MP#3: The π-shaped marketing team of one

Working as a one-person marketing team is like being a multi-function Swiss Army knife.

One minute you’re writing a blog post; the next, you’re interviewing a customer to improve the website’s copy and design. You’re launching campaigns from idea to implementation.

You have your hands on many different things trying to solve problems all at the same time!

A one-person marketing team is like a Swiss army knife

I shared this visual on Twitter and LinkedIn this week and got a ton of feedback on skills that I missed:

  • For Christophe, founder of Dog Digital Agency, it was “analytics and reporting.”
  • Ronnie Higgins (Head of Content at OpenPhone) said, “marketing ops.”
  • For Aazar Shad, a growth marketing consultant, it was “paid ads.”

I missed a bunch of other things like email marketing, PR, planning, conversion optimization, partnerships, events, webinars, video marketing…

The list can go on!!!

But do you need all of that to be an effective one-person marketing team?

Of course not!

Though, there are several foundational skills that a one-person marketing team should have:

  • Owning the marketing strategy.
  • Setting goals and prioritizing work.
  • Rolling up your sleeves and executing the plan.
  • Creating marketing reports, dashboards, and forecasts.
  • Managing the expectations of the CEO and other business leaders.

Interestingly, only Gia Laudi mentioned that I missed “managing up” in the visual. It’s a critical skill for any one-person marketing team.

A proficient marketing team of one is often a π-shaped marketer.

The π-shaped marketer

Emily Kramer (former Head of Marketing at Asana and founder of MKT1) suggests in her newsletter that a one-person marketing team or first marketing hire should be a π-shaped marketer. Those marketers are experts in two functional areas of marketing: product marketing, content, or growth.

Product Marketing

  • User research
  • Positioning and messaging
  • Product launch strategy
  • Sales enablement

Content Marketing

  • SEO
  • Copywriting
  • Content writing
  • Email marketing
  • Events, webinars, etc.

Growth Marketing

  • Paid ads
  • Marketing ops
  • Conversion optimization
  • Data, analytics, and reporting
  • Optimizing user experience and onboarding flows

Product marketing + growth marketing

Based on her experience, Kramer often recommends that the first marketing hire be a product marketing/growth marketing π-shaped marketer.

I can see why. In most early-stage companies without product/market fit (PMF), validating the customer problem and product is critical, which falls in the product marketing bucket.

You also likely be the website's primary owner, meaning the positioning and messaging need to be spot on for prospects to understand what it is you sell. You’re also responsible for picking the marketing tech stack, setting up reports, and creating forecasts.

Once the startup reaches PMF, the next step is to scale and optimize (growth marketing). You might start experimenting with different channels, optimizing user flows, and tweaking the website and product copy.

Product marketing + content marketing

Kramer only sometimes recommends a product marketing/content marketing π-shaped marketer as a first marketing hire.

Here’s where I disagree with Kramer.

I’d argue that most product-led startups should recruit this type of marketer as their first marketing hire.

In my experience working for, consulting with, and being a former one-person marketing team at a product-led startup, content is what fuels the product-led growth flywheel. Since the product is self-serve, content takes on the role of biz dev, account executive, and customer success manager.

Content and copywriting are critical skills to have at this stage. You’ll likely be writing A LOT, whether those are for emails, blog posts, or landing pages. It’s also important to have a content distribution strategy. All of these fall in the content bucket.

Plus, the best content marketers I know are great at producing reports and dashboards. And in my experience, the number one way to improve and optimize the onboarding experience as a marketer is crystal-clear positioning and benefit-focused copy throughout the product experience.

Growth marketing + content marketing

The growth marketing/content marketing π-shaped marketer is the one that Kramer rarely recommends.

A one-person marketing team has to be great at product marketing. Positioning is the bedrock of any effective marketing. You achieve that by getting into the minds of your customers through customer interviews and user research.

Which one are you?

If you’re a marketing team of one, which type of π-shaped marketer are you?

Or maybe, rather than being a Swiss Army knife, you’ve specialized and become a chef’s knife?

I started my career specializing in growth marketing. Having a math and engineering background helped. Working at startups helped me hone my product marketing chops.

But as I reflect more on it, what gives me the most energy is creating, building, writing, producing, and filming—all content-focused.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the next stage in my career, whether I want to generalize more and aim to be a VP of Marketing one day, or specialize on a topic and become a solo-creator entrepreneur.

Personally, I’d rather be a chef’s knife. I like being in the kitchen whipping up new and exciting dishes that people enjoy rather than hacking my way through problems as a multi-function tool.

How about you? Which type of marketer are you?

Let me know. Reply to this email or leave a comment on Marketing Power-Up’s Substack.

I respond to all emails! And I’d love to hear from you.

Have a powered-up week,

Ramli John

👋 Say hello on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram

P.S. I highly recommend that you subscribe to the MKT1 newsletter produced by Emily Kramer and Kathleen Estreich. Their recent post on their three-tier content distribution strategy is brilliant! It’s so good that I’m working with others on implementing it at Appcues (where I currently work).

MKT1 NewsletterMarketing advice for SaaS founders and marketers from Emily Kramer & Kathleen Estreich, former marketing leaders at Asana, Box, Intercom, Carta, & Scalyr.By Emily Kramer of MKT1


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    Written by

    Ramli John

    Ramli John

    Ramli John is the founder of Marketing Powerups and author of the bestselling book Product-Led Onboarding. He's worked with companies such as Appcues, Mixpanel, and Ubisoft to accelerate their growth.

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