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Generalists and specialists

When you need more than a marketing company

Generalists and specialists. Are both necessary to grow a business in the internet age?

Oxford Dictionaries defines a generalist as “a person competent in several different fields or activities”, whereas a specialist is “a person who concentrates primarily on a particular subject or activity; a person highly skilled in a specific and restricted field”.

Specialists have been instrumental in driving the development of the internet and its surrounding technologies, and it could be that the optimum answer for any business is a team of specialists with expertise in important areas. However how do you decide what are the ‘important areas’ for a particular business and therefore which specialists are needed?

In considering this, it is interesting to look at how business has changed since the dawn of the Internet. Or has it?

The basics can still be summed up today by applying Peter Drucker’s famous five questions originally proposed in 1993:
1. What is your mission?
2. Who is your customer?
3. What does your customer value?
4. What results do you seek?
5. What is your plan?

Potentially it is not a trivial exercise to answer these questions, indeed Drucker would often spend an entire day on just the first question, challenging the leadership team he was working with to identify and (re-)define what business they were actually involved in. (So, when they were further down the list of questions they could identify their potential competitors and how customers should be approached, for example.)

Like basic business fundamentals, marketing principles have also not radically changed. However, the internet has changed the way that customers look for information and the criteria that is used to judge whether a supplier is one that they should be talking to. It has also led to the common use of vocabulary, such as owned, earned and paid media.

“You must use marketing automation”
“Content is King”
“Social media is the only way forward”

These types of statements are seen and heard very often and of course no-one wants to miss out, but not everybody is ready to spend money employing or commissioning the required specialists. Specialists who, not unreasonably, may be offering a narrow choice of solution.

It is therefore a role of the generalist to guide businesses through uncertainty and ambiguity and to help determine which specialist(s) would be useful to meet their goals.

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