Marketing for Designers: The minimum info you need it “make it” in a marketing department.

For many years, I thought as a designer, the key to climb the salary ladder was one of two ways: (1) I had to learn how to code and become a hybrid designer/front end developer, or (2) I had to get an MBA.

I dabbled in teaching myself basic html, css, js, php, how to get a site going on wordpress, how to build emails, how to edit audio, how to do motion graphics. I enjoyed it because I enjoy learning new things and challenging myself in new mediums, but I also realized that in the agencies I was doing contract work for, the people who “knew” the nuts and bolts of how things are built were relegated to the production pen, while the Art Directors and Copywriters did the fun strategic and conceptual work. At the same time, the in-house departments I was doing contract work for had far cheaper contractors lined up, capable of doing that same “nuts and bolts” work from Eastern Europe for pennies to the dollar of what I could offer. Being stuck in the proverbial pen also meant you had no voice in the strategic table; marketing managers had the final say and I was taking orders and generating rounds upon rounds of proofing on emails with terrible UX.

At that point, I realized I should probably explore the post-graduate option. It turns out, however, that if you get an MFA, you’re expected to work in academia. If you get an MBA, you’ll probably be lost to the ranks of management and never be able to design anything else again. Besides, the cost was prohibitive, and in my late 20s it meant I would have to move back in with my parents and look into some sort of online program.

There had to be other ways to have a seat (and a voice) at the table while still designing and learning new things. I found the “right path” when I asked one of my bosses to allow me to start attending all marketing meetings, instead of just the creative- or project-related ones. For the first six months, all I did was take notes. I would log in to the hangout call, mute myself and write down all the acronyms I couldn’t understand. I asked to be sent copies of all the reports for campaigns. I read all the persona documents. Then I would look up the acronyms. I signed myself up for a few non-creative marketing-only skills webinars. Basically, I cobbled together an informal marketing education program that would allow me to have a conversation one-on-one with a marketing manager, formulate strategies and concepts, and then actually do the work.

Here’s what I learned:

You need to have a working knowledge of content marketing. Yes, I know your “deal” is visuals. But think how much more effective can you be to a client when you can not only make the ad units look absolutely beautiful, but you can also provide complementary content recommendations? Content is the cornerstone of digital marketing. Whether its a list of blogging topic suggestions, sketching out a webinar, putting together and sharing infographics on social media or developing a Pinterest strategy, having a basic understanding of how the content methodology works is key to being successful.

You need to have at least a basic understanding of what Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is. The goal of all marketing activities is to convert the audience from a bystander to a customer. Conversion rate optimization is, in it simplest form, the steps you take to make the experience so compelling that the audience has no other choice but to buy your product or service. The better you understand how to apply CRO concepts to landing pages, email marketing, product pages, advertising, content and every other aspect of the marketing funnel; the better you can be at providing your client with strategic and conceptual direction.

You need to understand analytics. You don’t need to become a data engineer, but you should be able to look at a Facebook Ad report, or a Google Analytics dashboard and understand the basics. This is where the alphabet soup of acronyms comes in: MRR, churn, bounce rate, load time, impressions, engagements, page views. Find out what they mean and then use them to inform your design decisions.

You need to understand how social media works. Instagram, Reddit, Snapchat, Pinterest, Facebook, Linkedin. You should know what they all are, who they cater to and how to listen to what is happening in each one. The right social media mix is key to a marketing plan. Not every company will find Twitter useful, and you should at least have an understanding of how they work. When you are able to tap into the right social venue for your clients’ product or service, you will be able to become an amazing resource they cannot live without.

You know that SEO is important. Yes, a basic knowledge of SEO is important, even today. Familiarize yourself with on-page SEO, off-page SEO and technical SEO so you can make sound decisions when providing with website design, content migration and other website-related services. Needless to say, without good SEO, the best marketing campaign will be seen by no one.

You should have a basic knowledge of marketing automation. Whether it’s CRM, or an email marketing platform, or how to connect different actions into an automated workflow using a variety of tools; you should be able to create the logic, activate and implement the necessary tools, build the workflow and deploy it. You don’t have to know all of the tools, but in my experience when you’ve worked with one, you’ve more or less figured out how to work with the others with very few exceptions. I’ve also learned a lot of clients who are dipping their collective toes into the automation waters for the first time are also very open to your expert suggestions, which then allows you to suggest and implement your personal favorite over and over again.

Stay up-to-date. Just because you took a webinar about inbound in 2014, doesn’t mean that you are now a marketer. The skills in a marketer’s toolbox are an ever-changing myriad of techniques, platforms and trends and if you don’t practice them, use them and keep them current it has the same effect as trying to use PageMaker in a world full of InDesign.

Becoming a designer who can do marketing has great benefits. If you are the kind of professional who enjoys working in the nuts and bolts of the operation, adding marketing knowledge to your resources is a great way to amplify the earning potential and the size of the engagements you can offer to your clients—if you’re a contractor—or can put you in the lucrative path to becoming a full-fledged Marketing professional or executive without having to go back to school to pursue a postgraduate degree.

Creativity, DesignAstrid Storey