8 Types of Marketing Specializations: The Practical Guide You’ve Been Seeking
Marketing is marketing—it’s all basically just the activities businesspeople do to sell something, right?
While that description is accurate, it drastically understates the complexity of the field. Marketing isn’t just the old-fashioned approach of making cold calls and hashing out the details of deals over sales meetings. The world of marketing has evolved and grown in complexity as technology has transformed the way marketers reach consumers. Nowadays, there are several types of marketing specializations to accommodate this dynamic profession.
But just because the field is complex, doesn’t mean you need to be stuck swimming in fancy terminology and acronyms trying to make sense of it. We created this handy guide to help you cut through all of the industry jargon and gain a true understanding of these types of marketing.
8 Types of marketing specializations explained
Marketing is a complex field with a lot to master—the following types of marketing specializations cover everything from research to strategy to tactical execution. Keep reading to find an everyday explanation of eight specialties in the world of marketing.
1. Market research
What is market research? How do you know if a product, service or message will stand out to a particular audience? You do your research. Market researchers employ several tactics for picking the brains of the public and gathering information.
But that’s only one half of the equation. Another key component of market research is actually interpreting the data. The best market researchers are able to tailor their questions to encourage more meaningful answers. For example, asking, “What do you like about this product?” could yield a much different answer than, “As a parent, what do you like about this product?”
What does this look like? Some of the most commonly used methods for gathering information include surveys, focus groups, qualitative interviews and even social media monitoring.
Where can I learn more? This guide from Qualtrics provides a fantastic primer on the basics of marketing research.
2. Content marketing
What is content marketing? Have you ever read a recipe on the side of a box of cereal? Did you notice how the ingredients always include brand name products conveniently produced by the same company? That’s an example of early content marketing.
Content marketing is all about creating content—basically any consumable piece of information—that serves a purpose beyond just promoting a product. Think of it as advertising that is actually useful to the consumer. If done correctly, content marketing builds positive sentiment for a brand by attaching the brand to something genuinely helpful or entertaining. When done successfully, consumers won’t even realize they are being marketed to.
What does this look like? Content marketing can take the form of pretty much anything useful or entertaining. Common examples include recipes, blog articles, tutorial videos or travel guides.
Where can I learn more? The Beginner’s Guide to Content Marketing from Moz is a great starting point for anyone interested in learning more about this marketing specialization.
3. Search engine marketing (SEM)
What is search engine marketing? Some in the industry use SEM as a broad term encompassing both search engine optimization (SEO) efforts and paid-search activities. For the purpose of this article, we’re referring to the narrower definition that strictly refers to the paid-search side. This type of marketing is all about serving advertisements to people using search engines like Google® or Bing. Search engine marketers bid to buy ad space on popular keywords related to the businesses they represent.
It may sound simple, but there is a lot of work that goes into optimizing a paid-search campaign. Search engine marketers need to be analytical, strategic and willing to experiment and tinker with their campaign strategies to excel in this role.
What does it look like? Time for an experiment—next time you fire up Google, try searching for “running shoes” (or nearly any item you’d purchase in a store, for that matter). Take a close look at the top handful of results. Notice anything? They’re likely all paid advertisements. That is the work of a search engine marketer.
Where can I learn more? Search Engine Land has all sorts of helpful resources for aspiring search engine marketers.
4. Direct marketing
What is direct marketing? Simply put, direct marketing involves sending marketing materials directly to consumers. As a consumer, you may not always appreciate these advertisements, but for years, direct marketing has been an effective way for businesses to increase the sales and general awareness of a business.
As you might imagine, it takes a lot of creativity to stand out from the clutter of other direct marketing materials sent to consumers on a regular basis. Creativity, however, will only take you so far. The solution for many direct marketers is to embrace personalization of marketing materials. This push for greater personalization leads to a blurring of the line between direct marketing and database marketing as businesses pursue multi-channel marketing strategies.
What does it look like? Check your mailbox. Odds are good that you’ve received some form of direct marketing in the mail. Common examples include coupons to your local pizza joint or a car dealership reminding you to schedule your next oil change.
Where can I learn more? Direct Marketing News has created several useful guides related to direct marketing.
5. Database marketing
What is database marketing? If the challenge of direct marketing is reaching consumers on a personal level, the answer can, at least, partially be found in database marketing. Thanks to the internet and the massive amount consumer data collected from it, it is easier than ever for a marketer to create personalized, automated messaging for consumers.
By collecting information about consumer preferences, database marketers are able to send targeted messages to consumers at each step of the buying process. Their messages can essentially “follow” their audience throughout their normal online activity.
What does it look like? Say you’ve had your eye on a new coat from your favorite online retailer. You add it to your virtual cart but after some deliberation, you decide you’ll pass on it for now. The next day you notice an ad for that exact coat pop up in your Facebook© newsfeed. Then you check your email and, coincidentally, that exact coat is on sale! This is database marketing at its finest.
Where can I learn more? Neil Patel & Ritika Puri’s Definitive Guide to Marketing Automation provides a fantastic walkthrough of marketing automation and database marketing principles.
6. Social media marketing
What is social media marketing? The purpose of social media marketing is generally to drive traffic to a company’s website while boosting overall brand awareness and customer loyalty. This is done using a variety of methods on various social media platforms, from Facebook to Snapchat and everything in between.
Social media gives brands and businesses the opportunity to interact with the public in a personalized way. These interactions can play a huge role in the way a business is perceived so it’s important for social media marketers to be very considerate of how their messaging could be interpreted. The potential for both massive success and total disaster is very real, so it’s important to tread carefully.
What does this look like? Examples of social media marketing are not hard to find. Just take a look at the social media accounts of business giants like Coca-Cola or Target to get an idea of how a sophisticated social media marketing presence operates.
Where can I learn more? Quicksprout’s Guide to Social Media Strategy is a great place to understand the fundamentals of this marketing specialty.
7. Guerilla marketing
What is guerilla marketing? No, marketing isn’t war. But there is something to be said for the effectiveness of the element of surprise. Guerilla marketing is all about using the unexpected to make a strong impression at public events or heavily trafficked areas.
This marketing technique isn’t particularly common, but that’s part of the appeal. The extraordinary nature of the tactics employed are what makes it effective and memorable.
What does it look like? This is essentially anything that makes a splash in public. Examples include promotional displays, graffiti, customized billboards or flash mobs.
Where can I learn more? These guidelines from Marketo are a great starting point.
8. Product marketing
What is product marketing? Product marketing is the focus area devoted to strategically bringing a new product or service to market. We tend to take it for granted, but the everyday products you see on the shelf of a store have all likely had hours upon hours of strategic planning devoted to their price, presentation, competitive positioning and much more.
This discipline sets the strategy, guiding many of the marketing specializations featured above—is the product considered luxury? A bargain? What features make it stand out? Do we need to educate people about what the product is or does? Product marketing specialists are responsible for answering those questions and plotting a course for individual marketing channels to execute.
What does it look like? The work of this marketing specialization can take many forms and will depend on the organization, but much of their work is based on research. They’ll dig into the competitive landscape to understand the important variables related to competitors’ products, review and synthesize consumer research information and meet with product development teams to better understand the features of the product. This information is then used to formulate an overall product marketing strategy.
Where can I learn more? The WordStream Guide to Product Marketing gives a great crash course in product marketing and the factors that drive it.
What does specialization mean for marketers?
It’s easy to read up on the types of marketing jobs that align with these specializations and get a little overwhelmed or worried that you might get locked into one focus area for your career. While it’s true that you may be able to spend a large part of your career focused on one marketing niche, remember that there’s plenty of crossover potential between these focus areas.
It’s also important to remember that there’s also no rule saying you’ll start your marketing career in a niche role. Many organizations lack the resources to employ multiple specialized marketing teams and instead hire marketing professionals who work as generalists.
No matter the structure of the marketing organization or the scope of your role, it’s important to at least have a grasp on what these marketing specializations entail. Who knows? You may eventually be in the position to develop a broad marketing strategy that encompasses every one of the specializations we’ve outlined above.
Build your marketing foundation
Now that you’ve had a brief introduction to the types of marketing specialization out there, it’s time to start learning the basics. Although they’re each unique in their own way, all eight of these areas have deep roots in traditional marketing fundamentals.
So, before you start mastering any specialized skills, you need to start with the essentials. Learn how a Bachelor's degree in Marketing will help equip you with the foundational knowledge and training needed to succeed in any of these types of marketing.