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Deep Expertise, Broad Foundation: The Ultimate Marketing Skill Set

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A successful marketer is a mixture of skills, each often as important as the last—so where to begin building your marketing career? The good news is, you don’t have to be an expert in every single one. By developing a T-shaped marketing skill set, you can maximize your value to potential employers while also taking the time to go deeper on the skills that interest you most. 

What is a T-Shaped Skillset?

A T-shaped skill set has two components: A broad foundation, which touches diverse aspects of marketing such as copywriting, user experience, research, analytics, and strategy, and deep domain expertise in a single area such as digital marketing, interactive branding, email, PR, or design. 

Expert Advice On Building Your T-Shaped Skill Set 

Experts offered a few different strategies for building your T-shaped skill set. There are benefits to starting broad before developing deeper expertise, but in some cases it can also be advantageous to go deep first and learn more later. Consider the size and needs of your target company to help decide which strategy is best for you.

“There are advantages and tradeoffs associated with either path. With that said, typically duties increase as your knowledge and experience increases.”

“Someone working on a marketing team for a big company is likely going to have a narrower scope of duties compared to someone in a small business that is exposed to most every marketing function,” said Jeffrey Frohwein, instructor for Marketing Foundations and other courses in DoaneX’s Marketing Essentials MicroBachelors® Program. “There are advantages and tradeoffs associated with either path. With that said, typically duties increase as your knowledge and experience increases.”

Dig Deep, Then Build Out

“Most startups look for more specific roles,” said Ken Berman, edX Digital Marketing Director. “They’re looking for an email marketer, a paid search specialist, an SEO person, a content marketer, or something like that.”

Berman’s advice? Be the best whatever-you-are that you can be. For example, demonstrate success in something like email marketing. Then use your expertise in reaching customers to expand into an acquisitions role targeting known customers on Facebook. From there, you can broaden your scope and begin to target unknown customers. 

"Doing the best you can and showing big wins at a deep functional role is the best path."

“There is a balance to strike so you don’t get pigeonholed in a specific area,” Berman added. “But in my experience, the people that are very, very good at a specific role will then have the option to either go broader in a management role or stay in that role. In either case, doing the best you can and showing big wins at a deep functional role is the best path.”

Try Everything Before Specializing

If you’re not sure where to start, edX social media expert Livia Halltari says a more generalist role like social media marketing can be a great launchpad for learning more about the different marketing functions. 

"With social media, you gain exposure into all the different facets of marketing, more so than if you were working a singular function."

“Social media is one of the most generalist marketing roles you can get,” said Halltari. “You're like a Swiss Army Knife, getting exposure to everything from the analytical side of marketing to the creative side, working together with all these different teams. You gain exposure into all the different facets of marketing, more so than if you were working a singular function, like only email.”

Gaining a wide breadth of experience can lead to greater depth once you find out what you like. And, a diverse marketing skill set can help prepare you for managerial or C-suite roles like CMO. 

The Top 10 Foundational Marketing Skills

Your specialty sets you apart, but there are critical skills at the top of the “T” that will position you for success in any marketing position. Here are 10 fundamental marketing skills that our experts recommend learning.

1. Analytics

“This is the nuts and bolts of what various people do,” Berman said. “For example, you send an email out with 10 clickable products in it or links. Let's see which one got the most clicks. And let's try to understand why that is.”

A good marketer strikes the balance between creativity and analytical thinking. While quality content creation is important, you must also understand which marketing efforts are succeeding or failing. Data analytics provide this insight, if you know how to use them (and to succeed in this field, you must). 



Learn about marketing analytics: USMD Digital Marketing Analytics Course.

2. Storytelling

Storytelling is how you distill complex thoughts, data, or other information about a brand, product, or service into something that is digestible to your audience. 

Writing, video production, photography, and graphic design are common storytelling media, and it’s good to master one or more of these; even better if you can combine them to create an integrated campaign across platforms. But the most important piece is the hook, and that’s where storytelling skills are paramount.

“If you’re trying to run a cohesive campaign, then you need to have a hook,” said Berman. Whether it’s a specific product or service, a current sale or promotion, or a routine communication to stakeholders about the value of their investment, “A hook communicates to your reader why they should care about this thing.”

3. Communication

It goes without saying that marketers must communicate with customers, acting as a liaison between the audience and the brand. But learning internal communication is also critical, whether it’s among team members or with company leadership when presenting the value of campaigns or resources needed. You must understand the needs of various parties and act as a kind of translator between them. 

“Any organization has limited resources,” said Berman. “It's important to communicate why you're doing something and why somebody else should rally towards it. Nobody likes sales, but everybody's in sales. In order to advance, you're going to have to sell your ideas. You're going to have to put yourself forward.”

4. Project Management

Any marketing campaign can involve a lot of cooks in the kitchen at once, but a major cross-functional project requires an even more specialized skill set. In addition to personal time management, someone has to be the switch operator who keeps all the trains running on schedule. Project management means managing a calendar for various parties, prioritizing and delegating tasks, and collaborating with other marketing functions, contractors, and company leadership.

5. Strategy

Marketing strategy is the ability to look forward and understand where you can or can't affect change and put resources against those areas,” said Berman. It means using metrics and data analytics tools and data analysis skills to build a long-term plan for success by allocating resources where they can be most effective. 

6. Leadership

Good leadership means empowering others with the freedom to set and achieve their goals while solving problems that benefit both themselves and the organization.

“What I try to do in the leadership role is work with people on a quarterly basis to dig into what their goals for the quarter are,” said Berman. “Then I check in and say, ‘Hey, how are you doing? What kind of resources do you need?’ For me in my role as a leader, this is how I try to get people to do their best work and be their best selves.”

7. Understanding Key Marketing Functions

There is no single channel or marketing area that drives all revenue. Search engine optimization, email, affiliate links, paid advertising, social media, and more all contribute to the bottom line. Copywriting, design, email, content marketing, PR, reporting, analytics, creative, interactive branding: Know what each component is and does, and what value it brings to the overall strategy. To achieve company goals, all boats must be pulling in the same direction, so to speak, and a slip in any channel can affect the success of all. 

8. Copywriting

There is no substitute for good writing. Even with the rise of video, podcasts, and social media for online marketing, strong, emotionally evocative writing remains a core skill for any marketing role. 

“People want more and want to be spoken to like a human being and written to in a relevant, meaningful way,” said Berman. “A good copywriter will understand how to sound like a real human and not like a computer's writing the value proposition. Good copywriting is the key to authenticity.”

9. Problem-Solving

Analytics and problem-solving go hand-in-hand. When a strategy isn’t working, data is the key to adapting. For example, if revenue takes a hit, the organization needs to figure out why that is and what to do about it. Maybe the website isn’t getting enough traffic. Maybe it’s getting traffic but customers aren’t converting. Maybe your audience’s wants and needs have changed, and you must adapt your products or services to match. 

In this field, customer expectations and the digital landscape are constantly changing. Problem-solving and adaptability are the only way to keep ahead of the curve.

10. User-Experience 

Customers buy products and services they feel good about. That emotional response is driven by user experience (UX). If customers arrive at a company’s website only to be assaulted by pop-up discount spinners, or if the entire page is an action button, it can quickly drive users away. 

At the other end of the spectrum are brands that have taken the time to listen to their target audience: What are their values and background? What problem is the company trying to solve for them? If the product is good and the price is right, then it won’t take dirty tricks to make a sale. 

“The magic of UX is to get people to take your desired action in a way that feels natural and authentic,” said Berman. “It leads them down the path that they want to go down without forcing it on them.”

Start Building Your T-Shaped Skill Set

With these 10 skills, you’ll be well on your way to building a strong T-shaped skill set that can open doors to marketing opportunities. 

edX courses can help you learn the general and digital marketing skills you need to land your first marketing job and launch your career. Whether you want to start out deep or broad, remember that there’s no “right” or “typical” career path in this field, so pick a skill that interests you and dive in.

Last updated: October 2021