THE BLOG
10/11/2013 02:51 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

No More Generalists in Marketing

2013-10-10-4139380387_0e15e104cf_z.jpgThere are no more generalists. Ok, a bold statement, not entirely true. There's still a Sears. There's still a Macy's. There's still a guy with that truck that says Handyman on the side who drives around the neighborhood.

But in the online world, rapidly becoming the only world that matters to many of us, specialists rule the day. If you are a photographer, you have focused on a certain population, like newlyweds, or snowboarders. If you need to do Google Adwords, you call an Adwords guy. If you want to send a personalized magazine-like email like I'm doing a lot of lately, you call the email marketing guy. Coders specialize in WordPress or Ruby on Rails. Companies dedicate themselves solely to task-management applications.

There's a reason for this. It starts out being technical, because when you're creating something specialized, like an app that does your books, you need to know a lot about the needs of the people who would use such an app. But the reasons for this specialization soon end up moving into something beyond the technical. The reasons become cultural. You're not going to take your Maserati to Sears to get fixed. A wedding photographer would only screw up your snowboarding shoot.

Strangely (or not) entire cultures have grown up around the type of people who are Facebook users verses Twitter users, texters verses people who use voicemail. (I have a friend who says on his voice mail that he never responds to voicemail.)

Culture is driving marketing because the mass in mass marketing is going away. That's not news, but what is replacing it, is. We're going from mass marketing to communicating among micro cultures.

A fable: Recently I needed glasses. I decided to try Warby Parker, an online purveyor of glasses with a certain look to their website, a certain flavor to their images, a certain culture. For every pair of glasses a customer purchases, they donate a pair, after the one-for-one Tom's Shoes model. There exists an entire culture-class of glasses buyers who want style, a good price, and to feel like they've done something good. The culture of Warby Parker is as distinct from Lenscrafters as Four Barrel Coffee is from Starbucks.

On Facebook the other day an ad popped up for a type of shaver called Harry's. Since I've been running a huge Facebook ad campaign as part of my Digital Fundraising School project, I was curious, so I clicked. The copywriting spoke to a certain culture of design-conscious people who liked well-made things, like shavers that balance in your hand and blades that are forged in Germany. The fonts used were clean and simple, and they even donated a razor for every one bought. It looked a lot like the culture of Warby Parker. Even the emails they sent were similar in tone. I wrote them and sure enough, found out that one of the Warby Parker founders is also behind Harry's.

Paradoxically, micro cultures are not small. There are a lot of them, and they're huge. The micro-part is their focus, not their reach. I know I'm looking through the right end of the telescope on this, because I know that the handyman driving his truck around will soon have trouble finding new business. Unless he runs a really good AdWords campaign.

Image by Whiteforge via Creative Commons License.