In new research conducted by Econsultancy, organisations identified a growing requirement for so-called 'T-shaped' people: staff who have a strong vertical digital skill, but are able to combine that with experience, understanding or empathy of other digital disciplines or traditional marketing practices.

Yet respondents to the research, conducted for the Digital Marketing: Organisational Structures and Resourcing Best Practice Guide, also noted that people with this type of experience are particularly hard to find.

The term ‘T-shaped’ was first used by McKinsey & Company to describe the type of person they were looking to hire. The vertical stroke of the ‘T’ described depth of skill in a vertical area (in their case strong analytical skills), the horizontal a broader empathy toward other disciplines encountered in the business. This combination of skills enabled a capacity to learn and an adaptability that made them ideal management consultants.

It was the renowned design and innovation firm IDEO, and notably its CEO Tim Brown who wrote about the concept in his book 'Change By Design' (and initially in a well-referenced Fast Company article entitled Strategy by Design) that popularised the phrase. For IDEO, the context was in recruiting designers or engineers who were inquisitive about and empathetic with other skills, such as anthropology.

In the Econsultancy research, many participants talked about the growing importance of 'T-Shaped' digital marketers. Central to this burgeoning requirement was the need for effective integration of multiple digital touchpoints and channels driven by a desire to create seamless digital experiences for customers.

Increasingly, this requires interdisciplinary teams that work in highly collaborative ways, staffed by people who are able to apply vertical skills, along with an empathy with other digital disciplines.

As we move into a new year, will 2012 be characterised by a new type of marketing practioner: the T-Shaped digital marketer? And if it is, will the real challenge for organisations come from recruiting these hard-to-find people?

Neil Perkin

Published 19 December, 2011 by Neil Perkin

Neil Perkin is the founder of Only Dead Fish, and a consultant and contributor to Econsultancy. You can read his blog, and follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (3)


Nichola Finan

At Oomph, we call it 'total football'......a silo approach just doesn't cut it for digital. As a media planner (as was) I have to understand creative, customer journey, tracking and analytics, alongside placement considerations

over 6 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hey Neil,

Aaagh another industry term.

I like the post and insight but the use of "T-shaped" needs to be confined to E-commerce Room 101 before it enters fullscale agency w*nkdom.

If I ever speak to a Client who asks if about t-shaped skills, I'm walking before they finish the sentence.


over 6 years ago


Neil Crump

I am a great believer in T-shaped wording (but do agree with the other comments that we don't need another jargon word to be buzzed around:+). Warren Berger write a good book that covers off T-shaped working as championed by IDEO. His book 'Glimmer: How design can transform your business...' is a great read.

over 6 years ago

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