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Is your digital marketing held hostage by specialist disease?

A few years back, I wrote a post about something I called “specialist disease“–a situation where you have created a team full of specialists that actually starts to get in the way of your larger goals. If you never read it, go back and do it now. (I’ll wait right here.) I would love to tell you that specialist disease is a thing of the past,. but I actually think that it has gotten worse. And it continues to threaten the value of everything we do as marketers.

It once was considered a luxury to have someone on the team that focused on social media, but I’ve seen teams that have Twitter customer service specialists. Now, that isn’t a problem in and of itself, but it is critical that everyone on the team understand why we are doing any of this in the first place.

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If we don’t, you hear conversations like this:

Twitter Customer Service Specialist: We must respond to that tweet within 30 minutes.

PR person: Why?

Twitter person: Because we are measured on how fast we respond.

PR person: But that tweet isn’t even related to customer service–it’s a joke about our ad campaign.

Twitter person: It doesn’t matter. It mentioned our product brand name and it scored 63% negative on sentiment.

PR person: OK, so can you respond “LOL”? It was funny.

Twitter person. No, I have a reach-out script I must use for all detractors.


Maybe you get the idea. There are right ways and wrong ways to specialize.  If we start to sub-optimize everything we do in the service of the small idea (respond to all negative comments within 30 minutes) and we miss the big idea (form relationships with our customers), we’ll all succumb to specialist disease.

Specializing is not a problem. As digital marketing gets larger and larger, we must rely on specialists to keep up. None of us can be experts on everything. But we must make sure that we are meeting the larger goals of digital marketing, not just creating new bureaucracies to rule over small metrics that measure every aspect of what we do.

No matter how much we try to reduce digital marketing to a number, and I have spent us much time as anyone applying direct marketing principles to digital marketing, we must accept that we can’t dimish every specialty to a measurable activity.

Just because I use multivariate testing to optimize a web page for conversions doesn’t mean that I can ascribe the design of the page, the copy, or the product photo with the credit for each sale. Sometimes, we need to keep the larger goal in mind, but the specialists must work together to move the bigger number without looking for a smaller number for each group.

How do you handle specialists in your organization?

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is a Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also served as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He was a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research and is now a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board. A Certified Speaking Professional, Mike regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide

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