Marketing & Advertising

How (And Why) to Become an Email Marketing Specialist

How (And Why) to Become an Email Marketing Specialist
As powerful as email is, it's often treated as an afterthought in digital marketing because it seems so simple. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry January 22, 2020

Email marketing is cheaper than other forms of digital advertising, and it reaches more people. Email marketing specialists—the wizards who wield this powerful tool—are multi-talented professionals who have a way with words and serious analytics chops. Here's what you need to know to join their ranks.

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Email marketing has many advantages over other digital marketing channels. The most compelling is that it’s cheap and wide-reaching. Billions of people use email around the world, and they’re all accessible with just a few clicks.

Well, at least theoretically. In reality, roughly one in every five emails is routed directly into spam boxes. Getting marketing messages past the gatekeepers is challenging. Getting recipients to open and then interact with emails is even harder.

Email marketing specialists are professionals who’ve dedicated their lives to crafting perfect personalized emails and sending them to highly segmented audiences at the best possible times. If you’ve noticed that the marketing emails you receive have gotten better-looking, more personal, and more persuasive, that’s because of email marketing specialists. They do their best to make sure you only ever receive messages useful specifically to you.

A lot goes into successful email marketing beyond hitting the send button. Email marketing specialists have to be writers and editors, Big Data analysts, database stewards, designers, strategists, psychologists, and customer engagement experts. There’s a lot to learn, and the learning never stops.

In this article about how to become an email marketing specialist, we’ll cover:

  • What does an email marketing specialist do?
  • Where do email marketing specialists work?
  • What are the essential skills of an email marketing specialist?
  • What education do email marketing specialists need?
  • What additional training do email marketing specialists typically have?
  • Are there certifications for email marketing specialists?
  • What career paths are available for email marketers?
  • How much can you earn working as an email marketing specialist?
  • Is this the right career for you?

What does an email marketing specialist do?

Email marketing specialists are digital marketers who nurture leads, drive sales, promote brand awareness, and increase customer loyalty and engagement through email. It’s a narrow specialization, but that’s because email is such a critical piece of digital marketing. In 2018, revenue from email campaigns made up an average of 21 percent of companies’ overall revenue. That’s huge when you consider how cheap email can be. Also, email conversion rates are higher than those for traffic from search and social media. It’s not only cheap: it’s also efficient.

Not all email marketers are specialists, of course. What sets email marketing specialists apart is their commitment to harnessing the full potential of email. That involves:

  • Creating comprehensive email marketing campaigns
  • Designing integrated email marketing strategies that support other marketing efforts
  • Building and buying clean email lists
  • Cleaning and purging email lists regularly to maintain an engaged audience
  • Identifying the best email marketing services and software
  • Designing easy-to-read, mobile-friendly email layouts and email templates
  • Securing email databases so customers feel safe
  • Designing and setting parameters for automated emails
  • Identifying micro audiences and segmenting lists appropriately
  • Creating compelling copy that’s always error-free
  • Testing all emails for device-friendliness
  • Performing A/B split tests to guide future decisions
  • Continuously reviewing audience analytics
  • Monitoring the performance of email campaigns using metrics, like click-through rates, and making adjustments
  • Creating follow-up emails based on campaign performance for lead generation and lead nurturing
  • Performing regular database maintenance
  • Tracking and analyzing campaign results so future campaigns are data-driven

Great emails don’t just sell products. They establish a brand’s voice and culture and help the brand maintain stronger, longer-lasting relationships with its customers.



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Where do email marketing specialists work?

The quick answer is everywhere. Email marketing specialists can be found working in businesses of all sizes in every industry. Many are employed by digital marketing agencies and email marketing agencies. Others work in the marketing departments of big companies where they report to a digital marketing manager or the CMO.

Some email marketing specialists don’t work for any single business on a full-time basis. This is one of those careers in which it’s possible to make a lot more money working as an email marketing consultant—provided you’re sufficiently good at marketing yourself.

What are the essential skills of an email marketing specialist?

Email marketing specialists need tech skills, though it’s worth pointing out that you don’t necessarily need programming chops or even basic database skills to succeed in this role. Most email marketing tools make it relatively easy for even non-techy people to automate emails or segment audiences. The most important technical skill you’ll need when you become an email marketer involves automation. Being able to schedule automatic engagement emails and transactional emails that go to the right people at the right times is one of the keys to maintaining audience engagement.

Soft skills can be just as essential as technical skills for email marketing specialists. Email marketers have to have excellent communication skills, but more importantly, they need to be adept listeners. Email marketing actually has a lot in common with social media marketing because engaging a target audience requires knowing what that audience likes, wants, and needs—and what they’re talking about. Email marketers should spend time monitoring social media, reading replies inspired by past email campaigns, and looking at reviews and other feedback.

It’s also essential to be able to identify compelling content when you see it. In some industries, long, text-rich emails rule. Some audiences look forward to visually beautiful emails full of images. Others only want your emails if you’re giving them a freebie. You need to own that and not try to steer your audience toward content they really don’t want. Flexibility and adaptability are crucial in this career. Don’t be afraid to straight-up ask your audience what it wants with a poll or an email asking for feedback, and then adjust your strategy accordingly.

Finally, email marketing specialists need to be team players. Email marketing can’t exist in a vacuum. It’s part of a digital advertising ecosystem that includes social media initiatives, content marketing, ads, search engine optimization, landing page design, influencer marketing, and more. The email strategy you create needs to harmonize with the big-picture marketing strategy at your company.

What education do email marketing specialists need?

While it’s possible to work your way into an email marketing position sans degree, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree to become an email marketing specialist. The best degree programs for email marketers acknowledge the difference between traditional and digital marketing. There are a handful of Bachelor of Science in Internet Marketing and Bachelor of Science in Digital Marketing programs, but you should also look into digital communications and traditional marketing programs. As long as a program touches on topics like data management and analysis, digital market research techniques, web development, digital technology for marketers, and email marketing automation, it doesn’t matter what the degree you earned is called.

Look for opportunities to take classes in:

  • Brand management
  • Building dynamic user interaction
  • Communications technologies
  • Content strategy implementation
  • Data-driven marketing
  • Digital media design and management
  • Graphic design
  • Integrated marketing communications
  • Marketing strategy and research
  • Scripting and programming
  • Search engine optimization
  • Web and marketing analytics
  • Writing for digital media

You probably won’t need a master’s degree in marketingto land a position in email marketing because a few years of experience can make you a specialist. Having one may be an asset, however. A Master of Science in Marketing or Master of Science in Marketing Analytics will serve you well, whether you decide to stay in email marketing or branch out into other areas of digital advertising.

More universities are offering master’s degrees in digital marketing, such as Northeastern University’s Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications. These degrees go by many names, like:

  • MS in Digital Marketing Communications
  • MS in Marketing and Digital Media
  • MS in Digital and Social Marketing
  • MS in Digital Business
  • MS in Digital Communication

What additional training do email marketing specialists typically have?

You can start preparing to become an email marketing specialist long before you enroll in a degree program. There are lots of courses designed to teach the fundamentals of email marketing and digital advertising (many of which are free) and plenty of resources for people who want to learn more about customer relationship management, email marketing tools, best practices in digital marketing, and email automation. You can even set up a Mailchimp or HubSpot account and take their tools for a test drive.

Some aspiring email marketers go a step further and set up their own personal email lists. It’s not hard. Just think of something you’re passionate about and put together a mailing list of friends, family, and connections who share that interest. Sending out regular emails is an excellent way to practice sticking to a schedule, writing regularly, analyzing the response to your content, and using the latest email marketing tools.

Are there certifications for email marketing specialists?

It’s unlikely that you’ll ever be required to have specific email marketing certifications to get a job, but having one or more certifications can help you stand apart from other job seekers. There are marketing analytics certifications and content marketing certifications (HubSpot’s is free). DigitalMarketer offers an Email Marketing Specialists certification. HubSpot has one, too.

If you want to go big where certifications are concerned, Duke University has a Digital Media and Marketing certificate program that grants the Online Marketing Certified Professional (OMCP) certification.

What career paths are available for email marketers?

Becoming an email marketing specialist—as in adopting that as your official title—may mean becoming a consultant after putting in a few years at an agency to hone your skills. You’ll probably make more as a consultant working independently with clients than you will at an agency—and spend more time working specifically with email instead of handling unrelated digital marketing to-dos because your manager knows you can. As a consultant, you’ll create formal email strategies, help businesses implement new technologies, write or curate email content, and handle performance analysis. You might also create email training courses and workshops as an additional income stream.

Of course, maybe you don’t want to stay in email marketing for the long haul. Some email marketing specialists go on to become email marketing managers, digital marketing managers, customer relationship management (CRM) managers, or even chief marketing officers. If CMO has a nice ring to it, look at MBA in Digital Marketing programs like the one offered by New York University.

How much can you earn working as an email marketing specialist?

As powerful as email is, it’s often treated as an afterthought in digital marketing because it seems so simple. Some businesses won’t invest in it at all because they assume that email marketers will just rehash what the company is doing online and on social—and any intern could do that. That may be why the average email marketing specialist salary is just $53,000 and the bottom 10 percent of email marketers make just $39,000. If you want to make more money without becoming a jack-of-all-digital-trades, your best bet may be to work your way up until you have the experience necessary to become an email marketing manager, a position that pays closer to $75,000.

Is becoming an email marketing specialist right for you?

At the end of the day, landing an email marketing specialist position isn’t just about earning the right degree or having more certifications than the next candidate. The most successful email marketers are insanely curious and always on the lookout for emerging strategies. That’s important because you won’t be an email marketing specialist for long if you’re set in your ways. The digital marketing landscape is always changing, and what works right now may get you blacklisted a year from now.

In other words, it’s imperative to recognize that becoming an email marketing specialist isn’t just about getting hired. It’s also a matter of staying relevant. If you choose this career, you’ll always be training. Before you go all-in on email marketing, make sure you’re comfortable with that.

You should also ask yourself if going all-in is really the best option. There’s no question that email marketing is valuable. However, you may not be able to land a job based on your email chops alone unless you’re applying for positions at agencies or companies large enough to employ an entire marketing team. Small- and midsize businesses will probably expect you to handle more than just email. You may be more employable if you expand your skillset to include SEO, content marketing, and social media marketing, and then rebrand yourself as a digital marketing specialist. You might just get paid more, too.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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