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Fear the Full Stack

Specialize Or Die?

Universities have spent centuries teaching students how to excel in one field  – accounting, law, marketing, medicine and others.

Then we were taught to specialize further – copyright law, property, family law.  Public relations, email marketing, SEO.  Neurology, physiotherapy & pediatrics.

In the digital marketing world it goes even further.  Marketers > Digital Marketers > SEOs > SEOs for small business / photographers / WordPress / eCommerce.

We’re told we need to specialize or die.

Specialists have a valuable place in the world. They are the people you turn to when all else fails.  You beat your head off a problem, struggle, learn 10 things you didn’t know, then turn to a specialist to solve it.

The Full Stack Marketer

The flipside of “specialize or die” is the Rise of the Full Stack Marketer.

Sports have always had a metaphor for this.  They call it the “five tool player.”   The five tools in baseball are:

1)  Hitting for Power

2)  Hitting for Average

3)  Fielding Ability

4)  Throwing Ability

5)  Speed

Most power hitters don’t have speed.  Many who can hit for average don’t have a strong throwing arm.  Five-tool players are rare but if you were building a team from scratch and someone offered you 9 specialists or 9 five-tool players, you would never take the specialists.

In basketball, two of the best players of all time are full stack players:  Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.  Even non-sports fans have generally heard their names.  Jordan was one of the best scorers of all time and a NINE time all-defensive team. In fact, he won the scoring title and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season.  Magic Johnson has the second-most games with at least 10 points, rebounds and assists in the same game.  So much for specializing.

Magic and Jordan are “full stack” basketball players.  They can do just about everything on the court.  Sure, none of them were the best shooter in history.  None are the best defensive player.   They are both champions and legends.

Getting away from sports, entertainers have a similar concept: the triple-threat.  Actor, singer, dancer – think Jennifer Lopez.

In business, the full stack marketer could be one who understands and is an expert on multiple aspects of online marketing: SEO, social media, PPC ads, Analytics, and email marketing.  Or the full-stack could be a web developer who understands the sales process and search optimization.

Reggie Miller is the greatest pure shooter in NBA history (and it’s not close.)  He has a grand total of zero championships.  Jordan has a few more than that.

Fear the Full Stack

Marketing specialists should be afraid.  It used to be that the opposite of “specialist” was a Jack of all Trades – not a compliment.  It usually infers someone who is above average at a few things but not really excellent at any.  Today, that’s no longer true.  The internet makes it easier than ever to learn new skills.  You can learn (nearly) anything on Youtube and from experts online.  Sorry, specialists.  They give it all away, free, all day.  Learn photography, get critiques of your photos, learn Photoshop and read about owning a business from those who do it.  Want to fix your own car?  Done.  Cook tastier food and save money.  Organize your home and reuse old throwaways.  Learn to clip coupons like experts.  With determination and a couple of months of dedication, you can learn anything.

Small businesses always need to save money.  One of the easiest ways to save on hiring costs it by choosing new employees who can do more than one focused task.  Your value as an employee is tied directly to the overall value you bring.  Big businesses? They don’t need to save money – they’re already experts at it. While we still have room for specialists, that room is shrinking.  Five tools, triple-threats and full stack businesspeople are here to stay.  And if you’re a specialist?

Be afraid.


About Matt Antonino

Matt is a marketing consultant in Melbourne, Australia. He teaches businesses to market smarter and faster through multichannel marketing including SEO & Content Marketing, SEM, Email & Social Media.
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