Richie is a Storyteller. Skip is a Specialist. Zak is an Expert. Julie is a Drifter. Jamie would be a Growth Hacker, had the Internet existed.

The 5 Kinds of Marketing People

Which are you?

I’m always happy to meet with someone who’s between gigs and looking to “network.” It’s no big deal for me, but feels like a big deal to them. Being untethered from a full-time job can rattle your confidence, make you feel a little disconnected. People remember those willing to get together then, I certainly remember the people who did it for me.

I also field a lot of requests for referrals of marketing people in Boston, particularly from VCs and recruiters. I created a tag in LinkedIn for folks I know are in play, to help me scan candidates for specific openings. The hard part is always matching the kind of marketing person a particular employer is looking for with the kind of marketing person a given job seeker is. I don’t mean levels here (CMO / VP / Director…) I mean types. Marketing’s a big tent, with lots of specialties and niches. Unfortunately there’s no standardized system of marketing person classification to make matching people and gigs easier to do.

So here’s one.

Standardized System of Marketing Person Classification

Setting level aside, there are 5 kinds of marketing people: The Storyteller, The Growth Hacker, The Specialist, The Expert, and The Drifter.

The Storyteller

Don Draper, Patron Saint of Storytellers.

The Storyteller is your basic brand guru, someone who can make the complicated, simple; the vague, compelling; the mundane, profound. Appreciation for what these people do is on the rise in Boston, though they’ve always been held in high regard in places like New York and Los Angeles. Many of them hail from these places, or from the handful of Big Impressive Ad Agencies still hanging on to relevance by the fingernails.

This is the rarest species of marketing person here, and that’s a shame for local startups. Almost all emerging businesses need a simpler way to explain why they matter and an emotional value proposition to compliment their rational one. I have a particular set of skills in this area, as do local people like Chris Colbert, John Young, Sarah Dekin, David Knies, and caroline beaulieu.

The Growth Hacker

Next is The Growth Hacker. This is what most emerging companies think they need, and very often do.

Deliver the goods in this role, and you can wear whatever you damn well please.

The Growth Hacker is a digital native focused on driving business “at scale,” which is code for “with as little human contact as possible.” These people have a geometrically expanding arsenal of digital point tools, Inbound Best Practices, and software platforms at their disposal. Each promises to get large numbers of people to push a big, red “Call Me” button, like rodents at a sugary steel teat.

The Growth Hacker is an important and skilled person, sometimes a founder, and usually among the first marketing people brought into a startup. The value they add is quantifiable, and they can even help test and refine a customer value prop toward minimum viable product.

We have an abundance of these folks in Boston, the majority under 35, and flannel clad. Most make a good living. The smart ones know software is always eating their livelihood, bit by bit, and focus on keeping up with the new Marketing Tech (and Anti-Marketing Tech) that ensures their continued job security.

The Specialist

Marketing people should have a personal style. If you don’t, get some.

The third kind of marketing person is The Specialist. The Specialist has deep skills in one functional domain, like PR, Direct Marketing, Media, Events, or Promotions. They typically shy away from startups except in freelance roles, and ply their wares either at functionally specialized agencies, or in businesses across a range of industries.

The Expert

The inverse of the Specialist is The Expert. The Expert is focused on a given industry vertical — Consumer Packaged Goods, Enterprise Tech, Healthcare, Non-Profit, Retail, etc. — and has good working knowledge of all the tactics most often applied in that vertical.

Most Product Marketing people are Experts, since a deep working knowledge of a specific customer type is most highly valued in that role. Most agency people are Specialists, choosing to go deep in a discipline they love.


Each of the above offers a viable career path for smart people willing to work hard, though the paths from each to the Executive Suite differ. Storytellers usually need to pull themselves out of the clouds and get closer to sales to prove they can deliver business results, and not just copy. Growth Hackers and Specialists typically need to broaden their portfolio of skills and expertise, to credibly manage people outside their chosen functional area. Experts often need to deepen their knowledge of success drivers in their chosen vertical, across departments outside of Marketing like Product, Sales, Customer Service, even Finance.

The path to management is far narrower for the fifth type of marketing person, the type which is also the least valued, and the most common.

The Drifter

Visit the Marketing Department of almost any big company, and you’ll encounter row after uniform row of The Drifter. Generic marketing people… functionaries, process stewards. They conform to departmental standards of non-conformity… meticulously casual in ill-fitting logo merch, colorful nerf weapons displayed prominently in workspaces, joyless and unused.

Some defaulted to marketing, having run away from math or some other collegiate testing regime that required objective answers. Others just kind of ended up here… likable enough people who faded from whatever they thought they wanted to do before. They took a marketing role that promised more fun and less accountability. Who could say no?

No one asks my help finding The Drifter. No one thinks they’re The Drifter, but we all know so many are.

So are you?

The bad news is if none of the other types fit, there’s at least a chance you are. The good news is you can still change things. Know what it’s going to take?

Figure out what you love, and get great at that.

Is it stories? Great. Study the immortals, write every week, find startups who need your help and give it to them freely.

Is it digital? Are you working for the best person you ever saw who does that job? Are you working at a place that teaches it best?

Is it another specialty? Are you at an agency whose work you’re proud of? Are you better at what you do this year than you were last?

Is it the business you’re in? If it is, promote yourself. If it’s not, start talking to people in that business, get smarter about it, and get your ass into it. No matter what it takes.

Not so bad a deal if the ship’s going where you need to go.

Being great at something is what the first 4 types of marketing people have in common. It happens 10% through innate talent, and 90% because they made a decision at some point to focus their careers, typically on the thing they loved to do most. Over time they got great at it, then they got known for being great at it, and the rest took care of itself.

And in the end, that’s the only kind of marketing person you really want to be.