Versatility: A Millennia Old Debate On Specialists vs Generalists

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Jump into a job board and you’ll see jobs like funnel specialist, Facebook Ads media buyer, and even more narrow “account farmer”.

Sounds familiar? If you’ve been in the field for a while, you might feel that generalists are not that appreciated. You might even feel that you need to specialize (if you haven’t yet), or that you are missing on opportunities only good specialists have… Let’s not be quick to decide – let’s take a look at what these specialists vs generalists pros and cons really are.

Pros

GeneralistsSpecialists
Versatility. Deep focus on a single field allows a person to concentrate his time and resources on learning about that one field.
Adaptability.Due to the aforementioned reason, specialization helps one become an expert in his or her field.
They have a lot of skills which could fit with a variety of jobs. Generalists have many more options to choose from.The specialization allows them to build out their reputation as experts in their field – which makes a lot of sense
A generalist never needs to fear a market crash. Unless digital marketing as a whole or the Internet itself went down, a generalist will always have skills to leverage. It’s basically impossible to be stuck unemployed.Specialists are scarce and therefore in high demand, which makes their pay high.
Becoming an expert (and earning the reputation of one) in their field often allows to dictate pricing or set the standard.

Cons

GeneralistsSpecialists
Generalists are the jacks-of-all-trades. They know a bit of everything, but they aren’t experts in anything. As far as marketing goes, they are average. That is the bias of people about them and this bias influences how they are seen by the market.

It’s the same concept as everywhere. When a woman is pregnant, would she go to a family doctor or an obstetrician?
It is both hard and easy for specialists to find a new job or a business opportunity. Easy, because the expert is always in demand. Hard, because there might be no suitable open jobs at the moment they need it, but they can’t settle for something else. They only have skills for their own field!
The above point translates into learning discipline. Generalist needs to know enough in multiple fields, and have at least basic understanding of the remaining ones. The focus is split between all of those things, the decision-making regarding what to prioritize and how much to invest into each field becomes vital.They might need to start over from scratch if their specialty becomes irrelevant – they would have no other skills to fall back to.
The job search is both easier and harder – yes, exactly like with specialists – just this time, we are looking at the other spin of the coin. There is an abundance of competition – which creates a paradox when a generalist needs to specialize in something in order to stand out of the crowd.It might be boring to focus on the same field for years. Imagine putting 3 to 5 years’ worth of effort into a single field, just to realize that you feel no joy in your work. You’d be choosing between greater and lesser evils and that’s assuming you can afford to choose.
The all-rounders risk being pegged into lower salary brackets. Of course, this depends on a person – knowing a bit of everything can be a great boon when applied right. The rising demand for “growth marketers” is a good example.

A High Value, Sought After Versatile Generalist Digital Marketer

The tools aren’t important, they change and will continue to change. There is a single type of digital marketer that is always in demand. Yeap, its the guy or girl who delivers. 

Therefore, I prefer to focus on learning a wider range of skills and upgrading my:

  • Complex problem-solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Cognitive flexibility

The thing is…

Thanks to broader knowledge, generalists can navigate through different conditions and understand better how to apply their skills in different contexts. 

And, well, in digital, conditions change fast.

Bottom Line

Personally, I’ll choose versatility over specialization at any time. I know this because I’ve been there. I’ve tried both, and it is clear to me that the path of specialization is not my piece of bread. Instead, versatility – or being a generalist – is much more interesting and exciting. 

Besides, just like with any product in marketing, you earn money when you know your client. Who is the client for a generalist digital marketer? Think about:

  • Small and medium businesses that need the work done but have no budget (and often no need either) to hire a team of specialists.
  • Digital agencies that offer to take care of all of their clients’ marketing needs – some of them deploy generalist marketers with versatile skills, instead of assigning a team of specialists.
  • Middle companies with an in-house marketer position – such a person would outsource things like Fb, Google Ads, SEO to freelance specialists or agencies.

Here are some more things to think about – generalists can make for a great:

  • Marketing Manager for a marketing department
  • Project manager for a digital agency or a marketing department
  • An entrepreneur that can take care of his company’s marketing 

The world’s race to specialization goes on, but the demand for versatile generalist digital marketers will not go away any time soon. 

P.S. If you don’t like the term, how about “explorer”? Gianni Cara talks about this in his Specialize Or Die, and yeah, “explorer” sounds way better than a “generalist”.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Published
Categorized as marketing

By Natalie Voloshchuk

Hi, I am Natalie Voloshchuk, a digital marketer, content writer, blogger and environment enthusiast. Beyond marketing, I love interacting with nature, travel, and exploration.

View all of Natalie Voloshchuk's posts.

Leave a comment