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?