Frady: An Honest Look at Your Career in Email Marketing
Being an email marketer is a wonderful career choice. Email marketers are usually key drivers of a company’s revenue and – even more importantly - marginal profit. Being part of a team that continually captures the sentiment and actions of the consumer is a fun space to occupy. Plus, there are enough new technologies in play that make email marketing invigorating.
But let’s face it. Lots of you like to progress in your career. Email marketing may be fun and invigorating but for many people there’s a limit to what they can learn. The desire to progress onto something else is strong. Unfortunately, you don’t see very many SVP’s of email…or very many VPs of email, either. If you want to move up, email might not be the place to do so.
To be a great email marketer requires a combination of skills that not every other role requires.
I don’t want to try and tell you what sorts of roles would be good for you but I WILL talk about the qualities that make a great email marketer and how they can help (or hurt!) you in considering your next career role.
One of the great things about being an email marketer is the ability to come up with an idea (or borrow it from someone else), test it, then learn what happens. I call this “replacing I think with I’ve learned.” Of all the skills I’ve gained as an email marketer, this is my favorite. It’s the most wonderful thing about email – it’s such a testable and learnable medium. I’ve used this mindset to make millions of dollars for the companies I’ve worked for. It works really, really well. However, there’s a downside.
The problem comes when you get TOO focused on this mindset being the right mindset, to the exclusion of all others – when your attitude becomes “I don’t really care what you think, I care what we can prove.” It’s not that you’re wrong. It’s more that – outside of digital and direct marketing, you’re not going to find as many people who love to test their way into learning. People often view their opinions as their special, special children. If you come along and tell them that their baby is ugly…well, you can imagine the reaction. Asking people to set up a framework to test their opinions is akin to telling them that not only is their baby ugly, it’s downright hideous. When you’re thinking about new opportunities, you should balance your need to prove things – and find the “right” answer - with the types of environment you’re entering. (Not that this has ever happened to me…very often.) In marketing, there are often multiple roads that lead to the same destination. Don’t fall too in love with the “perfect path” mindset.
As an email marketer, one of the very best things you can do it to challenge your OWN assumptions about what will and won’t work. Find out your “truisms,” develop a (small) test that is the opposite of what you believe, then see what happens. The point isn’t to prove that your assumptions are wrong, as much as it is the ability to see a problem from multiple angles. As you progress in your career, the ability to understand opposing viewpoints will be critical to your future success. By challenging your own assumptions first, you learn to view problems with a much more open (and creative) approach than if you turn your head off.
Another great benefit to being an email marketer is adherence to KPIs and measurement statistics. Being able to tie your efforts to results is a great way to land future roles in companies that prize metrics-driven accomplishments. As businesses become increasingly digital, your ability to be comfortable with KPIs is a critical skill.
The problem is, most email marketers can’t answer big questions like “what’s the financial impact of my email effort”, so they end up falling in love with metrics that have marginal value in moving your company forward. Things like open rate, click to open ratio and even unsubscribe rate are all interim measures that really don’t move the economic ball forward. If you want to expand and grow your career, focus less on the numbers that matter to you and more on the numbers that matter to the business.
As you move up in an organization, revenue is the single most important driver of effort in an organization. It’s why senior execs want you to turn on the “blast cannon” with email. Most senior executives are completely fine with sacrificing 1% of your email universe if you can raise revenue 10%. Revenue is the morning, noon and night of the two most powerful people in an organization – the CEO and the CFO. If you come to the table with “we’ll make a lot less money but won’t potentially make people mad with our messaging,” you’re going to really limit your ability to be successful. You must focus on the KPIs that (a) drive the organization forward and (b) resonate directly with your CEO. Rather than finding the metrics that work for your department, find the KPIs that work best for the company.
Determining the value of your email program can be really, really challenging. Sometimes it’s an attribution problem but more often it’s the lack of a holdout sample. Learn how to solve this difficult question then run your answers through your friends in finance. What’s that? No friends in finance? Then get out more and make friends with finance. It’s good practice for solving other difficult questions as you rise through and organization.
Email marketers are (sometimes) artificially insecure about both their accomplishments and the power of the email marketing platform. Franky, we sometimes are a bunch of navel-gazers who won’t stand up for our channel. You see it in questions like “how much is too much email” and “I would never want to get (insert your hated metric here).” Take a lesson from our search marketing friends, who will take credit wherever possible. Email is a uniquely powerful channel. While you don’t want to be overconfident (or else you’ll end up a consultant,) you want to make sure that you’ve strong and positive about the value of the email channel. If not, how are companies ever going to trust you to be confident for whatever new role you want to take on?
One last piece of advice. Get out more. Whether it’s inside or outside of your organization, email marketers need to get out more. Spend more time with coworkers and industry peers. Seek out opportunities to pick the brains of other people, both inside and outside of your company. Rising up the ranks is often about skill. But it’s also about “shaking hands and kissing babies.” It’s not what you know. It’s not even who you know. It’s really about who knows how what you know can help. Politicking is not always fun. Practice it often and it becomes much less difficult.
Email gives you some great and powerful tools to propel your career forward. Take the good, shed the bad and move onto greater levels of your career success!
This is a really excellent article - thank you
Many B2C brands are keen to explore Machine Learning, and Email marketing is an area where ML can have an important and quantifiable revenue impact. There is (as ever) a discussion about revenue attribution, but notwithstanding that, the revenue impact - in both top-line revenues and bottom line margin, is clear.
So the sophistication and business impact of email marketing will continue to grow. Happily, IMHO there has never been a better time to get into the email profession. Soon we'll be able to serve messaging into a wide variety of channels (for example in-app individualised messaging, or even AR) - so the business impact will only get bigger.
I'm kinda envious of anyone starting their career now!
Again, thanks for the great article.
All the best,
Great article, Bob. Thanks for sharing your insights. Love this line "It’s really about who knows how what you know can help." It's important to have a seat at the table when decisions are being made and not to just sit back and wait for others to give you orders on how to execute their campaign.