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Nov. 11, 2021

Should You Niche Down or Become a Generalist with Your Digital Marketing? My Answer Might Surprise You!

Should You Niche Down or Become a Generalist with Your Digital Marketing? My Answer Might Surprise You!

"The riches are in the niches."

"You gotta niche down."

You've heard these over the years, including on this podcast. And I don't disagree with the advice if you want to gain visibility in a noisy market.

However, if you are a marketer or a marketing entrepreneur, just owning one niche might not be the ideal solution to your strategy and most likely not for your customers.

Listen in as I share my own experience and advice and make the case for becoming more of a digital and social media marketing generalist.

Key Highlights

[02:27] Why It's Dangerous To Stick To A Niche?

[02:50] How I Began Blogging

[05:51] Wanting to Be A "Doctor of Social Media"

[06:57] Offering Additional Value Beyond Niche

[9:10] The Time I Went Generalist

[10:34] Launching My Fractional CMO Service

[12:29] Going Back to the Role of Generalist

[13:06] Why You Need to Have a Broader Knowledge

[15:31] My Work As A Fractional CMO

[18:15] Summary

Notable Quotes

  • In other words, if you go to a doctor, you don't tell the doctor what you have, you tell the doctor your symptoms, and they propose something for it, that you might have this, you might have that, let's take some X rays, let's hear some medicine.
  • If I want to pursue best practices, in my job, in my work in my career in my life, I have to provide the best thing that businesses need.
  • Social networks don't exist in a vacuum. Social media does not exist in a vacuum. It's all part of digital marketing, which is all part of marketing.
  • if your business obviously has something that is competitive in one specific niche area, it makes sense to go for it.
  • Customers don't just use the tool to use a tool, they use a tool to solve a problem. Businesses don't look for people who seek out people with a niche, because they have a need for that niche. They have a problem that they want to solve.
  • Niche gives you visibility. But it doesn't always solve all the problems that people that have an interest in a niche have. 
  • In order to become a generalist, you need to have niche knowledge. But it's not just one niche at the end of the day. It's a combination of niches.
  • This really defines the current work that I do as a fractional CMO. Because it goes beyond just one niche, one category, it goes down to the problems that companies have, and the potential solutions for them. Using the entire toolkit of tools and channels that Digital Marketing provides.
  • I do believe if you're not known for anything, the niche, without a doubt gives you that visibility. But as you niche, I want you to be thinking about the broader picture of the role of the generalists. And I don't want you to be afraid to go outside of your niche to gain other expertise, which I believe you will need, regardless of what niche you decide for what industry.

Learn More:

Transcript

Neal Schaffer:

in your industry, should you niche down? Or should you become a generalist? If we listen to all the advice out there on other podcasts in the blogosphere, it's all about niching down finding your niche, the riches are in the niches. Well, I don't disagree with that. I also think there's tremendous value in being a generalist. And I'm going to tell you why. In this next episode of your digital marketing coach, podcast, digital social media content, influencer marketing, blogging, podcasting, blogging, tick tocking, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, SEO, SEM, PPC, email marketing, who there's a lot to cover, whether you're a marketing professional entrepreneur, or business owner, you need someone you can rely on for expert advice. Good thing you've got, Neil, on your side, because Neal Schaffer is your digital digital marketing marketing coach, helping you grow your business with digital first marketing one episode at a time. This is your digital marketing coach. And this is Neal Schaffer. Hey, everybody, Neal Schaffer, here, I am your digital marketing coach. Welcome to the podcast of the same name. Recently, I was interviewed on a podcast by the way, if interviewer podcasters, I love sharing my ideas and experiences with the world. So please hit me up. Nevertheless, I was on another podcast. And it was someone who owned a marketing agency who ran the podcast. And as we were talking, he also thought the same thing that I thought that there was value in being a generalist, but it's something that's not really talked a lot about. So I wanted to use this episode to talk about this concept. I know that a lot of you who listen to this are marketers. And there's a lot of you who are also like me, a fractional CMO, a digital marketing consultant, a social media marketing coach, LinkedIn course creator, Instagram mastermind, Master, I don't know, whatever it is, you know what I'm saying. So my experience has been this. Now everyone's experience is going to be a little bit different. But I want you to hear me out on why it is dangerous, to stick to a niche. Let's begin there, and why you may not want to stick with a niche. Now I began. And I'm going to go back in my history, because I think you're going to see that there's a yin and a yang, the Yin of the niche, the yang of the generalist. And in some ways, you certainly need both. Let me get to that in a second. though. It begins with my own past, when I began blogging, about LinkedIn, I launched my blog, which became Neal schaffer.com, way back in July of 2008. And all I blogged was LinkedIn. In fact, the name of the blog, I lost on wordpress.com. And it was like your expert answers to your LinkedIn questions. That was literally the name of the blog, not the best brand. But I really wasn't thinking about that, because I wasn't in this for business, then I was a Asia Pacific sales bizdev executive. And blogging for me was just another way to network 24/7, virtually and share information you meet people. So I began with LinkedIn. And I decided to turn that blog into a book and I sort of became known as the LinkedIn expert and I launched my consultancy, something that you may not know is that when I finished the rough draft of that book, that book was called windmill networking, understanding, leveraging and maximizing LinkedIn, that's when I moved from a wordpress.com to a wordpress.org site using windmill networking.com as the domain. So when I finished the rough draft of that book, which was in March of 2009, I already felt like I had accomplished what I wanted to accomplish with it. Everything that I knew about LinkedIn that I thought would be helpful to professionals. At the time, I wasn't even focusing on businesses, it was really professionals. I thought that everything that could be used was in the book. There wasn't much more to say. So at that point, I felt like pun intended, I had turned a chapter on my life. And I started getting interested in other platforms. And if you remember 2009, Twitter had just debuted at South by Southwest in 2008. And Facebook was starting to get a little bit of traction as it opened up to non university students a little bit earlier than that time. So I began to find a love in these other social networks that there was life beyond LinkedIn. And when I launched my social media consultancy in January 2010, I had four different companies from four different industries all have the same need, which was How do they leverage social media for their business? And I can't say, Well, this is how you leverage LinkedIn. But I can't help you outside of LinkedIn. And I could have done that. And there are some people that do do that with a specific platform. But I wanted to help businesses leverage social. And LinkedIn was only a part of the plan a part of the picture. There were social networks outside of LinkedIn. And guess what if they were b2c at that time, although there are ways for b2c to leverage LinkedIn, that may not be the platform you want to strategize on. In other words, if you go to a doctor, you don't tell the doctor what you have, you tell the doctor your symptoms, and they propose something for it, that you might have this, you might have that, let's take some X rays, let's hear some medicine. And that is sort of I wanted to become the Doctor of social media, or the doctor of social media marketing, I thought that that is necessary. If I want to pursue best practices, in my job, in my work in my career in my life, I have to provide the best thing that businesses need. And that may not be in my niche. Now, without a doubt, it's that niche, LinkedIn that got my name out there. And in terms of being heard in a noisy market, a niche will allow you to do that. But I sort of got bored by just focusing on one social network. And maybe that's because I'm this, you know, more of like the startup serial entrepreneur type, although I haven't really done many startups outside of my own brand and, and helping other startups. But I wanted to sort of move on. And I didn't want to become this one trick pony. And I didn't want to just do one social network for the rest of my life. But what's interesting is even for a lot of people that just started talking about one social network, there's a lot of podcasts about Instagram. And at some point, these podcasts about Instagram start talking about landing pages, they start talking about building your list, they start talking about things outside of their niche, once they've already gained an audience for their niche, because they need to offer additional value above and beyond their niche. Because that's what people need. Social networks don't exist in a vacuum. Social media does not exist in a vacuum. It's all part of digital marketing, which is all part of marketing. So this is sort of, you know, when people ask about the niche, I do believe that if there is something you have, I mean, if your business obviously has something that is competitive in one specific niche area, it makes sense to go for it. But even companies that started with niches, I'm thinking of companies like HubSpot, that now do everything digital marketing. I'm thinking of like MailChimp, have you been to MailChimp website recently, they look like an enterprise digital marketing solution. They do everything right. Most companies, in fact, most websites, I'm really infatuated with influencer marketing hub.com, if you've heard my previous podcast about my own keyword research and SEO strategy, and that is a site now that publishes content, not just about influencer marketing, about everything digital. And even sites like social media dashboard sites that have nothing to do with influencer marketing, published content around influencer marketing, they serve the needs of their customers, because the customers don't just use the tool to use a tool, they use a tool to solve a problem. Businesses don't look for people who seek out people with a niche, because they have a need for that niche. They have a problem that they want to solve. And they think that that niche expertise will help them solve that problem. So in my career, that's where I went. Now, my second book was also about LinkedIn. But since my first book wasn't about LinkedIn for business, I made sure my second book was solidly LinkedIn for business, maximizing LinkedIn for sales and social media marketing was the name of the book before we had terms like social selling and employee advocacy, I was talking about them in this book that was published back in 2011. And that's when I went generalist social media marketing strategy, maximize your social that represented the work that I did at the time, the promise of that book, and of my work was to cover every platform, because if I'm going to be a social media strategist, I needed to be proficient in every platform. I needed to be a generalist in order to be the doctor to prescribe the most appropriate and effective solution. So going forward, after I published maximize your silver just say, Neil, wait a minute, didn't you niche down into influencer marketing when you publish the age of influence? Uh, you know me pretty well, don't you? But that book was less about me niching down and more about finding an area of digital and social media marketing that I thought I was very, very underrepresented and underserved in terms of resources, and knowledge that can really empower businesses and professionals. So, you know, when I went over this, and I'll refer back to that previous episode I did, about why I double down on blogging, which you should listen to if you want to hear more about this. But that's where and as a reminder, for those that already listened, you know, I'm coming out with a book on influencer marketing. That's where I developed, interestingly enough, a lot of digital marketing skills around the fact that I wanted to get as much visibility as possible for that book. But here we go, again, the yin and the yang, the niche attracted a whole new breed of companies that wanted to work with me, this is when I launched my fractional cmo service. And it has been my most successful services of all the different types of consulting products that I have offered. And what happened was, all these companies reached out to me with for them, not all of them, but for some of them, you know, influencer marketing is sort of this shiny new toy. And yes, we know we need to do it, we know it can be effective, we want your help. But once again, this is where I took a step back. So okay, let's have a meeting, let's have a phone call a zoom call. And when I spoke with not every company, but a lot of companies, the solution that they were looking for, was not influencer marketing, the solution that they were looking for was increased visibility in social media, increased sales, increased website traffic increase in their employee advocacy program, whatever it is, and for a lot of these companies, from my doctor, Neil, Dr. Social media, doctor, digital marketing, whatever you want to call it, from my perspective, the solution that could best serve them was not influencer marketing, it was something else. And it was something obviously within the realm of digital and social media marketing, but it wasn't what they asked for. And I find that when you have a niche, people seek a solution to their problems. With that niche, you have to be able to tell if you are a professional, you know what, I cannot serve you well, because even though you think this niche can solve this problem, it really can't. So the niche gives you visibility. But it doesn't always solve all the problems that people that have an interest in a niche have. And that's where I come back to the role of the generalists have been able to say, you know, what, I can't help you there. But I can help you here. And this is really, really important, not just if you're an entrepreneur, or you know, consultant coach, like me listening, listening to my podcast. But if you're a marketer, working at a company, you need to be proficient at a lot of different things, not just one niche, where you can, I guess, rely on people that have niche knowledge for certain positions in your company. But look at it this way, I teach a digital business certification program or digital business certificate program. At the Irish Management Institute. I spent one day teaching anything and everything about digital and social media marketing to executives, these executives come from all sorts of different industries, and all sorts of different disciplines. Some are CEOs, obviously, some are CFOs. Some are VPs of HR, some are directors of it. And when you get a chance to be part of an executive meeting, the CEOs of a company, know enough about each discipline to be able to manage them to be able to find the right people. They don't just have one niche, base of knowledge, they need to have broader knowledge. Otherwise, they can't properly run the company. Although they rely on experts to help them run the company, they still need to have some general understanding of business. That's why we have Masters of Business Administration programs, right to teach us about all those different disciplines. So I would argue, then, if you are in marketing, and you want to become the CMO, you want to become the VP of marketing. I'm not going to ask you to study stuff outside of marketing, but within marketing, you need to know everything that can help your company. Sorry, I only do Instagram. Sorry, I only do that. That's not acceptable. That in a corporate world is a junior position. Oh, we'll bring in a LinkedIn expert for three months. And there's value in being that LinkedIn expert don't get me wrong. But when you go above and beyond that to say, You know what, I noticed that your marketing automation, you haven't updated it in a decade. There's a lot of great technology out there. I'd like to help you implement that I can show you how I can help you grow your list and generate more, you know, SQL, sales qualified leads from your current email database, for instance. So these are the things I think about when people talk about niches. So like I said, in order to become a generalist, you need to have niche knowledge. But it's not just one niche at the end of the day. It's a combination of niches, you want to talk social media strategy, awesome, you want to talk LinkedIn, awesome, you want to talk to influencer marketing, awesome. You want to talk or anything else Awesome. That is, I believe, for the modern marketer, for the modern entrepreneur, considering how important digital marketing is to business growth going forward in a digital first society. This really defines the current work that I do as a fractional CMO. Because it goes beyond just one niche, one category, it goes down to the problems that companies have, and the potential solutions for them. Using the entire toolkit of tools and channels that Digital Marketing provides. It's what I get excited about. It's why with every experience I have with a customer, or I use my blog as sort of my r&d lab, I will research things that I want to learn more about, and dig into, and write blog posts about them to share that knowledge with everybody, or a podcast or interview with an expert, where I learned every day is a learning experience every day. You know, life is not like an RPG, a role playing game. But every day, it's about increasing that level, the player level your hat, right, and increasing that experience. Because you know what the next new customer or the next new challenge, you have more experience to dwell from, or to pull from or a coal from whatever you want to call it, and be able to offer a better and better solution based on knowledge, you then become the Doctor of marketing, because based on your broad general expertise, combined with your experience, you will undoubtedly provide better service if you are an entrepreneur, or you will do better work. If you are a corporate marketer. I hope that this made sense. I'm not saying you shouldn't niche down. I do believe if you're not known for anything, the niche, without a doubt gives you that visibility. But as you niche, I want you to be thinking about the broader picture of the role of the generalists. And I don't want you to be afraid to go outside of your niche to gain other expertise, which I believe you will need, regardless of what niche you decide for what industry, this is a really, really important in my perspective conversation, that just doesn't happen enough. But at the end of the day, we are here to serve. And we can't define our customers, our boss's needs by a singular channel. It just doesn't work that way. And with digital, and knowing all the different channels in which people engage with us, it actually becomes less and less realistic over time. So thank you for hearing me out. If you agreed with the topic. If you disagree with the topic, I would love your feedback. You have a lot of different ways of providing me that feedback. You can just email me Neal at Neal Schaffer calm, you can write a review of this podcast and give me your feedback there. You know, listen to episode number 230, or whatever this episode number is going to be. And this is my feedback. You know, reviews are awesome. Uh, you can tag me in social media and share this with your friends and network. I believe a podcast should be a two way conversation. So I with every episode, I'll be asking for your opinion, because I really want to improve this podcast and in that aspect, I won't know as the doctor, I don't know your pains into you let me know what they are. I will know what to cover until I get your feedback. So that's why it's really critical. Anyways, I'll stop there. I want to thank you again for investing your time. In this podcast. This is your digital marketing coach, signing off. You've been listening to your digital marketing coach, questions, comments, requests, links, go to podcast dot Neal schaffer.com. Get the show notes to this and 200 plus podcast episodes at Neal schaffer.com to tap into the 400 Plus blog posts that Neil has published to support your business. While you're there, check out Neil's Digital First group coaching membership community if you or your business needs a little helping hand. See you next time on your digital marketing coach.