Career Paths for Email Marketers

A recent post in #emailgeeks made me think about what the career path might look like for an email marketer. It's something I've been thinking about a lot about too, having recently been made redundant and weighing up my career options in what is a very tough job market right now. 

What follows are my thoughts on where email has been and where it might be going, along with possible career paths that can build up from email. It's full of my own biases and my own experience, so take it with a pinch of salt.

Hopefully, this proves somewhat useful for other people. It's been hugely helpful for myself just to understand where I'm potentially going and what skills I need to look to build.

When I started with email in 2011, the role was predominantly a technical one. Email service providers (ESP) were relatively unsophisticated so brands who wanted to create interesting emails had to code them. Yes, we used tables. Despite (maybe because of?) the technical challenges, we were able to be quite creative with design and layout as we sliced designs into individual table cells containing either text or images.

Coding is still a great skill for an email marketer to possess, but it's not as valuable as it once was with WYSIWYG and drag and drop editors in modern ESP's making the actual process of building a visually attractive email significantly easier than it once was.

The other angle that was needed of course were marketing skills, anecdotally, it seems most folks in marketing I've worked with (including myself) never formally learnt these and just pick it up as they go along. The requirement for this skill will not go away.

For myself, I continued to lean on the more technical side of things. I expanded into other channels (push, sms, etc) and became more of a CRM generalist, I learnt about data instrumentation and databases which led me into Marketing Operations. From there, it was a short hop into Revenue Operations, applying the skills I'd learnt to the broader revenue function as opposed to focusing solely on the marketing team.

So, what does the career path look like?

Typically, you might think about two divergent branches - marketing vs code. I think there's a place for that, but the actual career path can be a lot broader.

Firstly, the two are not mutually exclusive and familiarity with code makes for a much better email/CRM marketer as you'll be able to think about the campaigns you require for your strategy from a technical perspective (in terms of how emails are sent or triggered, how data is used for personalisation, segmentation strategy, etc).

Secondly, the role of an email developer is one that is in decline as email platforms continue to provide tools that make WYSIWYG editing better and better. There'll still be a need for pure email dev in some niche businesses but most jobs out there don't currently and won't in the future require specific email code knowledge.

The core areas I see an email role diverging into are as follows:

  • Email developer
  • Senior email role (head of, etc, more of a focus on core marketing and strategy)
  • Email Designer
  • Lifecycle/retention/customer experience
  • Marketing/Revenue Operations
  • Generalist marketing
  • Generalist developer
  • Generalist designer

Each of those requires some or more degrees of the following skill sets:

  • Marketing (fundamentals, not just "email")
  • Technical (in terms of writing code but more importantly in terms of understanding how platforms work together, how data is collected and modelled, etc)
  • Data analysis (how good's your statistics knowledge?)
  • Design (can you design effective campaigns and user experiences?)
  • Stakeholder management (do you want to work across multiple departments? Are you good at managing interactions with other marketing team members or folks in other departments?)
  • Leadership (do you actually want to manage a team or are you happy as an individual contributor?)
  • Project management (Are you able to manage complex cross-departmental projects? Is that even something you want to do?)
  • Process design (can you create effective processes, customer journey maps, etc?)
  • With each of the roles above requiring different skill sets in different weights.

I think we'll continue to see divergence between the core marketing and technical sides of email as time goes on.

The technology requirements are getting increasingly complex and as martech becomes a bigger investment for a given org, people will need to be hired that can maximise the technical output from these products. 

In a similar way, email is increasingly being rolled up into "lifecycle" and "customer experience" teams, where email is just one of many channels a generalist might use to create effective campaigns.

What remains true, however, is that email provides an incredibly solid foundation to build a well-rounded career - wherever you might end up.