Econsultancy CEO Ashley Friedlein wrote a very good and extremely interesting post last November about how modern marketers need to be pi-shaped people.

In the article he mentioned how in the past marketers were often required to be T-shaped people; those with broad experience across marketing, but with a real specialism in one particular area.

He argued that this has now moved on so much that marketers need to be pi-shaped (Π); essentially those with skills in ‘left brain’ and ‘right brain’ disciplines. As he says, marketers today need to be both ‘analytical and data-driven, yet understand brands, storytelling and experiential marketing.’ 

If you work in marketing then you will know how hard finding someone with these ‘two brains’ can be. It’s something that has been compounded in recent years by two big developments in digital: big data and content marketing. 

One, big data, is a dream for analytic left brain obsessives who love to live and breathe data; the other, content marketing, has been known to awaken the inner Hemingway and Dali in right brain leaning marketers.

The end result can be, if there is no joined up thinking, to put it bluntly messy; left brainers can become crippled with data-overload; they battle with often conflicting results that leave them unable to commit to anything, second guessing their decisions.

Meanwhile some right brainers operating on their own devices can spend all their time and budgets commissioning ideas that do nothing but boost their creative vanity and add nothing to their brand. At either extreme both give many a marketer a bad name (especially among disgruntled Financial Directors). 

The developing role of the content marketer

In the content marketing sphere we are increasingly seeing the need to develop pi shaped ways of thinking in order to meet the demands of content led initiatives; the recent marketing manifesto shows just that, you need to be creative enough to develop great ideas and be able to create that content, but you also need to be able to carry out analysis on what works, dive into the stats and use technology to analyse results. 

But as we become more and more technology and content focused, in order to be successful, marketers can no longer get away with being pi shaped; for success they really need to develop psi shaped skills. Let me explain.

Psi shaped content marketing roles

Psi, the Greek letter Ψ, is the letter that will come to symbolise modern marketers the most. It is a slightly more advanced version of the pi shaped marketer – π.

Whereas the pi has a broad knowledge base and two distinct specialisms, psi shaped marketers have a slightly different spectrum of knowledge; three specialist skills, or personal traits, that they then channel into one even more powerful, all encompassing specialism.

The result is that three distinct skills and personal traits feed into one specialism. That specialism is increasingly going to be content marketing. 

Why? Because, as lots of brands are discovering, the digital blurring between search, social, PR and display, which all form part of the make-up of content marketing, means that those that practise it need to have multiple skillsets.

For brand success today and increasingly in the future, marketers will be tasked with the creation of great content. On the back of that content creation they will need to generate engagement and ROI. To do it well marketers need to be psi shaped. 

The three characteristics of psi-shaped marketers

psi-shaped content marketing

Creative content marketing

As the image above illustrates, on the right hand side you have creative. Similar to Ashley Friedlein’s pi shaped argument, this is where your ideas are going to come from.

This is where a part of the modern marketer’s brain connects and tells a story; where that great blog post (about psi shaped content marketers?) comes from; or where an idea for a cool infographic comes from.

Essentially that’s where all of that creative Donald Draper-esque stuff comes from (but ideally with less need for so many cigarettes, whisky, adultery and misogyny). 

Analytical content marketing

On the left you have the analytical strand of thinking. This is where your big data analysis comes in. This is where the modern marketer has to be comfortable. You simply have to feel okay diving into the latest Google analytics report; your own customer data and, of course, campaign data.

Modern marketers need to be as comfortable using excel as they are with powerpoint and word. They need to be able to read the numbers and use it to help identify their next target audience, the next opportunity.

Of course this left hand data should inform the creative part of your brain and vice versa. 

Strategic content marketing

These two mindsets are key, but central to these two disciplines and a central strand that all marketers need to have (and always have needed to have, but even more so given the technology shifts we are experiencing) is the ability to formulate strategy. 

In over 12 years working in online publishing and marketing I’ve noticed that strategic ability can lack as much in analytical people as it does in creative people, sometimes even more so. Strategic ability is very much a distinct skillset.

Time and time again in recent years it has been brands those brands that have combined these three mindsets and abilities, pushing the boundaries in the process, that have been rewarded the most. 

It is this strategic ability, coupled with the ability to think both creatively and analytically that will define the next generation of marketers. That, and the ability to write a decent blog post or two!