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Email & SMS Marketing

7 Skills Expert Email Marketers Need (+4 Nice-to-Haves)

July 15, 2021
Kelsey Donk

Everyone can send an email, but expert email marketers can create lifecycle campaigns, write copy, automate strategically — and even dabble in deliverability.

Table of Contents

In 2013, there was talk of a “golden age” of email newsletters. 

In hindsight, though, that was the year of the Harlem Shake — the email renaissance had barely gotten started. 

Today it’s in full swing. In 2020, as an estimated 28,000+ media jobs got cut, journalists flocked to newsletter platforms. Substack’s active writer counts doubled between March and June 2020.

Meanwhile, branded newsletters have taken off. In February, Hubspot acquired The Hustle, a daily business newsletter with over 1.5 million subscribers. 

“Instead of the traditional model of having a software company embedded inside of a media company,” Hubspot explained, “we predict that the next generation of tech companies will have the opposite – a media company embedded inside a software company.”

All this interest around email has taken some in the digital marketing world by surprise. 

Tracey Wallace, director of marketing at MarketerHire, remembers when “people were saying that email was dead.” 

The data was on their side — for a time. Email use actually declined 20% between 2008 and 2012, McKinsey reported

But the number of emails sent and received every day has been on the upswing since 2017. These days, at least 250,000 people pay to get emails sent to them through Substack alone.

And Substack’s not the only business benefiting from the email boom. 

Email plays a bigger role in some brands' digital marketing strategy than advertising on social media. 

People “just don’t want to see as many ads” these days, said Wallace. “You would rather your inbox be full of emails from brands you’ve raised your hand to hear from.” 

“You would rather your inbox be full of emails from brands you’ve raised your hand to hear from.” 

Emailing people who actually want to hear from you can generate major ROI, whether you’re The Hustle or an e-commerce company —   but it has to be done well. 

So, what skills distinguish an expert email marketer from someone who can do a little emailing? That’s what we’ll explore in this story, with help from three email marketing experts.

The experts

What do expert email marketers actually do?

The job of an email marketer can go by many names. Depending on who you talk to, they might call an email marketer a:

  • retention marketer
  • lifecycle marketer 
  • campaign marketer
  • email deliverability consultant
  • newsletter marketer
  • or something else entirely. 

Ultimately, an email marketer is someone versed in all things email, plus the ins and outs of your brand. 

An email marketer can create campaigns that nurture subscribers through every step in the customer journey, including the retention phase — and, especially in the B2B space, they can create effective cold emails for a sales team. 

Email marketers can also clean lists, automate sends and edit the templates provided by email service providers (ESPs).

“Really good email marketers are unicorns,” Wallace said. “They’re combining skills from so many disparate parts of marketing, of development, of product marketing, of design.”

“Really good email marketers are unicorns.”

Their core goal: to get as many of your website visitors as possible to share their email address and buy your product.

To put it simply, they turn web traffic into revenue.

7 must-have email marketing skills

An expert email marketing manager can do more than send emails. They can automate them, analyze them, edit them, and make sure they’re hitting the right inboxes at the right time. 

That takes a vast and varied skillset. Wallace, Johnson and Kelapure talked us through the essentials.

1. Crafting triggered campaigns.

These automated email marketing campaigns send when a customer performs a trigger action on your website. 

Common triggered campaigns include:

  • Welcome series, like a “Hey there!“ email triggered by a list subscription
  • Transactional emails, like an emailed receipt triggered by a purchase
  • Account notifications, like an email alert triggered by a change of mailing address
  • Personal event emails, like an email coupon triggered by a user’s birthday
  • Time-sensitive campaigns, like an email triggered by a cart inactive for half an hour

These email marketing automations can save your business a lot of money. Automated abandoned cart campaigns, for instance, can recover as much as 11% of lost sales

“The biggest reason why [triggered campaigns] are important is because they’re automated,” Johnson said. “So it’s not a manual effort that an email marketer has to build every day or every week.” 

Instead, you can automatically send the right emails at the right time — at scale. 

But triggered campaigns only work as well as the marketers who create them. To create triggered campaigns that pull their weight in a larger email marketing strategy, email marketers need to be able to visualize the customer’s journey and explain it to others, too. They need to understand customers’ psychological needs and the timing of those needs.

It only gets more important as a company grows. 

“Once you have a big email list... it gets complicated,” Wallace said. “Logic is going to be one of your most important skills. How you think through storytelling, how you think through building systems at scale really, really matters.”

Most expert email marketers know how to use automation tools to build and execute a triggered campaign strategy — “from building the enrollment criteria, to mapping templates into an automated series, learning how to set the cadence of a series based on things like if/then branches or time intervals,” Kelapure said. 

Managing triggered campaigns well takes some data collection and analytics skill, which we’ll get into below. 

2. Data analytics.

The best email marketers are analysts at heart, always looking for more data about the customers on their email lists. Email marketers analyze two core types of data:

  1. Performance metrics like open rates, conversion rates, etc.
  2. Behavioral and demographic data like first- and (decreasingly) third-party information on email subscribers’ gender, location, shopping habits, etc. 

Performance data helps email marketers make decisions about email design and timing. It helps them “draw better conclusions on why things are working and why they’re not,” Kelapure said. 

Small changes can make a world of difference to open rates, click rates, and your bottom line — but only if they’re rooted in data that makes sense. 

“Oftentimes, I’ll see an A/B test conducted with many variables changed in one test,” Kelapure said. “And you can’t draw a conclusion from that. B may have won, but why? Was it because it had different copy? Or was that image really compelling? Or was it the segmentation?” 

Ultimately, though, performance data — mixed with strategic testing — can help out with optimization on mass sends.

Behavioral and demographic data, on the other hand, helps with email personalization. 

Research shows that the more personalized your emails are, the greater your ROI will be. In fact, MarketerHire named personalization one of the biggest marketing trends for 2021.

Email marketers “are constantly moving people through different education stages, asking them different questions, trying to collect different data points,” Wallace said, with the goal of drilling down to “that truly personal one-to-one message that finally gets that customer to take an action.”

But email marketers must be able to aggregate all the customer information that will help them craft that one-to-one message. That takes a plan for data collection, architecture, storage and testing. 

“If you have freeform data coming in, and it’s just stored in a column, you can’t necessarily target off of that,” Kelapure said. “It’s not usable.” 

“If you have freeform data coming in, and it’s just stored in a column, you can’t necessarily target off of that.”

Before finding an email marketer who gets your holistic concepts — like your brand identity and the customer journey — Kelapure recommends finding one who knows how to create workflows for data collection and analysis “from end to end.”

3. Template editing (light HTML / CSS).

Nowadays, many email marketers work with drag-and-drop editors, where they can simply drag in an image, drop in a box of text, and move them around in a pre-set email template.

“In the background, [that drag-and-drop editor] is creating an HTML file,” Johnson explained. 

An expert email marketer can draw on light CSS and HTML skills to edit that file, creating complex formatting beyond the drag-and-drop editors’ capabilities.

They’ll rarely need to code an email from scratch, but knowing these languages at a surface level will let email marketers “start from a good spot and build it right the first time,” Johnson said.

4. List hygiene. 

Amateurs care about how big their email lists are, but experts know that good email marketing depends on list quality. 

Johnson’s conversations with clients often start with: “You've been sending emails to 100,000 people, but 50,000 of them have never opened an email. You need to stop sending emails to these 50,000 people.”

It can be a tough pill for clients to swallow. 

“They’re like, ‘But that's, that's my whole list! I can't do that!’” 

Actually, though, a big list like that could land you in the spam folder. 

When a lot of people start deleting your company’s emails before reading them and you don’t clean them from your list, “you’re going to tank your IP and you’re not ever going to be able to get emails to people,” Wallace said. 

In other words: Don't constantly email everyone in your CRM, or ESP algorithms will start sending all of your emails to spam. 

Open rates will decline even further, and you’ll need to bring in a deliverability specialist to help you rescue your emails from spam. Talk about a nightmare. 

The golden rule, according to Wallace: “You don’t just want a massive list; you want a good list of engaged and active people.” 

“You don’t want a massive list; you want a good list of engaged and active people.”

5. Creating lifecycle campaigns.

A 2018 Accenture study showed that 91% of shoppers were more likely to buy from companies that remembered where they were in the shopping process and sent them personalized offers and recommendations. 

But around half of shoppers have been disappointed with companies’ efforts. That’s where lifecycle marketing can help. 

Lifecycle campaigns are emails specifically designed to push customers to the next stage of their buying journey. They encourage people to move from brand awareness to consideration, and can drive lead generation and retention.

To build lifecycle campaigns, expert email marketers “look at every single stage [of the buyer’s journey] and figure out how to optimize,” Wallace said. 

A trick Johnson uses to lay this groundwork: he pretends to be one of his clients’ customers. 

“I always start by shopping the site or using their app, whatever I can to get the real customer experience,” he said. “I take notes on any gaps I notice where I think I should have gotten a communication and didn't.” 

I always start by shopping the site or using their app… to get the real customer experience.”

Once an email marketer understands the details of your funnel, it’s easy to spot issues — which they can patch by rewriting and retesting lifecycle campaigns, or running entirely new ones. 

Email marketers who understand every stage of the buyer’s journey, “can create more of a cohesive program, and then tie it back to the actual activity that you want,” Kelapure said.

6. Copywriting.

Images, automations, and data analysis are great, but emails do have to say something, and that’s where copywriting comes in. 

Key to good writing, according to Chris Johnson: demographic and behavioral data, which can help you understand your target audience.

“You can’t write for a client if you don’t know who your audience is,” he said. 

“You can’t write for a client if you don’t know who your audience is.”

For example, Johnson writes emails for one client that sells wine to “a clearly defined, wine-connoisseur-type audience,” he said. “Knowing that, my copywriting for them is a lot more technical wine jargon” — as opposed to whimsical or flowery.

The copywriting process doesn’t end with words on the page, though — email marketers are also A/B testing an email's subject line, body copy, and call to action (CTA), making sure its performing optimally across mobile devices, desktops and tablets. 

“Very small, iterative changes make a huge difference, and you’re not going to know until you test it and try it out,” Wallace said.  

7. List segmentation.

It’s important to divide your contact list into demographic and behavioral segments, like “women under 25,” or “Don Juans” — a.k.a. customers who placed one and only one pricey order.

That way, you can target each segment with different, tailor-made campaigns that  “address [subscribers’] interests and pain points, and help them to deepen their engagement with the product or brand,” Kelapure said. 

Segmented campaigns also convert better than a general email blast.  

Data backs this up. Segmented campaigns have higher open rates and 100% more clicks than non-segmented campaigns, according to a Mailchimp study. Segmenting users also tends to lower bounces, abuse reports and unsubscribes.

But how do you get the data to refine your segmentation strategy?

You can ask for this information from customers, but having long sign-up forms can discourage them from giving their email addresses to you at all. 

Instead, savvy email marketers use a combination of sign-up forms, Google Analytics data, purchasing history and other behaviors to paint a picture of each customer. (Again—this is why data analysis is so important!)

4 nice-to-have email marketer skills

Not everything is a must-have. The experts we spoke to also mentioned some email marketing skills that come in handy in certain situations, but aren’t quite necessities. These skills really set expert email marketers apart from the pack. 

1. Deliverability know-how.

The deceptively simple question of whether or not an email makes it to a customer’s inbox is at the top of most marketing leaders’ minds.

It’s technical — but it “makes or breaks businesses,” Wallace said. 

“[Deliverability] makes or breaks businesses.”

That’s why some large companies will have dedicated deliverability teams. At many smaller companies just getting started with email, though, deliverability issues often fall on an email marketer. 

This requires a sense of the logistics of email — “from how an IP sends email to how it connects to the ISPs ([like] Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, Comcast) to how it actually ends up in the inbox,” said Kelapure. 

Email marketing tools designed to test deliverability, like Glock Apps, can come in handy here.

If an issue is too complex for a typical email marketer’s pay grade, though, it can also make sense to consult a deliverability specialist. Email marketers can’t do it all!

2. Cold campaign creation. 

Many email marketers came up in the B2C e-commerce space — but email marketers with B2B backgrounds can often craft killer cold email campaigns.

The alignment between your sales teams and the marketing team is especially important when running cold campaigns. 

Sometimes, a sales team will reach out before email marketers can, “and then we’re sending emails and conflicting messaging,” Kelapure said. “I’m definitely getting those swimlanes sorted out.” 

That means figuring out when email marketing should reach a sales lead: before they’re handed off to a sales rep? After? 

An added wrinkle that makes cold campaign design a particularly varsity-level effort: cold emails — and their lower response rates — can tank an organization’s email deliverability, unless they’re handled strategically.

3. SMS expertise.

No, SMS isn’t email, but SMS campaigns are often part of email marketers’ jobs. 

“Many people are treating SMS marketing like a shorter version of email marketing,” Wallace explained. 

It’s a bit simplistic, but it’s true that both are owned channels, as opposed to paid ones.

And SMS is on the rise. If email is going through a golden age, SMS is going through a platinum age, with even higher open rates, response rates and response speeds. 

Johnson told MarketerHire that even if email marketers don’t want to become SMS experts, it’s vital that they at least understand how SMS marketing works. 

Imagine getting “an email… an SMS text, and then another email, on the same day from the same company, essentially about the same thing,” Johnson said.

Worse — what if they’re about totally different, or even contradictory things? 

Email marketers should at least know how to avoid this — and some email marketers may be able to lead SMS marketing efforts. 

4. Experience migrating ESPs. 

Technology changes quickly, and companies often realize that the ESP they started with no longer works for them.

ESP migration typically falls to email marketers — and it’s cumbersome. Johnson once did a platform migration that took him seven months. 

“It is a very expensive and time-consuming task,” he said. 

“It is a very expensive and time-consuming task.”

If an email marketer has done an ESP migration, watched someone else do one, or assisted through the process, they may be ready to take you through the process. 

Make sure they’re well-versed in project management, data analysis, and email deliverability before hiring them for the task, though. 

The big picture

Ultimately, the best email marketers are always thinking two years ahead, Johnson said. They understand your customer journey and your growth goals, and they aim to boost your acquisition and retention rates so you can hit them. 

“The next two years of growth is pretty important for email marketing,” he said. 

Find an email marketer laser-focused on long-term growth with MarketerHire today.

Kelsey Donk
about the author

Kelsey Donk is a writer at MarketerHire. Before joining MarketerHire full-time, Kelsey was a freelance writer and loved working with small businesses to level up their content. When she isn't writing, Kelsey can be found gardening or walking her dogs all around Minneapolis.

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