Every industry prioritises different traits and skills, because roles vary wildly. A factory worker needs in-depth knowledge of a specific set of actions and processes, for instance, while a supply teacher is most useful with a basic understanding of just about every subject taught at that particular school level.
Since the broader promotional machine has so many moving parts, it has room for marketers of all kinds, from niche experts to jack-of-all-trades types — but the ecommerce world (with all of its rich complexity) is perfect for T-shaped marketers in particular.
So what are T-shaped marketers, and why do online brands find them so desirable? Let’s see!
What is a T-shaped worker?
There are several different ‘shapes’ of employee built around the central conceit of the horizontal axis representing different disciplines and the vertical axis representing knowledge and understanding. Someone with comprehensive knowledge of one discipline fits the ‘I’ shape, and someone with a shallow awareness of many disciplines would fit… well, there’s no suitable letter, so let’s just go with the dash shape.
A worker who fits the ‘T’ shape fits both of those shapes. They possess strong understanding of one particular field, but also have an awareness of (and an appreciation for) the work of other fields. Think about a GP, for example — they will likely have a special focus on one particular medical niche, but will also know a good amount about every medical field.
Why T-shaped marketers are great for ecommerce
There are various reasons why a T-shaped marketer is ideal for the heady world of ecommerce. Here are the most important ones:
Ecommerce learning is highly accessible
Because the ecommerce industry changes so rapidly, it isn’t very well suited to old-fashioned learning. You might not benefit much from a regular university course on ecommerce since a lot of the information would be obsolete by the time you finished. And given that the industry is more likely to attract those interested in technology and the possibilities of the internet, it can freely embrace a more modern approach to education.
Because of this, and the modular nature of the subjects (with everything fitting into a massive ecosystem), a T-shaped marketer is the perfect long-term investment for an ecommerce brand. Their interest in different fields will push them to welcome new learning opportunities, and their demonstrable ability to soak up knowledge will allow them to get more from new training courses than others would.
You can hire someone who doesn’t fit the ‘T’ shape, of course, and force them through training until it sticks — but it won’t be efficient, it’ll sap morale, and they probably won’t retain much of the information anyway. It’s far better to take the time to find someone who’ll embrace opportunities to update their skills.
They work together very effectively
An ecommerce brand with even the barest hint of ambition is very likely to establish a marketing team instead of relying on one individual, and good team composition is vital. If you get several employees with niche sets of skills that don’t overlap, you’re going to have a very difficult time trying to get them to cooperate usefully, and if you get a team of all-rounders, there’ll be no one to step up to take responsibility for making a project as good as it can be.
The ‘T’ shape, however, excels as part of a team — particularly if you build an entire team of T-shaped marketers. If their core sets of skills overlap, they’ll be eager to learn from one another, and if they have disparate competencies, their readiness to get involved with other subjects will see them gladly step outside of their comfort zones to assist on other projects.
This is so important for ecommerce marketing because it has such remarkable breadth and depth. So many disciplines factor into it, ranging from optimising packaging and shipping to improving user journey design and customer service. And then there all the standards and channels to learn about — technologies and frameworks that are regularly updated, and social media platforms that rise and fall unexpectedly. No one person can keep up with it all. Only a rock-solid team can make the most of all the possibilities.
The required skills for ecommerce are constantly changing
Go back to the early days of the internet, and anyone who wanted to do online work needed to have a solid understanding of the basic principles. Not so today. With the automation tools and support frameworks available now (most notably robust webstore design software suitable for technical novices), you can go from a cold start to useful participation in the ecommerce world.
But this doesn’t mean that in-depth knowledge is no longer needed — quite the contrary, in fact. While it no longer matters so much that you have detailed knowledge in a given field, it’s vital that you can develop detailed knowledge in any given field, because while automation can make something simple, the automation itself introduces fresh complications.
Look at the world of paid advertising, for instance. It’s far simpler to set up a PPC campaign than it used to be, but the options have become massively more complex, and the practice of smart audience segmentation has become perhaps the most important thing. As this shift took place, it was the T-shaped workers who were best placed to adapt through changing focus.
What the T-shape means for you
If you’re an ecommerce business looking to hire some new marketers, then try to look for the hallmarks of a T-shape employee in every prospective hire. Can they demonstrate an in-depth understanding of a particular topic, showing that they’ve mastered the fundamentals and can operate creatively? And is their thinking flexible enough to allow them to move away from that topic when needed to develop some fresh skills?
If you’re an aspiring marketer, however, then your challenge is to show that you can offer this kind of well-rounded usefulness. Polish your CV, offer a complex piece of work to show your ability in your main discipline, and touch upon side projects and secondary interests to get across your willingness to try new things.
Whether you’re looking to hire a new marketer, or aspiring to fill a marketing role, remember the value of the ‘T’ shape in identifying the most promising candidates — and find a way to use it to your advantage!
Patrick Foster is an editor at Ecommerce Tips — a startup-focused ecommerce blog dedicated to sharing business and entrepreneurial insights from across the sector. Check out the latest news on Twitter @myecommercetips.