Email Marketers: The Marketing Leaders Of The Future?

Is email marketing the right career path for you? Columnist Jose Cebrian explains why email marketers’ skills are just what the marketer of the future needs — and explores how those responsibilities are broadening.


I have worked with many young(er) people over the years who have wondered where they could go with a career in email marketing. My advice to them? If they want to be in the marketing profession, they have limitless potential, because the skills taught in email will apply to almost all marketing of the future.

In essence, the market is coming to them. It needs their skills. Email marketing is an extremely interesting career path because it teaches you how to work with data, technology and creative to develop personalized messages to a known group of people.

When you add measurement, reporting and analysis for continuous improvement, you have built a skill set that is very useful in many applications. Several of those old colleagues of mine who went off to work at other companies have confirmed this theory, saying that their intensive training in email puts them well ahead of their peers.

A change has been occurring in the marketplace over the last few years — marketers are using first-party data to target individuals outside of email, direct mail and short message system (SMS) — or text. While Facebook didn’t instigate the change, its Custom Audiences product has made the transition easier.

That approach is also available on Twitter, LinkedIn and many of the display networks as well, via data onboarding. A lot is already written on that topic, but suffice it to say, the disciplines of digital addressable marketing have moved beyond email and SMS.

Add to that change the fact that many of the “marketing clouds” are now enabling cross-channel marketing to the same individual. The cross-channel experience usually starts with email and, depending upon the additional data collected on an individual, can move out to Web, paid social, SMS and push.

The email marketer is best suited to be the one to own this type of marketing. This is because email is usually the primary reason for the marketing cloud purchase, and it is typically the largest direct digital channel for a company.

What Sets An Email Marketer Apart From Other Roles

Many will say that that this is no different from some other roles around display or search. While those disciplines are very interesting in their own right, several factors set email apart from them:

• Email marketers handle personally identifiable information (PII). As addressability increases, and the handling of PII moves further from the database team, it becomes more important for the marketing team to have the skills and knowledge to be able to handle it.

Many will say that data can be hashed or encrypted for transfer, which is true, but knowing the best practices and applying safeguards in advance of a transfer will serve us all (companies and individuals) well.

• Mistakes can’t always be fixed. Once an email is sent, you might be able to change a link or an image, but the subject line and the HTML are permanent. This is important because it drives an eye for quality that is similar to offline direct marketing but at the speed of digital.

• Email has to connect with many different systems to be useful. Email programs often connect with websites, call centers and other customer relationship marketing (CRM) applications, point-of-sale systems, mobile apps and more.

The point isn’t that the marketer of the future needs to be able to connect all of these systems by coding them. But the marketer of the future needs to know they exist, know what types of data they generate, and know how to act on them in order to build cross-channel and cross-device marketing programs that reach both customers and prospects.

• Email marketers see the whole conversion path. And they understand the impact of each device on that conversion path.

I don’t think it is unique to see the complete picture, but I do think email marketers have a certain appreciation for the impact the device has on creative and conversion.

Seemingly every email client, browser and device combination has its own unique capabilities for email creative, and these nuances can make a big difference to the user experience.

As the world of addressable devices expands to include gaming consoles, watches, appliances and more, the number of formats, constraints and such will increase. Much of this will not be new for the email marketer.

• Email marketers are used to intermediaries. There are a number of parties in the marketing process who can stop your campaign. In email, you have the internet service providers (ISPs) who can, and do, block your messages to protect their subscribers.

As more devices become addressable, I am sure there will be more rules and intermediaries to police messaging. As those organizations evolve, not only will email marketers understand the rules of engagement, I believe they will actually contribute to how they function.

Beyond PII And Cross-Channel

But it’s not that easy. There’s a lot more to marketing management than knowing how to handle PII and execute cross-channel campaigns:

• Move out of operations. When you boil it down, a lot of email marketers are doers. They have to be; there is a lot to do … all the time.

The amount of activity, the pressure to do it correctly, and the visibility of errors all lead to an operational focus. As noted above, this drives some positive behavior, but it also limits the marketer’s ability to see the big picture of how marketing can be coordinated at a higher level for greater effect.

Email marketers must practice rising above the froth of the day-to-day and lay out their plan for the email program and how it supports the greater business.

• Become the leader of addressable marketing to manage bigger budgets. Email marketers need to move up the chain and manage bigger budgets. At the end of the day, a marketer’s job is to use her budget effectively to generate sales for the company.

Email budgets, compared with others like display, TV, print or search, can be small, and so can the corporate swagger. Even when you add push, SMS and paid social budgets, it is still small.

The email team — or at least aspiring members of the team — need to take control of the projects around using PII in Facebook and Twitter, and even some of the data onboarding, to branch out and apply email skills to new channels and tactics.

With this branding, the email marketer can expand his or her scope and increase control as more marketing spend shifts to digital channels.

• Get used to cookie and device data. It’s not as accurate and neatly “opt-in” as email. Also, attribution is much more difficult at the individual level because you can’t go backward — turn a cookie ID into a name and address.

That brings us to my next point.

• Get better at heavy analytics and driving deeper insights vs. reporting. Email is “cheap and cheerful,” and it generally produces good results at both the campaign and program level relative to spend. As a result, not a lot of companies spend on deeper analytics, and that is a shame.

We cannot neglect this as channels broaden. We need to build the discipline of investing in analytics to drive insight about targeting, channel, creative and return.

Building on this same theme, we need to move beyond just the digital world from a measurement perspective. People who are promoted or act in one channel may convert in another channel.

Direct last-click digital attribution is easy (for many), but it ultimately undervalues the channel and limits the email marketer. Email marketers must push for — and help create ways to — measure offline impact to broaden their experience and exposure.

Those measurements can be brand impact, offline sales or even cost take-out.

Marketing is becoming more and more addressable. Email marketers have an opportunity to take on broader marketing responsibilities, given the fact that they have all the basic skills of addressability, which don’t change.

These same marketers, though, need to get out of the day-to-day mindset and broaden their horizons inside of their companies as the marketing world changes.

When they apply their knowledge and experience while learning new skills and expanding their budgets, professional advancement — plus competitive advantage — is the result.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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