Is the Full-Stack Marketer a Myth?

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The full-stack marketer is red-hot. Everywhere you turn, there are articles about how the full-stack marketer is “on the rise”, and how we need more full-stack marketers.

A growing number of startups are looking for marketing people who can do it all: create content (blog, videos, case studies, etc.), design, code, evangelize, socialize (in-person and through Facebook, Twitter, et al), media/blogger relations,  presentations, SEO and advertising.

But do full-stack marketers exist? Are there really “five-tool players” who are great at everything? Or are there marketers who are jacks of all trades but masters of none?

My take is the latter is currently more realistic given the diverse range of skills that someone needs to qualify as a full-stack marketer. Frankly, I don’t believe there are many people who can do it all right now.

Yes, there are people who can bring a variety of skills to the table but nowhere near the growing mythology about magical skills around the full-stack marketer.

So why is the full-stack marketer such a hot concept? 

Here are a couple of theories:

1. Startups are terrified to hire marketing people.

Why? These are people who have different skills and ideas. As a result, startups think they can mitigate the tactical and financial risk by hiring a marketing person who is multi-talented. Even if the startup can’t completely embrace marketing, the full-stack marketer can stay busy doing non-marketing things. In other words, hiring a full-stack marketer is like hiring a marketer but not really.

2. Given the current obsession with lean startups, it makes sense to have people who are multi-talented, including the marketing person.

No startup wants to be un-lean because it’s sexy to drive the business as efficiently as possible. Every hire and expenditure is scrutinized because it’s the way startups are supposed to be run. In the lean model, hiring a marketer is a luxury, but hiring a full-stack marketer can be justified as long as they can do marketing and a whole bunch more.

In an ideal world, a full-stack marketer would be an awesome hire but there are not many people who fit the bill right now.

In the future, it’s possible that more “full-stack marketers” will emerge as skills such as video creation and coding become commonplace. People armed with these skills can blend their communication and writing expertise to become full-stack marketers.

To be honest, the quest for full-stack marketers is admirable but unrealistic.

So let’s throw the ball in your court. How would you describe a full-stack marketer?

  • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

    To answer it bluntly, that is a CMO, not an individual.

  • http://www.markevans.ca/ Mark Evans

    The question is whether an individual such as CMO has all those skills. I think few people possess that skill-set (and frankly no one needs to be a master of everything).

  • Yoav Schwartz

    I agree that a “full stack marketer” is as unrealistic as a full stack developer – ie one that can setup your server, architect your application, develop the backend and frontend and oh yeah, design your UX/UI. It’s just not realistic to have one person with all those skills just as its unrealistic that a marketer can excel at all marketing tasks. But, for an early stage startup, just like you need a jack of all trades developer to get started so too do you need a marketer with various skills.

  • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

    Few is correct. But is it needed at the doer level? It’s not. So, that debate is really rhetorical in my opinion.

    I think the CMO needs to understand and have had experience in many marketing and sales roles. But it depends on the person really. A smart person can manage anything even if they haven’t had direct experience.

  • http://www.markevans.ca/ Mark Evans

    Agreed there is a difference between full-stack (great at everything) and full stack (pretty good at lots of things). For early-stage startups, having someone who has a variety of skills is great. As the startup matures and grows, it makes sense to add or hire people who have specialized skills. Thanks for the comment.

  • http://www.markevans.ca/ Mark Evans

    Having someone skilled at identifying needs and managing people is a great marketing asset.

  • Joanne Gore

    In my experience, once an individual reaches CMO status, they are no longer interested, nor willing, to do the day-to-day “grunt” work. Nor should they have to. CMOs should focus on vision, supported by a strong senior marketer who can develop the strategy to execute and deliver that vision. In turn, the appropriate resources (from graphic designers to PR to marketing operations…) can be brought in as needed to execute on the strategy. Although it’s feasible to think a CMO may have (or at one time have had) the “full stack” is not (imho) best use of that individual’s, and by extension the company’s, budget and time.

  • http://www.markevans.ca/ Mark Evans

    I think we live in a world of specialists and generalists, which works well. Expecting someone to be able to do it all really well is idealistic. Thanks for the comment.

  • Guest

    I think the “full-stack marketer” is an ideal that non-technical founders of startups should aspire to. In reality, most people tend to fall along a continuum between being a generalist and a specialist but in my opinion the role of the full-stack marketer/non-technical founder in a startup is to combine the growth hacker role with a product design skill set that compliments the technical cofounder.

  • Kyle Tibbitts

    I think the “full-stack marketer” is an ideal that non-technical founders of startups should aspire to. In reality, most people tend to fall along a continuum between being a generalist and a specialist but in my opinion the role of the full-stack marketer/non-technical founder in a startup is to combine the growth hacker role with a product design skill set that compliments the technical cofounder.

  • Jason

    Hi Mark; I think you nailed it here: full-stack is an aspirational term that has become sexy because so many people have a need (or at least they believe they have a need) for such a person. For a company with any sort of aggressive growth goals it is not possible for a single person to do all of the necessary work effectively. This is not to say that hiring a generalist as your first marketing person doesn’t make sense (that’s how I got my job!) but to do the right things and do enough of them, you really need a team to achieve meaningful growth.

  • http://www.markevans.ca/ Mark Evans

    It really does come down to have the right team with different skills. Thanks for the comment!

  • Kyle Tibbitts

    It all depends on the stage of the company. As a company grows, marketing roles will naturally become specialized, but during the founding of a startup, you don’t have that luxury yet. So if you have two founders, a “builder” and a “seller”, the seller ideally needs to be enough of a generalist on one hand and a specialist on the other to get traction so the company can ___ (hire employees, raise money, etc.). In this sense, a full-stack marketer has to be “pretty good at a lot of things” like product design and growth hacking as opposed to “pretty good at everything”, which is unrealistic.

  • http://www.quantifire.net/blog Will

    Hey Mark, it’s already happening among our startups. The efforts of non-technical folks labours that touch marketing will bear fruit in a year or two as they gain more experience and continue to hustle, learn and execute.

 
 

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