to range from being too critical to being too lenient. One solution is to get some feedback from other team members on where you are really good and where you could work to expand your skill set. If you are not sure on your level of expertise on a subject, sit down and talk for a few minutes with someone whom you think is an expert on that topic, and see how you stack up.

What ‘T-Shaped’ Thinking Means For Volume Nine

Our goal at Volume Nine is to build a team of diverse team members with depth and expertise in different topics. Virtually everyone at V9 has an intermediate to advanced knowledge of SEO, but we also have team members who go much deeper into certain areas. Examples include: Conversion Rate Optimization, Content Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Local Optimization, etc.

Because SEO touches and interacts with so many different Internet marketing categories, we leverage our expertise in these other categories to improve the results of our SEO work. As we start to move farther away from ‘core’ SEO, we gain a broader understanding while still relying on our partners’ skills to do things like website development, creative, advertising, or marketing automation.

Here is what a T-Shaped skill set looks like for V9, centered on SEO and working out from this as our ‘true north.’ (Click on the image to view a larger version.)

Volume Nine T-Shaped Marketer

Our goal is to foster and develop a team of people who are able to go very deep on certain areas of the T , but also have a very strong working knowledge of everything else which may be relevant for the client. Because Google is making every effort to incorporate all of these other areas into the organic search equation, our goal MUST be to obtain a strong and useful set of skills with all of these other areas in order to affect meaningful change on website. This is the direction Volume Nine is headed and what I am striving to push our people into every single day.

What ‘T-shaped’ Thinking Means For Clients

By going to deepest depths to be the absolute best at SEO, developing our team members skill sets across the T-Shape Marketing continuum and finding partners to shore up the areas where we are not experts, Volume Nine provides its clients with a unique service offering. The digital marketing industry is simply too diverse, moves too fast, and changes too quickly to be pigeonholed into any one specific area. Rather, we are striving every single day to offer the full ‘T’ to our partners and clients.

This approach allows our team to develop digital marketing plans that focus on generating traffic from search engines, social media platforms, and industry websites that sell more products, generate more leads, or accomplish the business goals of our clients.

On a daily basis we might check rankings, count followers, and measure organic traffic, but our true long-term measurement of success is how well we help our client grow their business and out-market their competitors. I am often asked what success looks like for clients, and it is precisely this. While positive growth is always nice (and of course, always a big goal for Volume Nine), what really gets us excited is doing good work for clients. If we can come in every day and perform like true partners — offering meaningful and insightful advice, touching on all aspects of the ‘T’— then we know we have done our jobs.

What Are We Doing to Expand Our Skill Set?

For anyone interested, we are making a big push with our teams to continue to expand and develop their knowledge sets. Here are just a few of the key people, tools, and ideas which we are using (and so can you) to become more well-rounded SEOs:

  1. Attending Conferences: The Volume Nine team attended (and spoke!) at the Digital Summit Denver earlier this summer. One thing that stood out to us was just how valuable it was to hear from quality speakers from all different spectrums of the industry. Never underestimate the simple power of exposing yourself to other industry experts.
  2. Following Popular Industry Blogs: The options are limitless. Find a mix of good blogs outside of your comfort zone and start reading them!
  3. Hire Good People: New team members can go a long, long way in terms of bringing new and fresh skills to the team. Don’t waste that on account of them being new. Find ways to cultivate and share the new information and skills which they bring.
  4. Ask Questions & Review Answers on Quora: We love this tool for not only engaging with clients, but also asking questions ourselves to get good, timely answers from other people in the industry.
  5. Leverage Vendor Relationships: Find trusted resources who are deep on other parts of the ‘T’ and leverage them to not only bring in outside knowledge, but also to deepen your own.
  6. Don’t be afraid of taking on the unknown: Sometimes, the best way to broaden your T is by simply jumping in head first on a project and figuring it out as you go. Don’t let fear of the unknown stop you from doing what is best for the client.
  7. Hold Internal Trainings: As I mentioned, at Volume Nine we have a wide variety of subject-matter experts. We make recurring effort to get our teams to do cross-training sessions in order to distribute the knowledge and get everyone up to speed.

Conclusion: The Future of the Digital Marketer

We believe that the future of doing effective marketing on the Internet lies with these ‘T-Shaped’ concepts. In today’s online world, there is just too much complexity, time, resources, and information available to consumers to ignore or avoid any one area. Furthermore, as the search engines become smarter and smarter, it is essential that a solid online marketing plan incorporates a wide variety of different ‘stuff’ in order to drive sales and conversions.

Volume Nine is committed to these concepts and idea. We are looking forward to marching into the future with our heads held high as we embrace and grow with each of these concepts.