Working in the email marketing field is not an easy thing. In 2008, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek article that began like this:
“Seeking skilled professional with extensive knowledge of email marketing, including all aspects of customer segmentation, deliverability, ISP relations, authentication, email delivery systems, creative design, HTML coding and campaign management skills. No need to understand reporting or analytics, as we really don't do much with the results. Must have strong communication skills, with ability to spin useless open rates into meaningful information and correlate it to great customer experiences that mean something to the business. Must have strong work ethic and thick skin, as you will be overworked and under-appreciated.”
It made me think about 2013 and the challenges and opportunities email marketers face. This channel has become more than a single channel, more than justifiable as a financial driver for the business, yet it can also be a very tough career path. Unlike most other marketing functions, mistakes are not reversible, and from a consumer standpoint email gets really bad PR. You can hardly tell anyone you do email marketing without the customary response, “I get too much email in my inbox,” or “You spam me.” Yet take away email for a day and people crumble.
Email marketing experience is a vital requirement for a successful career in digital marketing, in my opinion. You learn to fail, you learn to test, you learn how to prioritize and, most importantly, you learn that iteration is what moves the needle.
But you also learn to do it all: copy, creative, HTML, landing pages, program management, project management, communication planning, etc. Some of the best marketers I know began in email marketing and CRM. It’s a vital discipline.
In 2013, email marketers will have an opportunity to stretch their comfort zone in a few areas that will make them even more valuable, not to mention help move the needle:
Share of voice. Measuring buzz and sentiment have been pretty soft exercises for direct marketers. Yet I believe 2013 will be a year in which email marketers need to pay very close attention to unstructured content and how trends, sentiment and buzz affect promotion and cadence/timing or direct programs. Email as a direct marketing channel is valuable, but few have really tied brand quality to testing cadence. I believe aligning this measurement with brand metrics specific to email programs will help tell a clear story of what role email plays in this mix.
Content on demand. Video is making a comeback in the email space, and this is a year to rethink your content strategy as a main component of your communication strategy. 2013 will force marketers to develop a content plan designed to mix media, testing and experience design among sites, email, and mobile. Embrace video and mobile to prepare yourself for the future of digital.
Be a Quant geek. If you have not been involved in statistical modeling, this is the year to take a step forward. Most in the email world think of models as doing a multivariate test, which very few have the resource to do. But models do pay off, and forms of regression models are important to help validate direction. You need to think about what type of models are necessary: Are you trying to model customer purchase behavior, brand choice and consideration, and/or to model response behavior? Or are you trying to model cross channel impact on a purchase? Each approach has merit. Email has never been known for great research or statistical approaches, yet this is the year you will need to learn a whole lot more about the consumer to predict trends in response, and the impact of the email channel on search, media exposure/conversion, TV advertising.
The consumer experience is becoming so complex, your career will depend on your ability to apply iteration in-program with statistical methods that can be deployed on a regular basis. Thinking clicks, opens and inbox deliverability will not be enough in 2013.