Should I learn email marketing?

My answer to a question I get asked all the time.

Every week, I get emails from people asking for advice about email marketing, design, and development. While I try to take the time to respond to each one, I've found that I get similar emails over time that might be better addressed via a blog post.

One of the most common questions I get is about the viability of email marketing and design as a career and whether or not people should consider specializing in email. Recently, Richard wrote:

I just read your book The Better Email and really enjoyed it. It's actually made me want to consider a bit of a career change. I am currently a frontend developer and over time I realized working with React, Angular and all those other JS frameworks is not for me and I have been looking for a different path. I am using your book and resources on your site to become a lot better at email development. I guess my question is: should I go into email marketing or should I stay focused on one thing?

My hunch is that a lot of people are in similar situations. They may not be frontend developers, but they’re considering learning about email marketing and development and want to know whether or not it’s a worthwhile pursuit.

So, is learning about email a good idea?

The short answer is: Fuck, yes.

The long answer is still yes, but gets a little murky when you start throwing in the idea of specializing in email marketing or development. I’ve decided to split those topics out into two articles. This one focuses on why you should learn about email marketing and development, whereas the next one will focus on whether or not pursuing it as a career choice is a good idea.

So, why should you learn about email marketing, design, and development?

The main reason is that everyone online uses email. And since everyone online uses email, it’s the most valuable marketing channel out there. And, despite what some people say, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Beyond that, though, there are a few more reasons why you should probably start learning more about email marketing and design. Off the top of my head...

  • Email is a very personal medium. Which allows for a lot of opportunities to connect with customers at a level which you can’t get elsewhere, except maybe in person. And that doesn’t scale.
  • If you work with code, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll have to do something email-related during your career, whether or not you want to.
  • If you don’t work with code, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll have to do something email-related during your career, whether or not you want to.
  • Nearly every company uses email marketing in some way.
  • Most of them do it very, very badly.
  • If you know even a bit about email marketing and design/development, you’ve got a leg up on all of those other companies.
  • Even if you don’t specialize in email, your email skills will be very valuable in other roles. You can set yourself apart by knowing just a bit about email.
  • Email isn’t that complicated. Some people make it out to be, but it really isn’t.
  • If you know a little HTML and CSS, you can build good emails.
  • If you don’t, HTML and CSS is easy to learn.
  • At some point, you’ll probably inherit some legacy email templates. The more you know about email, the easier it will be to work with those templates. Or rebuild them the right way when they make you go crazy.
  • Did I mention that everyone still uses email?

All of those reasons aside, the main point is that email is not only ubiquitous, it’s an extraordinarily powerful communication channel. I often call it “the holiest of places online”.

The inbox is everyone’s home on the internet. It’s where they always begin and where they always return to. It’s where they invite their friends and family to stay in touch. It’s been around before Facebook and Twitter and will be around much, much longer than either.

As such, email provides a massive opportunity for people that know how to use it well and seemingly insurmountable challenges for those that don’t. The ones that can provide value in the inbox will reap the rewards, whereas those that consistently spam, stumble, and sell will be quickly relegated to the junk folder. And rightly so.

Most people have a very low threshold for bullshit and can sense it with just the quickest of glances. If you’re bullshitting your subscribers, they won’t be subscribers for long. Unfortunately, too many companies take the bullshit approach to email—undervaluing its power and the people who know how to do it well—and annoy the hell out of their subscribers. That’s why email marketers have to field the question, “Oh, so you’re a spammer?” whenever someone asks what we do. That undervaluing of email and the folks who work on it will be the subject of the next post...

But, since so many do email so poorly, there’s a massive opportunity for those that put in the time and effort to execute email well. If you can put yourself in you subscribers’ shoes, figure out what’s valuable to them, and when and how to deliver that value most effectively, then you’re golden.

Even if it’s not your full-time job, understanding email will help you in your career.

  • For marketers, email is your bread and butter. Even if you user other channels, understanding your subscribers will allow you to create better content, deliver more effective messaging, and build better campaigns.
  • For designers, email works within some amazing constraints. Understanding it will help you find better solutions for visual problems, write better UI copy, and think about design in a new way.
  • For developers, email code is some of the craziest around. Working with it will teach you how to troubleshoot difficult bugs, hack around challenging problems, and understand your user base better.
  • For customer support folks, these are your people! Your subscribers and users are where it’s at. Understanding how to effectively communicate with email will lead to better conversations and better support.
  • For sales people, your job is to show the most value you can as quickly as possible. Guess what? That’s email’s job, too. If you can do email well, you can probably do sales well.
  • For leadership, email is the ground floor. It’s where your users are. You need to understand their needs, their challenges, and what they find valuable if you want to build, grow, and lead an effective and profitable organization.

Email has something to teach everyone. It has immense value just waiting to be harnessed. And, even though nearly every company uses email marketing, too few take full advantage of email’s potential.

So do yourself (and your company) a favor and start taking email seriously.

In the next post, I’ll dig into whether or not email marketing, design, and development is a viable career choice.

Read More:
Next post: On AMP for Email
Previous post: Rethinking My Workshop Approach

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