Victoria Lennon
Victoria Lennon 28 January 2016

The New Marketer's DNA

The rapid and constant changing of marketing boundaries, driven by digital, are altering the core knowledge and skills marketers are expected to have.

The rapid and constant changing of marketing boundaries, driven by digital, are altering the core knowledge and skills marketers are expected to have. We explore how future and current marketers should develop their skills and knowledge.

Ten years’ ago the marketer’s remit was different to today’s multi-channel and digitally influenced approach.

The pressure of additional channels and activities such as websites, search engine optimisation (SEO), content marketing and social media promotion mean that marketers have to know more than the BCG matrix and how to write a marketing plan.

Digital has shifted the skill base and demands understanding for areas where marketing has traditionally not gone or left to other teams, e.g. coding, data analysis. There is also more crossover for disciplines. For example, content marketing knowledge will span SEO, conversion tactics, PR and social.

It’s also difficult for one person to have in-depth knowledge of all areas. This is changing how teams are structured and how marketers progress in their career. We are now in the era of the t and π-shaped marketer.

The emergence of the T and π-shaped marketer

Hiring one person to cover everything is unlikely to work. Mike Tekula of Distilled wrote of Building a T-shaped Web Marketing Skill Set, a response to the changes he had seen in the skills of an SEO professional.Distilled t-shaped diagram

(Image from Distilled.)

The T-shape combines a broad knowledge of different disciplines with a specialism in one area. Since Tekula’s article, the concept of a π-shaped marketer has also emerged for those with more than one specialism.

This development is inevitable as digital and traditional marketing have become closer and integral to each other. However, Adriana Sacarino points out that “Knowing and doing are two different things”. Businesses need to make tough decisions about what type of specialisms they want as hiring a “jack of all trades” will not be effective enough.

So should companies adapt their marketing teams and recruitment to suit the t/ π-shaped model? Rand Fishkin at Moz has seen the advantages of this change:

  • Improved relationships and less conflict – “Breadth Breeds Respect”
  • The desire to master a discipline that fulfils a need, gives people recognition and helps with loyalty, commitment and a responsible attitude
  • Increased creativity – with a shared knowledge base teams are more likely to come up with more and better ideas
  • More continuity – cross-discipline competencies mean that work can be picked up and covered effectively if someone is absent.

Our team follows this model and I would agree with Rand’s observations. However, the t/ π-shaped model has made me think about what the basic competencies for any marketer should be – a DNA backbone that underpins, supports and complements disciplines. These core competencies are critical to being a successful marketer, regardless of the area you specialise in.

Creating a new marketing DNA

A marketer’s job will always be somewhat multi-disciplinary but the DNA backbone should contain core competencies that integrate and contribute to the discipline competencies.

Seven core competencies

I’ve selected seven core competencies based on my experience recruiting marketers, but also in my own knowledge and skills shift:

  • Technology
  • Data analysis
  • Creativity
  • Influencing
  • Productivity
  • Financial
  • Agility

The new marketer’s DNA diagram

Learning and developing the marketing DNA


With so many channels relying on digital delivery and integration, having a basic knowledge of what makes it possible will take you a long way. Understanding the challenges involved in creating websites, apps and software will help you brief and manage these projects more effectively.

Knowledge and understanding areas

  • HTML and CSS – learning how the front-end of websites are constructed will help you across other systems as well, e.g. email marketing, A/B split testing and conversion. All of these usually involve manipulating styles.
  • Databases – a basic understanding of how databases are built and call information will improve communications with your development team


There are a number of excellent online learning platforms, both free and paid. My personal favourites are:

More coding resources are featured in Creative Bloq’s 16 top online coding courses article.

Data analysis

Being able to combine and manipulate data from different resources allows you to understand activity better and prove that all-important ROI.

Knowledge and understanding areas

  • Google Analytics – understanding website performance, behaviour and the impact of online activities will be driven by this
  • Excel – VLOOKUP, PivotTables and macros will help you manipulate data and make reporting quick



This doesn’t mean being able to paint or create sculptures from sticky-back plastic. Drawing influence from other areas and looking beyond the obvious to address problems requires creativity. Be curious. Don’t leave yourself in a cultural vacuum.

Knowledge and understanding areas

  • Areas beyond business or your own expertise, e.g. art
  • Techniques to challenge and inspire ideas



Working smartly and efficiently is critical for any job. Just keeping up with one specialism can be tough so it’s important to make time for it. This is only possible if you can actually manage time properly through good technique.

Knowledge and understanding areas

  • Times of day you are most productive
  • Your danger areas, i.e. what leads you to procrastinate
  • Time management techniques



Every marketer has to do this to get people on board with changes and new trends. Communicating effectively and showing the value is key to this. It can be difficult for marketers as there is a misconception that we are “smoke and mirrors” and offer no ROI. You will need other competencies such as Data Analysis and Financial to prove the critics wrong.

Knowledge and understanding areas

  • Communicating across departments, especially IT, Finance and Sales
  • Your influencing style and its effectiveness



Communicating in financial terms will resonate more with senior people and help you report in ways that get you what you want. Make friends with the finance team and understand the key financial metrics of the company.

Knowledge and understanding areas

  • Balance sheet – lists the assets and liabilities of a company
  • P&L Statement – the efficiency of the company
  • Cash Flow Statement – can act as a budget to plan and control the income flow



It’s easy to fall into the trap of doing the same thing year-in-year-out and then be caught out when the market or channel changes. Agility is not just being able to rapidly respond with a funny tweet, but to use creativity, technology and data analysis to stay ahead of the game.


Do you agree with these competencies? Are there others that you would include or exclude? Let us know via Twitter or drop us a line.

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