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Join Taylor and Richard as they dive into the T-shaped marketer concept by Brian Balfour, exploring key skills at the base, marketing foundation, and channel expertise layers. Taylor emphasizes specialization and taking bets on emerging channels for career success. Tune in for actionable insights and expert advice on excelling in e-commerce marketing. Subscribe now for more valuable discussions!

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[00:00:00] Richard Gaffin: Hey folks, Richard here. If you've been listening to the podcast for a while, you know that generating profit is the name of the game right now, but doing that reliably is hard, and knowing how to actually grow profitably is even harder. That's where CTC's profit system comes in. It's our growth strategy service, specifically designed for e-commerce brands generating between 10 and a hundred million dollars in revenue this year.

[00:00:23] Richard Gaffin: Hey folks, welcome to the Ecommerce Playbook Podcast. I'm your host, Richard Gaffin, director of Digital Product Strategy here at CTC, and I'm joined today by PrescientAI Commerce Cup Champion Taylor Holiday, Sunday Swagger. He's all done up in his fit. So tell us a little bit about uh, about what happened there. Dude.

[00:00:39] Taylor Holiday: Yeah, shout out to Team Mickelson out at the Prescient AI Commerce Cup, the inaugural hosted by Michael. True and Nick Shackleford out there. It was a great time to be had out in the desert. Shout out to all the guys on Team Nicholson. We brought, we brought home the inaugural cup. It was quite a throttling.

It wasn't close. That's the, that's the only drawback. People love a good competition. This wasn't that, this was really an annihilation, but great time. Had in the desert. By a bunch of e-commerce folks trying to play some golf. And yeah, really enjoyed it. So I decided, and I'm going out to the desert to play golf today in Palm Springs.

Hope to see many of you at the eTail West event that Ct c will be hosting today. So I, I figured it's good luck. Right? Throw it back on. See what we could do.

[00:01:20] Richard Gaffin: The equivalent of Tiger wearing the red shirt basically, right?

[00:01:22] Taylor Holiday: Exactly. That's right. That's right.

[00:01:24] Richard Gaffin: Yeah. What'd you what'd you shoot outta curiosity?

[00:01:26] Taylor Holiday: One better than my opponent. Each time it was a stifling match play incentive. I hate shout out to, to George. You know who you are. I won't, I won't mention you first and last name because of the mental crippling that you experienced. At the hands of that shot on nine. You know which one I'm talking about from underneath the tree, the six iron, the low one.

I know you're still thinking about it.

[00:01:48] Richard Gaffin: There you go. Hey, well, as my my old golf coach always used to say, the game always wins. So it's important not,

you know, not to get too arrogant

[00:01:54] Taylor Holiday: it's true. It'll come back around.

[00:01:56] Richard Gaffin: yeah, exactly. All right, folks. Well, so today we're having a little conversation, so. Maybe I'll set it up in context by saying, last week we had a great live q and a session with our admission members where one of the things that came up was the, the t-shaped marketer. And so part of this is, is a reference to an essay by Brian Balfour. Around the idea of, and I'll just kind of explain the concept overall, which is the idea that you need to be, have wide ranging experience in whatever field you're into, but obviously for us in this particular case, it's marketing.

You wanna have a wide range of experience of shallow, but wide, let's say, and then a couple of channels where you go really, really deep on. And that kind of makes, if you can picture it, sort of a t shape. And so what we wanna talk about today is like for particularly let's say. A young buyer at CTC who aspires to be the best possible marketer they can be. What are the characteristics of the t-shaped marketer in this e-commerce field or in, in the e-commerce field rather when we think about growth? So in Brian Balfour's kind of the way he sets it up, there's a layer of base knowledge and then there's a layer of what he calls the marketing foundation. And then there's like a couple of channels that, that, in this particular diagram, but a couple of channels where you want to go deep on it. But what I wanted to talk about today and what we're gonna chat about today is tailor your sense of what the base knowledge and marketing foundation layer should be for a marketer in our field. And then we'll have a conversation about exactly what channels you should go deep on and what it looks like to go deep on this channel. So maybe let's kick it off with that. Like what, or, and maybe more generally, like what do you think, what's your thoughts around the T-shaped marker? How did this come to you and how did you start sort of thinking about applying it to our field?

[00:03:33] Taylor Holiday: Yeah, that's a great question. This began when I started out building. Our growth strategy training at CTC, and I was trying to answer this question for myself, which is, what would I teach someone who wanted to become a customer acquisition expert or a growth strategy expert? What would be the curriculum that I would develop?

And Brian Balfour, who's somebody I've respected a lot in terms of how they think or how he thinks and writes has an awesome article. And the title of the article, if you wanna look it up, is how to become a Customer Acquisition Expert. So it's actually starts from this premise, which I get asked a lot.

Which are a lot of our employees are aspiring towards, which is how would I become an expert in this discipline? You could call it growth strategy. You could call it customer acquisition. You could call it paid media. I think there's more broad digital marketing application here. And how would you become an expert?

And so through that lens, I was developing a curriculum and I think that the T-shaped marketer idea became the foundation for how I built. Curriculum and

the idea, like you said, is to start with a broad base of general knowledge that applies in our industry where you want to get to 80% knowledge level.

You know, you're not gonna be an expert in any of these foundational knowledge sets necessarily, but you need a. To understand the principles that apply. And then there is some area, and I think this is what I love, is that you don't wanna just be a generalist. You want to be a specialist in something such that you have reputation and expertise in an individual discipline that you carry with you through which you see the world.

As a really elite level producer. And so it requires both these like things that I think sometimes we think about as being in opposition to one another, which is, should I be a generalist or specialist? And the answer is both. You should have a general foundational set of knowledge and then you should have a discipline.

And a lot like in the medical field where you, when you go to medical school, you have a general baseline knowledge of anatomy and physiology and biology. But then you have a discipline where maybe you're. Cardio you know cardiac surgeon and that's your sort of area of discipline. It's not too diff dissimilar to what I would approach this skill in marketing, which is to have this based on that level of knowledge and then a deep specialty or expertise as well.

[00:05:42] Richard Gaffin: Right. So let's talk about the kind of first layer at least in, in Balfour's construction here, which is the base knowledge layer. And the way he defines this is that they're non-marketing specific subjects that provide a base to build from. So obviously he has his own sets. One of them is statistics and others is branding and positioning and storytelling.

But what would you say are the sort of key general characteristics that make for a good marketer?

[00:06:04] Taylor Holiday: Yeah. I think that what I love about his base knowledge level is it approaches. The the act of marketing from quantitative lens. So he has statistics and programming as two of the foundation. I think both of those you could maybe substitute programming with prompt engineering in, you know, 2024.

But the idea is the ability to sort of query and produce information quickly and at scale. He has behavioral psychology, which I would also include, which is to say that we are trying to motivate humans to do things. Understanding what motivates humans is critically important, and those could be put into more of a quantitative lens in many cases.

And then he also introduces, a creative spectrum, right? So he talks about storytelling and branding and then he talks about design principles and he would reference it. 'cause most of his work is a lot of like software product design, where growth marketing is a function of product design. So he calls ux ui, but I would call design principles, understanding color theory and those kinds of things as.

Other substitutes that you could use. So you have sort of an understanding of humans and the behaviors that motivate them. Math and how to do it, and how to think well about statistics, and then creative and design as all components of what you are going to be doing as a marketer. And I think that foundational layer to get to be conversant in all of these things such that you could interact with a specialist in that discipline be thoughtful about it, have it inform your own work is critical and a really great place to start.

[00:07:33] Richard Gaffin: Yeah. Is there anything so. I'll just lay out like his set of base know, or his base knowledge categories, rather, a statistics programming project like design principles, analytics, behavior psychology, and finally branding, positioning, storytelling. Is there anything that you, from your experience, would add to that base foundation layer?

[00:07:52] Taylor Holiday: Yeah, I think he has a great list there. But you won't be surprised by my answer. I think it's finance. I

think that's the other foundational skill that I would add into the mix here is to really begin to root yourself in an understanding of basic finance principles. And I think that that would be the one block that it seems to me is absent from this consideration of the foundational skills that you should have.

[00:08:15] Richard Gaffin: Totally. Okay, so then let's move from that base knowledge layer, which again, these are general skills that provide a foundation for marketing excellence to the marketing foundation layer. So again, these are. In, in essence, like the sort of range of disciplines within marketing, only a couple of which let's say that you're specifically an expert in, but, so I, I'll maybe I'll just go ahead and kind of read off his list and then we can talk about what we would add to that and maybe how we would kind of expand on it.

So, CRO AB testing database querying, Photoshop and wire framing, Excel modeling, copywriting and funnel marketing are sort of his layer of marketing specific. Skills, but what would you add, add or take away? Or in your experience, like what, what makes the most sense for this layer?

[00:09:00] Taylor Holiday: Yeah, I think some of those are in some ways a little bit duplicitous. Like he says, programming as a foundational skill and then database querying. That's maybe just a reference down to like the specific programming language to learn Python versus, you know. HTML or whatever. But I think that C-R-O-S-E-O is the other one that I think starts to begin to apply to our world More specifically, I even think about like CMS management for the core platforms like Shopify, et cetera, become, I.

Really critical paid media as a principle. So just think about the skills that relate to our world. I think copywriting is an excellent one. I think Excel is an interesting skill. I would almost put that into channel specific though, like it seems to blur the lines between like when you get to the channel level, you start naming Shopify Meta, Google, et

cetera. So I think you could do like SEM search engine marketing is more broadly applicable there. You start to think about the categorically categorical disciplines. Email marketing, I think would be, you know, you could substitute that for channel potentially, but these lines get a little blurry here. But I would

just think about like the core, if you thought about all the roles in a modern e-commerce. Marketing org. What are all the jobs? That's sort of the, the, the list there that

begins to develop of things that you want to have a point of view on. This is where you would sort of move from the general that could be applied into almost any industry to now you're gonna think about. I. How you apply those skills in a specific industry in a little bit more, where we're getting out of like this job, these sets of skills could apply to almost any marketing job in any industry to, when you talk, start talking about CRO and SEO, now you're talking about people who have a website.

You're know, you're not

necessarily marketing a restaurant in that case. But I think you just start to get a little bit more channel specific in this case. And I, I, I, I would probably build the t with just two layers. I don't know that there needs to be a

third layer here for the level of complexity, but I think that you can start to get to the C-R-O-S-E-O-S-E-M, paid social organic social even as a category of things, email, SMS, and you start to. Define that because when you think about that, the next layer we're gonna go to, which is channel specific. Now you

get to the distinction between TikTok, Google, Pinterest, Snapchat, et cetera versus Klaviyo versus Sendlane versus these kinds of things that you would get to a more specific set of information.


[00:11:13] Richard Gaffin: Right. On this like marketing foundation layer, just say here for a sec, like, what would you include things like, let's say inventory, planning, operations, like 

[00:11:23] Taylor Holiday: yeah.

that's a great question. I, I think if you were, if you were talking about e-commerce, that being fluent in that language and understanding the systems of it would be really, really useful. So that's a, that's a good call out to say like, what are the other components in the same way that finance exists, how do I understand basic operations principles? What is cash conversion cycle? How does it relate to demand planning? What does the buying process entail? What are the risk factors? What do people in that organization care about? Yeah, those are all the kinds of things that could become really useful to help you understand how to be impactful.

[00:11:56] Richard Gaffin: Yeah. Okay. So let's finally we get down to the channel expertise layer. This is, you know, obviously his list here says just viral, I don't know, FB ads, display mobile, email, P-P-C-S-E-O, social PR, sales, content marketing partnerships. And then obviously for us it's like Facebook or obvious meta, TikTok, Pinterest, whatever else.

So is there, like, how, how do you think about this particular layer and is there anything, 

[00:12:19] Taylor Holiday: I think this is where. One of the underappreciated things in our industry is that you should have a career, almost a first career. That's a discipline in one of these things, in a very narrow way. And so this is one of the interesting things about the Ts shape and the way I want everyone to think about this is that this is a lifelong journey to create this. It doesn't happen in sequence. It's not like you build the foundation, then you build the next layer, then you build the next layer. It's

that, imagine it is sort of like a color by number and you should be always trying to fill in squares.

One of the things, and I think that in our world, a lot of this, we're talking to media buyers who are like, okay, your primary thing where you're gonna be the top 1% in the world, like, that's the ambition with the tee, is that you are as good as anybody in the world at this individual skill. Should be something very specific that you become known for within the organization. And that's, a lot of people are resistant to that idea to start. They're afraid to get pigeonholed in some way. And I'd say, no, no, no, no. It's way easier to be an expert who expands than to be a generalist who people think of when they specifically need a problem. And so this is like, I'm talking five to seven years of your career focused in an individual area and discipline in a way that gives you like that top 1% knowledge set in the world.

[00:13:31] Richard Gaffin: Right, and I think that there's also an element here of like, it's easier to sell your skillset when it is specific in this way as well. This is kind of what you're saying, but I think that there's a sense in which. Channel specific platform knowledge feels like almost wizardry to people who don't understand it.

Whereas if you say like, oh, I'm a great copywriter, they're like, well, okay, I can write too. There's a way in which it's like, it feels like a little less esoteric, you know what I mean? Or I, I'm a great graphic designer. It's like, well, okay, sure. But

[00:13:58] Taylor Holiday: That's right, and 

[00:13:59] Richard Gaffin: if you were to say like, 

[00:13:59] Taylor Holiday: I'll give you an example. 

[00:14:00] Richard Gaffin: Photoshop, that would be a different thing 

[00:14:03] Taylor Holiday: Totally technical skills tend to over index in value here.

Like I'll I'll give you an example. If I were to start my career over looking back at work organizations, the primary thing I would develop is. Skill in Excel. If you are a master in Excel, and you can do this with like, I think with like 500 hours of focused effort, you could become like top 1% in the world at this.

There is no skill that translates across every function of an organization in a way that will separate yourself if you can build amazing spreadsheets.

And so I just think about he has Excel modeling in here, and I, I've experienced this. Inside of CTC, we have somebody who's like. They feel like a wizard to me.


use that word. They, and, and where I experienced this is our designers, programmers and people who can build in Excel, they, they make things in a way that becomes present and is experienced by lots of people in a way that gets pointed to, and that tends to be, I. Even bonus points versus, like you said, some of the skills that kind of happen in the background. Don't get noticed as frequently or experienced by as many people in the organization. So it's harder to, to use them as a career trampoline, so to speak.

[00:15:09] Richard Gaffin: Yeah. I think maybe there's something, there's something to be said for the idea that like, it's maybe easier, well, I don't know how this would work, like easier to be a great generalist than it is to be great at something specific. And so if you spend the effort to become great at something specific, actually than expanding into it to become a generalist, it becomes easier rather than 

[00:15:26] Taylor Holiday: Well that. Because what you develop are skills for work. So this is why athletes, I think, tend to translate well into work organizations is because they've essentially honed the process of becoming a specialist, which is just hours and hours of practice.


And I think that is a skill, the, the skill of.

Practicing is really underappreciated in a business setting is that it's not normal. WW I've talked about this before on this podcast where it is very normal for me as a baseball player to finish a practice that was three hours long and then go into a batting cage and take 500 repetitions of hitting off of a tee of very monotonous, repetitive activity for the sake of honing my craft. But I can't, I have almost never heard of somebody finishing work and going home and. Banging out 500 reps of Excel formulas to become better at their skill of, now I, I think that happens in design where people, but it tends to sort of manifest in this way. That's like kinda my side gig or my

hobby. It doesn't get framed as like, I'm going to practice

my skill. You know, I, I don't think that's very normal in a business setting and I think. If you can develop expertise, it's usually another place. I've seen this a lot in CTC is we have musicians, so people who came up as like they played in an orchestra or they played a violin and they had hours and hours of practice where they sat and monotonously played notes, repeating motions over and over.

That skill tends to become a resource to you in lots of different ways.

[00:16:52] Richard Gaffin: Yeah, totally. And there's an aspect too of like those things like athletics and music also tend towards being people's passions as well. And I think I've seen, like in a lot of great media buyers, one thing that's characteristic of them is that they will keep doing it af after hours, whether it's like on their, their side hustle or they just like, sort of can't get off the Facebook platform for a particular client or something like that, because ultimately it's a thing that they love to practice, but a thing that they also love, which kind of goes into.

The, the T-shaped element, or actually like the vertical part of the T, which is what you go deep on. So Brian Balfour's advice for this obviously is like, what matches your skillset, what matches your passion? And then there's also an element of like, what, what type of thing will make you most valuable at work?

So we're talking about being maybe specific to a channel, but like what other like nuances or like 

[00:17:37] Taylor Holiday: So the other thing he says, which I think is really important is take a bet on an emerging channel.

And this is just like, it's, whether you call it the Red Ocean principle or a function of supply and demand, is that if you become an expert of a pool of not that many experts, it's way easier to stand out even if that market is small. I recorded this video that was an ad for this company, Wix, that was like, Hey, if I was starting a new agency today, I wouldn't start a Shopify meta agency.

There's no way, like there's 10 trillion of those. I would start probably right now, what I would start is like a TikTok Shops agency where I would take a very narrow emerging thing that could be big, but even if I get to like. It's big enough that I could build a meaningful business off of it. And so the key is look around your organization and see where there's energy bubbling towards a new thing, and go become the person that knows more about that thing than everybody else when, partially because there's nobody else that knows anything. And so you're starting from zero. Whereas if you try and become, you know, the. Best expert at Facebook ads, like you're dealing with a very deep pond of people with many, many years of experience that you're, it's gonna be really hard to offset the amount of hours that they've already logged in that direction. So taking a bet on an emerging platform, especially early on in your career, is a great way to potentially leverage the lack of competition to gain reputation.

[00:18:57] Richard Gaffin: Right. Yes. There was a, I remember this like when TikTok ads first started really popping off a couple of years ago, and there was sort of like a, a rush of like TikTok ads experts who were essentially just. 22-year-old guys who'd done like a lot of reading about TikTok. And that was kind of, and of course you can look at that and say like, well, how could you possibly be an expert?

You haven't had much time in this. But the reality is like they probably had more time in TikTok ads than anybody else in the world, including the people who are running the TikTok ads platform. So that there's a real opportunity when nobody knows what it even means to be an expert in a particular platform.

To come in and kind of take a stamp, plant your flag and say like, I am actually that expert because I've done the work for it. And then like kind of frame yourself that way.

[00:19:35] Taylor Holiday: I even think about this at CDCI have two examples of fairly niche things where people have stood out to me experientially as like trying to plant the fact, oh, there's really three of them.

One was, do you remember Sam? And she decided to make herself like the Snapchat queen.

And so it was like, I'm gonna know more about.

The Snapchat ad platform. Now, maybe there was the wrong bet in retrospective, but she developed this reputation at CT C that all of a sudden anything related to Snapchat. It was like, oh, talk to Sam, and like, did she really know more than anybody else? No. She just sort of had built this reputation and brand.

The other is like Vince and Supermetrics.

Supermetrics is just this obscure, like connector that connects ad data APIs to spreadsheets, but it's like kind of annoying to figure out, and it's just one of those things that if you spend a few hours in it, you'll really know how to do it. Like GA four is another example of this for me.

Like if I was in an organization right now, everyone hates GA four. They're annoyed by it.

I would know more about it than everybody. Like that would be a great way, like, pick these things that you know, are gonna remain president of the organization and be like, read the manual. Basically it's like reading the manual on the printer at the office.

Like nobody's gonna read the manual on the printer at the office. If you take a few hours and you read the manual, all of a sudden you know more about the printer than everybody else in the office. And

that principle I think is kind of what Brian's getting at with the idea of the emerging platform


[00:20:51] Richard Gaffin: Okay. Any other thoughts maybe on. So like the other elements that go into the decision to go deep on a particular platform. So I mean, one obviously is like, what's the most obscure, what's gonna be the most valuable to the organization? But then there's also questions around, let's say like passion and skillset and that type of thing.

How do you think about, and this is maybe more like a general life question, how do we take about assessing those things and then applying them to making that choice to say like, I'm gonna be this guy who does this thing.

[00:21:17] Taylor Holiday: My experience is that people's passions are more of a reflection of where they receive praise than it is some sort of intrinsic DDNA attribute.

Like I've watched this in my kids. They will start to self-identify as a thing that gets them positive

feedback. And so what I would say is. Be cautious with assuming that your present feeling about a subject is actually reflective of your quote unquote passion. And try and see what it feels like to be the expert for a few minutes, and then all of a sudden you might become pretty passionate about it. That's my, that's what I've watched play out. I feel like.

[00:21:54] Richard Gaffin: Yeah, totally. Well, I think like we've definitely, it's, it's such a millennial cliche to say follow your passion, and I think it's been really poorly defined for a while. And I think like one thing that everybody's sort of discovering is that. Like passion is built, essentially. Passion is grown into, rather than, it's like, well, I was born loving this one thing, so that's the thing that I'm gonna do.

Because when you're, you know, a teenager or whatever, there's like five things that you're passionate about. 

[00:22:17] Taylor Holiday: That's right. 

[00:22:17] Richard Gaffin: sports, or an astronaut, or a musician or whatever. And as you grow into things, like one thing that I've discovered about myself is that updating spreadsheets feels pretty good.

It's not necessarily a passion of mine, but god damn, I like love to do it. And so I think like finding those, like understanding that, that there are other, there are places, little niches in the world where you could, you could really fit in and that you don't even know about yet, I think is a really important element to it as well.

[00:22:41] Taylor Holiday: Yeah, absolutely.

[00:22:42] Richard Gaffin: Okay. Cool. Well I think like that's, that sort of covers it. Like what? In terms of like what, is there anything else you wanna hit on? Like a conclusion here around like how do you take this? What's the first step you take to start applying this thinking to your own life? Like

[00:22:54] Taylor Holiday: Yeah, so, so what I would try to do is be intentional to be always filling one of the squares. Okay? So

this is, this is like when I sit with people, what I tell them is like, all right, let's build your tea. I. Go right now. Build a sheet of paper and write down and then rate your, like, let's start with that foundational skills.

There's finance and there's behavioral psychology, and there's design thinking. Like rate yourself on a scale of one to 10 at your present knowledge. Set in each of those foundational skills, and then avoid what is immediately gonna fall over you, which is the sense of inadequacy that I don't know, all of this stuff and just. Reframe this as a lifelong learning objective, which is to say that at any given time, I'm going to pick a bucket and I'm going to fill it. Like for me right now, the last year, there's been two things I really wanted to understand. The idea of strategy I. It's a principle that's existed for a while. So I've been reading a lot of Richard Rummel right now,

right? And I wanted to understand more about strategy. So it was like, okay, I'm gonna fill my strategy bucket. And then I've just started reading super forecasters because we're, we're really endeavoring on this task. And I realized, again, this is a thing that there's whole industries that exist around that I wanna learn more about great forecasting and thinking, and the standards at which you measure success in forecasting. So just pick some square and hold yourself to always be filling that square. And then I'd say the other thing to identify is the, is the place that you want to go deep on, because that's where you have to really log repetition, not just learning. You have to go do the work in a novel way where I've never been a designer, that's never been my profession.

I have some general design knowledge, but I've never, 'cause I've interacted with a ton of designers and I've done some reading there, but I've, I've never done that job. So I think that if you can almost create a learning plan for yourself.

And give it a really long horizon that says like, by the time I'm 50 years old, I'm gonna have filled a lot of these buckets and just be intentional about always engaging in one of them. I think it'll be really rewarding to sort of color it in as you go and continue to level up that skill, the sense that you're always progressing, that you are getting better and more capable and more skillful as you go.

[00:24:59] Richard Gaffin: It's right. All right, folks. Always be growing your tea. I think that's the lesson here. So we'll I think that'll do it for us this week. Thank you all for listening. Hey, remember, we've probably gonna have dropped a, a reminder at the beginning of this podcast as well, but remember to subscribe. If you're listening to this and you're not a subscriber, please hit that subscribe button.

It really helps us out. And for all the rest of you, we will see you all next week. Bye-Bye.