Think back to some of your favorite Mad Men episodes. Like the ones where the creative team sits around a boardroom to brainstorm on a strategy for their presidential client, Richard Nixon. How truly knowledgeable were those marketers on politics. Not very (knowledgeable) in my opinion. Now, while things might have changed quite a bit, with the level of specialized industry research, and access to information via the Internet, enabling “smart marketers” and niche agencies to become domain experts, the question still arises amidst marketers at all levels – “How much (previous) domain knowledge is necessary to be effective on a specific project?”
Take an SEO project for example, on an esoteric field, like Quantum Physics, that nobody within a particular agency has any prior experience with. If you were the CEO, how would you tackle this challenge, keeping in mind budgetary limitations as well as client satisfaction? Here are your choices:
- Utilize the best, most adaptable SEO Specialist that you have on board, and have him (or her) dive in, increase his industry knowledge (which will take him hours of additional time, outside of the project scope – because no client wants to pay you to learn about their industry), ask the client tons of questions during the Discovery process and in general “fake it til he makes it”.
- Recruit an industry-trained, freelance copywriter or author (at your own cost), that has at least some prior SEO experience; the copywriter, being a domain expert, will work hand-in-hand with your SEO team, to fill in the gaps.
- Express your concerns to the client, and let them know about these two options, soliciting their input and possibly, additional budgeting, to accommodate the need for greater domain expertise from the SEO team. Given their natural knowledge about Quantum Physics, perhaps the client can allocate someone from their own staff to fill in the “domain knowledge gap.”
- Other – I’m sure there are other ways about it; feel free to leave ideas and suggestions in the Comments of this post, and I will try my best to give my thoughts on them.
Many problems arise in Scenario 1, when attempting to go with a top-notch tactical expert, who has to dig into pages of content that are on a foreign, technical topic. Meanwhile, Scenario 2 can also be quite hard, especially if the domain expert is a novice SEO practitioner, that will require a lot of training and hand-holding. In reality, you see a mix of all three noted approaches (above) in response to “new territory” client opportunities. In a future post, I’ll go deeper into the Pros and Cons of each. There is no one right answer for all situations. This topic comes up across the board, on the SEO front, as well as Social Media, Content Marketing and Web UX Design fronts. It is quite a hot topic in the agency world, especially when it comes to regulated industries, such as Financial Services and Healthcare. Although industry specialization has evolved quite a bit since the Mad Men era, it continues to present unique challenges, including business strategy questions, ethics, the need for greater professional development, HR issues and margin pressure.
This question is also quite important for marketers as individuals, from a career development standpoint. Should you go deeper into a particular industry, to create a nice for yourself (ie. “Travel & Tourism SEO Expert”) or remain as broad as possible, taking on different projects and diversifying your domain knowledge? We’re going to leave it there for now. Hopefully, I’ve given you something meaningful to ponder!