The world has grown more complex, with astounding advances in broadband speed, storage capacity, wireless technologies, device capabilities, video, retargeting and personalized communications, and social networks. Outside of marketing and communications, leaps in financial modeling, medical imaging, robotics, global mapping, design tools, and many other areas have occurred in the historical equivalent of an eye-blink. This technology and communications revolution has had dramatic consequences in virtually every industry, creating a question with widespread implications for institutions and their workers: has the world become too specialized for generalists to succeed?

The question of general vs. specialized has arisen outside business. Liberal arts colleges and even some advanced prep schools, which typically embody versatility in their courses and culture, have begun augmenting their curricula with more “real-world” courses after seeing soaring unemployment rates for English and Sociology majors. Professional sports increasingly feature coaches of highly specific sub-groups and players with one distinct skill, while the three-sport athlete of the past has become an anachronism as many promising players are funneled into a single sport before their teens.

In marketing, the trend is most clearly seen in position descriptions, especially for jobs connected with new technologies. Job seekers of cutting-edge marketing roles don’t simply need “content management” skills but instead “Drupal” or “Hubspot certification;” analytics responsibilities that could have been shouldered by smart marketers with Excel expertise now need evidence of deep knowledge of Google Analytics or even specific programs like Omniture; and market researchers, especially in the growing quantitative segment, often need SAS, SPSS or similar capabilities in addition to an appropriate vertical market background.

At a macro level, many of America’s previous industry and political leaders were imbued with versatile skill sets, nurtured by their education and broad-based work experiences. Do you agree that business, and marketing in particular, has become more specialized? If so, is this a step forward, or are you concerned that over-specialization will impair our long-term prospects? Is there even room for the marketer who’s a jack-of-all-trades but master of none? We want to know – please comment at the bottom of this page!


  • William Bullard

    William Bullard is a strategic marketer with extensive experience in the Internet, digital marketing, database marketing, content, and many related areas. His career was in direct marketing and wireless communications before he moved into education marketing. He recently founded EdChanges to help institutions leverage strategic marketing in a fast-changing landscape.