Marketers are, if nothing else, very very busy. We’ve got a lot on our plate, yet we still need to take time to develop and hone our marketing skills if we’re going to be successful.
But as with any marketing initiative, you’ve got to prioritize where to focus your efforts on the long (and ever-growing) list of skills needed to excel in marketing. Here’s a list of 7 vital education areas that will reward your time investment by making your life easier every day.
Technical Marketing Skills:
1. Coding, specifically HTML and CSS
You’ll see this on pretty much any list of skills for marketers these days, and that’s because it’s pretty much a non-negotiable. The world of computer code has seeped out of programming and into just about every profession that involves a computer.
Sure, you can do marketing work without knowing these programming languages, but being able to tweak existing code (at the very least) will dramatically reduce the required time for everything from A/B testing on email campaigns to setting up a social media profile.
With increasing demands for agility and flexibility in marketing, you’ll decrease your own headaches and increase your value if you can add a new landing page to your website, make adjustments to calls to action, or troubleshoot a formatting issue without calling in a developer.
Where to Learn CSS and HTML for Marketing
As with just about anything, you could just wander around the internet searching for random HTML terms and cobble together a free programming education. But seriously, who has the time for that?
For a more efficient learning experience you can check out CodeAcademy, whose introductory courses on HTML and CSS take just 7 hours to complete. If you’re looking for something more in depth, you can try Lynda.com, where 16 hours will get you through both an HTML and CSS class.
For the super ambitious or those wanting a higher level of skill, try Treehouse’s Web Design Track. It incorporates Photoshop, Illustrator (more on those later), CSS, HTML, UX (User Experience), SEO, and Branding. But it takes 58 hours.
2. Graphic Manipulation Software
As with programming, graphic creation has become a huge value-add skill in many professions that would once have needed nothing to do with making images.
Marketers need expertise in design software to create and edit logos, infographics, ebooks, brochures, header/icon images, and innumerable other graphic bits and pieces.
Once again, the ability to produce high-quality, professional creatives will streamline your workflow, allow you to adapt more readily to breaking news opportunities, and improve your marketing department’s overall agility.
People who can check these items of their marketing skills list will quickly get ahead, because they don’t need anybody else to help implement their ideas; they can be their own little factory churning out marketing initiatives at an amazing rate.
How to Get Graphic Editing Skills for Marketing
You’ll need a working knowledge of 3 key programs, all of which are in the Adobe Suite. There are cheaper (and even free) alternatives out there, but these are the standards:
Photoshop: As the name implies, this program is designed to edit photos, as well as create and edit pixel-based art. Pixel-based art is, as you might suspect, made of pixels, meaning it will degrade in quality as you scale it in size.
Illustrator: This program creates vector-based graphics, which do not lose quality when they are made larger or smaller. Logos and other items intended for non-web use should be made in Illustrator.
InDesign: The images you make in Photoshop and Illustrator can be combined into a single layout using InDesign, but it’s intended for use with print materials only. Brochures and posters, for example, are best made with InDesign.
If you have a particular task you want to accomplish with any of this software, you can nearly always find a video tutorial covering it and accumulate your software knowledge bit by bit.
Lynda.com also has courses in all three programs; each one will take 3-4 hours to complete.
3. Video Production as a Marketing Skill
From screencasts to customer success stories, videos are a huge part of modern marketing. If you can produce premium quality videos on a deadline, you’ll be able to exploit this medium to the fullest.
The most commonly used video type for marketers is the screencast, in which you take a video of your screen and (often) a recording of your voice.
Options for creating these kinds of videos are many and varied; your choice will depend on your budget, how often you plan to use it, how you want to share the videos, and the level of quality you’ll be satisfied with.
There’s a solid review of 15 of the most cost-effective tools here.
You can also record live videos, but to get anything approaching a professional appearance you’ll need to invest in both high quality hardware (mics, noise cancellation, cameras, etc.) and software (for editing).
Most video software, whether it’s for screencasts or live video, will come with some introductory guidance. Definitely take the time to review it.
After the introduction it’s going to be up to you to get in there and play with it. Record, edit, and repeat until you can efficiently put out professional videos on demand.
Learning to Love Marketing Data
4. Embrace Data Collection, Analysis and Visualization as Key Marketing Skills
Marketing may be strictly defined as “the action or business of promoting and selling products or services,” but the rise of digital marketing has meant an ever-increasing focus on specific data points to measure success.
Your marketing skills list absolutely must include proficiency not just in knowing what data is important, but also how to collect, analyze and report on it.
Data Collection: Whether it’s everybody’s frenemy Google Analytics, Hubspot, or some other tool, try to be involved in its setup and implementation. It’s a lot easier to understand the idiosyncrasies of a software when you’re the one putting it through its paces.
Data Analysis: Regardless of whether you set up your data collection or not, a working knowledge of the numbers that it spits out is a non-negotiable marketing skill. You’ve got to know what it means when the numbers take a dive, and how to reverse it. You also need to know what a meaningful change is; a .75% increase in website traffic isn’t worth mentioning, but increase your Adwords CTR by that much in a week and you might want to bring it up.
Data Visualization: Understanding data is a big step, but an equally crucial marketing skill is clearly communicating that data’s value to others. Whether it’s clients or supervisors, you need to be able to convert numbers into visually meaningful charts, reports, and/or infographics.
As a brief aside, SurveyGizmo’s new Reports Explorer makes visualizing connections in your data fast, simple, and beautiful. You can learn more here.
Where to Learn Data Analysis
Google offers classes in Analytics, as does Lynda.com. If you use third party software they should provide training, either one-on-one or in the form of videos and documentation. Take the time to learn it; you’ll be glad you did.
Bonus Marketing Skills
Mastered the basic marketing data skills? Bonus points for being able to efficiently research and report on the following:
Customer Segmentation and Sales Funnel Mapping
Consumer Path to Purchase
You Have the WRITE to Marketing Excellence
5. Writing: A Traditional Marketing Skills That Isn’t Going Away
This one is fairly obvious: successful marketers need writing skills. Of course, you can’t just be an expert at one kind of writing. Marketers must write across the full spectrum of content types, media, and audiences.
Tweets, blog posts, press releases, reports to the C-suite, white papers…the list goes on and on.
Many people find that the best way to get better at writing is simply to write. Set aside an hour a day, sit down in a quiet place, and crank out as many words as you can. It might be hard at first, but eventually your brain will click right into writing mode and churn.
Writing Course on Lynda.com.
Soft Skills that Marketers Need to Cultivate
6. General Professional Skills, and Seeing the Big Picture
Even if you’ve got stellar coding, video, graphic, and writing skills, you’re going to hit road blocks if you’re tough to work with or if you can’t navigate a tricky professional relationship.
For starters, check out these books:
Managing Oneself, by Peter Ferdinand Drucker
10 Things Employers Expect Employees to Know: A Soft Skills Training Workbook by Frederick H. Wentz
You can also do some personality tests and analyses to identify your own personal areas of weakness and focus some personal development time on those in particular.
These soft skills are harder to justifiably devote working hours to, but they will go far in helping you sell your marketing initiatives to supervisors, colleagues, and clients.
7. Time Management: The Hardest Marketing Skill of All?
Yes, marketers are all busy. But do we have to be quite so frantic? Marketers in general need to learn to prioritize projects, identify the easy win, and abandon time-sucking tasks with little ROI.
To do this we must, first and foremost, learn to stay on task.
This is a lot harder than it seems when you’ve got a Twitter feed that needs babysitting, well-meaning colleagues who “stop by to chat” when you’re in the middle of a blog post, and an email campaign that’s getting too many bounces, all in the same morning.
Then there’s every marketer’s downfall: the rabbit hole of knowledge. You look up information on a new change to Google algorithm, and the next thing you know you’ve spent an hour reading up on semantic search and the future of SEO.
That information is probably valuable, but did it get you any closer to achieving your objectives for the day? Probably not.
Some daily distractions are unavoidable, but we can always manage our days more effectively. Check out the Getting Things Done system, one of my favorites, or browse LifeHacker for tons of productivity ideas. If nothing in these sites jumps out at you, find your own system.
Above all, take a few hours or a day and get yourself organized. Do it right and stick to it, and the hours you save in a single week will more than make up for the time investment.
Bonus Marketing Skill
Stay in touch with your company’s broad goals and objectives. It’s easy for marketers to get bogged down in retweets and conversions and lose site of where their company as a whole is going.
Take a minute to come up for air, chat with people from other departments, and join in on some high level planning meetings. Contribute ideas, or just listen, without worrying about how much work they might make for you in the long run.
Be a part of the vision, not just its mouthpiece, and you’ll be more satisfied and more successful.
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