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Email Marketing Skills: How to Go From Good to Great

What does it take to be an email marketer who's on top of their game? The truth is, while the right tools and software are helpful, that's not all it takes. It's what you know about successful email marketing that helps you use those tools effectively. The most impactful email marketing skills are based on core competencies that you use to turn a good campaign into a great campaign.

While the specifics of email marketing trends constantly change (RIP reaction GIFs, we won’t miss coding you!), the best email marketers possess similar skills. If you’re looking to pivot into email marketing, or want to grow your own career, we'll explain the skills you need and why.

What is in an email marketer’s job description?

The email marketing skills you need depend on your role within the organization. Email marketing roles range from the very technical (email developers) to general strategists (email marketing managers) and everything in between. Smaller teams might find one email marketer planning, designing, coding, and testing every campaign, while larger teams could divide the work by role, by brand, by product, or more.

Email marketing positions tend to fall into a few categories:

Email developers

As technical experts on all things email code, these marketers build emails and may also work on email marketing infrastructure. They’re typically responsible for building and testing emails. Other duties could include database management, automated triggers, interactive or dynamic content, and basically anything to do with email code. An email developer's technical knowledge may include HTML/CSS, JAVA, SQL, JSON, and APIs. They may also know how to use email frameworks such as MJML.

By the way, when it comes to coding up campaign designs, there are some big differences between web and email development.

Email marketing specialists

These marketers tend to manage the day-to-day deployment of email communications. Email marketing specialists are often involved in campaign ideation, and they'll also do the actual writing of subject lines, preview text, body copy, and calls to action (CTAs).

Depending on the size of the organization, they may build and test emails themselves or coordinate with a developer/designer or agency to do so. Either way, they’re in charge of the regular drumbeat of email campaigns that go out the door. That may include segmentation, tracking and analyzing the performance of campaigns, spam compliance, and testing.

Email marketing managers

Managers and directors focus more on strategic initiatives than day-to-day email campaigns. This means building out the email calendar, optimizing existing campaigns, managing performance across the entire program, and identifying new opportunities to build revenue. Managers may also work with automation and process-building for a team of marketers and designers, working cross-functionally to build holistic marketing campaigns of which email is just one piece.

In some organizations, the title of “email marketing manager” does all of these things. If you’re currently job searching, look closely at the job descriptions to understand how technical the role is and what your expectations are. Regardless of role, every email marketer needs to be proficient in these skills:

8 email marketing skills you definitely need

Even if you’re not currently on the job hunt, building your email skills can help you grow in your current role — and send better emails to your audience. Here are the top skills every email marketer should work on, no matter how much experience they have:

1. Persuasive copywriting

These are real subject lines:

Bad email subject line examples

I’m sorry, but nobody is that excited about a toilet seat. (Also, why?)

That’s why persuasive copywriting is one of the most important skills for any email marketer. Even if you’re working with an agency or copywriter on the team, you need to be able to put yourself in the shoes of your audience and figure out what’s going to make them open your email, and then convince them to click on your CTA. 

SHOUTING WORDS IN ALL CAPS FOR EVERY EMAIL CAMPAIGN IS NOT THE BEST STRATEGY. Neither is a string of nonsensical emojis. Instead, test what works best. Mix it up. Start with what they need and what they want and let the words flow from there.

If you want to get better at copywriting, read all the emails you can find and keep a swipe file of the ones that resonate the most with you. A/B test your subject lines to find out what works best. And when in doubt, go back to the master of copywriting, David Ogilvy and his 1983 classic, “Ogilvy on Advertising.” There’s a reason he’s called the “father of copywriting.”

For more advice on copywriting, check out sites like Copyblogger and MarketingProfs.

2. An eye for graphic design

Even if you’re not a graphic designer, having a sense of what looks good on the screen — and what your audience finds interesting to look at — can make your emails that much better. Pay attention to today’s design trends, both in emails and in the real world. You don’t want your emails to look like they’re stuck in the 2010s with skinny jeans.

Having an eye for design doesn’t mean that you can pick a hex code out of thin air. But being able to articulate what’s working and what’s not from a design perspective — and have it make sense to the rest of the team — speeds up the design process and helps build a cohesive brand around your emails.

If you want to get better at understanding design, pay attention to the emails you receive. Keep a swipe file or head to sites like Really Good Emails to see what designs stand out. Right now, we’re seeing trends like eye-catching typography, retro-style graphics, and a resurgence of ‘90s cyberpunk/grunge aesthetics that make the internet feel new again.

3. HTML coding knowledge

Yes, even non-developers should know a little bit of code. If an email or template goes wonky, you should be able to read through the code to find out what’s wrong, or at least understand how to do basic changes like colors, fonts, or spacing. 

Knowing how to code is one of the most in-demand skills, and it’s even more important for email marketers. Knowing how an email gets put together - for example, that certain display characteristics get coded into the header of the email, and knowing how to find that in the code - can make you more self-sufficient and speed up the email testing process. No one wants to metaphorically walk over to engineering just to find out it’s just a missing semicolon or the wrong hex code.

If you want to get started with HTML coding, check out our guide. This email marketing skill is very niche in the world of development. You'll set yourself apart from the pack if you know how to code emails.

4. Analytical thinking

We’re all for preaching best practices, but the only way your email campaigns will get better is to know what works for your specific audience. Today’s email marketing tools have become so sophisticated that you won’t necessarily need advanced excel skills to tease out insights to make your program better. But you should be able to make decisions and find patterns based on A/B tests, open and click metrics, and engagement metrics. 

This email marketing skill involves taking those metrics and finding insights in them. What stories do the numbers tell?

If you want to get better at using analytical tools, start with your ESP, your data tool like Google Analytics, and analytics built into tools like Email on Acid. Set up a call with an account manager, go through their online course if they have one, peruse blog or help articles, and become an expert in what kinds of insights your tools can provide. 

5. Conversion rate optimization

Every campaign should have a set goal before you hit send.

Often, that goal is revenue. But it could be driving event registrations, social media follows, or blog traffic. No matter what that goal is, being able to understand what makes your audience click — and get them to do it again — is what makes a program successful. 

Be willing to tinker with your emails. Experiment with different elements, from CTA button color to text size. And any time someone wants to make a change “because I just think it would look better,” test it first. The best email marketing programs A/B test every single email campaign.

If you want to get better at driving conversions, work on adding testing into your email marketing process. While there are plenty of resources out there on conversion, it’s the whims of your specific audience that will guide you. Focus on learning how to use your testing tools and implementing an experimental framework for your future campaigns and templates.

6. Creativity

If you’re going to stand out in today’s crowded inbox, you need to be creative. Call it "thinking outside the inbox" if you will.

Creativity is one of those elusive skills that can seem like you either have it or you don’t. But creativity isn’t necessarily about completely brand new and innovative campaigns. It can be dragging and dropping your favorite elements from past campaigns or brands in other industries and applying it to your business. 

The definition of creativity is combining existing elements to solve a problem or make something new. Be on the lookout for inspiration. It could come from completely different industries or marketing practices. We also recommend connecting with the Email Geeks community so you can brainstorm with and get inspiration from other email marketers.

7. Time management

According to Mailjet's Inbox Insights 2023 report, almost 1/3rd of email senders say that they struggle with a "lack of time and focus" In fact,it was the most cited challenge in the survey following "standing out in the inbox."

Time management is one of those evergreen skills that always come in handy. Email marketers shoulder more responsibility in their organization than ever as it’s one of the most used marketing channels (and still, after all this time, one of the most successful in terms of ROI.) 

Beyond day-to-day campaigns, email marketers have to balance building templates, creating automated emails, keeping on top of email providers’ fickle support changes, and more. Cut through the noise and focus on what matters. Every email doesn’t have to be beautifully designed and picture-perfect. Every email doesn’t have to have every stakeholder’s input, either. 

Time management is just as much about willpower and politics as it is about productivity. When in doubt, return to your organization’s goals and choose one major element of email to work on each quarter. Just one. You may find that by focusing your efforts on one area, you’ll be that much more successful.

8. Teamwork and collaboration

No email marketer works completely alone. Even if you’re a team of one, email is just one of many marketing channels companies use to build excitement and drive sales. Email marketers often work with:

  • Demand generation to gather leads and build up their email list
  • Content marketing to create email newsletters
  • Event marketing to drum up attendees
  • Copywriting to write the emails
  • Creative and UX to design the emails
  • Sales to drive revenue
  • Support to build automated email flows for onboarding and responses to inbound requests
  • Engineering to develop the emails
  • Product to understand feature updates and build triggers to deepen engagement and retention within the product

…so, basically everyone.

That’s why creating a streamlined email design system can incorporate all of these stakeholders into the process without slowing things down. Building and managing a process like this can be a game-changer for your email marketing program. That's also why Sinch Email on Acid provides Team Management features for email teams who conduct testing and quality assurance.

How to get a job in email marketing

If you’re looking for a job in email marketing, diversifying your skillset is a great place to start. These eight skills will help you well on your way toward becoming a well-rounded email marketer. But if you expand into other areas, you'll transform into a versatile, coveted t-shaped marketer. Essentially, t-shaped email marketers have broad, general skills in a wide variety of areas of marketing, and then go deep into the world of email.

t-shaped email marketer flowchart

Beyond these email skills we discussed, think about other marketing areas that go hand in hand with email,  like lifecycle marketing, graphic design, mobile messaging, and an omnichannel marketing strategy.

Why email testing = job security

If you want to be a better email marketer, you also need to get the right tools in your toolbox. As an email marketer’s best friend, our testing, validation, and analytics tools help you build better email campaigns and eliminate pre-sending errors and costly mistakes. 

Email testing helps you optimize your email campaigns before you hit send. It involves email quality assurance steps that ensure every subscriber on your list will have an ideal inbox experience. And of course, testing every email helps you avoid disasters that could land you in hot water with the boss.

Email on Acid is designed to support all types of email marketers. Our email previews help designers and developer spot issues with email client rendering. But our workflow also catches typos, helps with email accessibility, and provides advanced analytics to guide strategic decision-making.

With your always-growing email marketing skills and our versatile email QA platform, you'll always but your best email forward.

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