learnTo be an effective business-to-business marketer, there seems to be an ever-growing list of new skills that need to be developed, honed and deepened.

Today, a chief marketing officer needs to be fluent in his/her use of, Marketing automation and CRM software, HTML5 & CSS3, SEO tactics, Graphic & print design applications, Social media promotion, Video production-- I could keep going!

As marketers, we often fall into the mindset that certain technological skills are just too difficult to master, so we stay away from them (e.g.: HTML, CSS, Adobe Design Applications & Video Production). I am here to tell you that you can and need to master these disciplines, and I will point you to the tools to help you develop them. Let’s get started!

1) Coding Skills

If you're like most inbound marketers that I know, you rely heavily on your writing skills. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as content is central to the inbound marketing philosophy. Pages upon pages of copy needs to be written for all those landing pages, case studies, and emails that need to be sent out. However, as inbound marketers, 95% percent of everything that we build and create is online. Therefore, by adding a working knowledge of how websites and landing pages are created, you can exponentially expand the value that you bring to your organization.

So what are the skills you need to learn to build or edit a website? The answer is simple. Websites are built with two main coding languages: HTML and CSS. These two languages break up a website into its structure (HTML) and its style (CSS). Think of it this way: if you were to equate building a house to building a website, then the structure of the house--the frame and support beams--would be your HTML. The styling of your house, like the paint you choose, the pictures that you hang, and the way that you arrange your furniture, would be your CSS.

Having a conceptual grasp of HTML and CSS will allow you to:

  1. Bring outsourced work back in-house: The economic downturn has many companies looking to extract more work from existing personnel resources. Knowing HTML and CSS will allow you to develop the website’s structure and style without the need for outside help.
  2. Increase your communication ability: If your company does outsource work you can more clearly communicate with website developers.

Have you ever heard a member of your development team say “increase the border radius by 5 pixels” or “move that div to the left”? Once you know HTML and CSS you will know what this means and will be able to fully participate in the conversation.

Enhance your control: With a working knowledge of HTML and CSS, you can change your site on the fly, making sure it is constantly up to date with the latest trends and best practices.

How do you go about learning these skills if you have no previous coding experience, don’t have a lot of time, and have limited financial resources to dedicate to this new skill? Well, recently, some great online resources have become available specifically to teach non-coders how to code.

Some of these resources are free while some have a low monthly subscription for the service, but the paying options are all affordable. Here are my personal favorites:

  • Beginners: If you are just starting out and have no previous experience writing code, start with Code Academy. Its a free resource that will take you through to “how-to” of learning to write HTML and CSS in a fun and engaging way. It starts with the absolute basics and incrementally helps you advance your skills.
  • Intermediate Knowledge: If you have some prior experience or have already been exposed to HTML and CSS, a great resource for you is Treehouse. This resource is a paid for service that costs between $25 and $50 a month, depending on the plan you choose. Treehouse does an excellent job of solidifying the concepts of coding and development with videos, quizzes and coding challenges. Treehouse really does a great job of making the learning process enjoyable.
  • Intermediate to Advanced Knowledge: If you have fully explored and mastered the concepts taught by Code Academy and Treehouse and you would like to continue to build your coding skill set, check out Code School. Code School is an awesome paid resource ($29/month) that will help you master HTML and CSS techniques.

References: As you embark on this new journey of learning HTML and CSS, words and concepts that you don’t fully understand will crop up from time to time. For definitions and explanations, use W3Schools as your dictionary as you learn this new skill set.

The great part of learning HTML and CSS is that these languages are universal and can be used to build a website from scratch or used when building on other platforms like Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal, and Hubspot. If you still need some inspiration to learn to code, watch this YouTube video.

2) Design Skills

Steve Jobs, the father of user experience, said that “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” This trend in user experience, user-centered design and conversion-centered design has made it essential for every marketer to have at least a base level of design knowledge. So the second skill set that you should invest in is enhancing your design skills. I’m not saying that you need to go back to art school. However, by developing a core set of skills for graphic and print design, you will again enhance the value that you can add to your own business or organization.

When pursuing these skills, I believe there are actually two separate disciplines that need to be learned. The first is developing your design eye. What I mean by this is training your eye to be able to create websites, images, and print documents that look great and function for your intended audience. Unfortunately, there isn’t a straightforward path to developing your design eye; it comes only through practice and trial and error.

The second discipline that needs to be mastered is much more straightforward and formulaic. You must master the software applications needed to do the actual design work. Three main design applications need to be fully understood for any marketer to maintain at least a competency in design. These applications are Adobe Photoshop for raster-based images, Adobe Illustrator for vector-based graphics, and Adobe Indesign for print work. Developing skills in these three applications will allow you to create logos, images for your website, and print collateral.

But how do you develop these skills in a low-cost, on-demand way? Again, inexpensive online resources exist to help you develop this skill set, the best of which is Lynda.com. Lynda is an online tutorial website that allows you to watch videos on a variety of topics and work through exercises with an instructor. The great news is that Lynda.com has excellent resources for all the Adobe applications, and I highly reccommend it for anyone that is trying to get a working knowledge of how to use these design softwares.

By expanding your design knowledge base, you can start putting a beautiful exterior on the content that you produce as an inbound marketer. Whether it be a website design, an e-book layout or an email newsletter, great design enhances everything that you produce. Even if you have graphic design resources at your disposal, increasing your knowledge will only help you more effectively coach these resources. So start learning today!

3) Video Production Skills

In the last three years, the increase in online video consumption has been enormous. A ComScore study shows that 89 million people will watch 1.2 billion online videos today, and this number is projected to steadily increase. (For more stats on online video, read this Digiday post.) There is no arguing the point that consumers are readily choosing the video medium as their preferred method of media consumption. This growing trend needs to influence the way that we marketers distribute our content. Consequently, if we don’t have video production skills, we need to learn them and start putting them into practice.

The three main types of video production used in the B2B environment are animated “explainer” videos, live videos and screencasts. A definition of each is listed below:

  • Animated Explainer Videos: Explainer videos are one to three minute-long videos that communicate the products and services that your business provides. Explainer videos use illustrations and animated characters to tell the story.
  • Live Video: This is exactly what it sounds like: a video shot and edited without any animations or illustrations added in. Typically, this is an interview-style video in which individuals are talking about their experiences with a company’s products or services.
  • Screencast: This is a video recording of what is happening on your computer screen. We typically see this type of video used in software feature training.

As marketers, our job is primarily to produce educational content to help promote our products and services. So our main video focus areas should be explainer videos and live videos, as these two types best advance product and service promotion. However, video production and animation might sound much too difficult to even attempt. However, technologies exist that are doing a great job of simplifying this process for B2B marketers.

Animated Video Production Tools: My favorite tool for simplistic animated video production is GoAnimate. This is an online service that allows you to build and create professional videos in the cloud for a low monthly subscription. The great thing about GoAnimate is that the tool provides you with a plethora of pre-built illustrations, characters, background scenes and music snippets. As the marketer, you compile these assets into a cohesive video that tells your story. This is is a great way to dive into animated web video without making significant investments in hardware, software or time.

Live Video: Live video takes more time and financial investment to get started. However, with technology advances, it is much easier and cheaper for marketers to get a video production kit that can be used to create professional and effective web video. I personally have a video production kit (lights, tripod, backdrop) that can be used with an Ipad. The whole kit can be packed up into a small duffel bag and transported to my client sites for on-facility shoots.

Video Production Skill Development

As you can probably tell, I am a huge proponent of free or inexpensive online resources to enhance your marketing skill set, and this extends into developing the skills you need for video production. So to stay in that vein, here are a couple of resources--one free, one paid--that will help you build your video production skill set.

Video Learning Center: If you have read any of my other blog posts, you will have noticed that I am a huge fan of the video hosting company Wistia. They do an excellent job of putting out great educational resources to both customers and prospects alike. Check out the Wistia Learning Center and learn about everything from how to set up a down-and-dirty lighting system to video scripting tips.

Video Editing Software Training: The industry standard in video editing software is Adobe Premier. This is an application that allows you to add video, music, and image content into a timeline and compile a finished movie that can be easily exported for use on the Web. The best way to get training on this application is Lynda.com, because you can work through videos and exercises to advance your skill set.

By expanding your video production skills in both the live video and explainer video fields, you can more readily tap into a growing trend of the new ways that consumers are looking to consume information on your products and services via the Internet.


As a professional marketer, it is essential that you always continue to develop your skill set and grow your knowledge base, and in our current marketing environment, this means learning to code, learning design skills and learning how to produce professional videos.

Learning these skills might seem scary at first, but the free and low-cost resources listed above do a great job of demystifying them. You can learn these skills and develop these talents right in the comfort of your own home or office.

You don’t need a degree from RISD to learn to animate, build web graphics and do print design. By taking advantage of resources like Code Academy, Code School, Treehouse and Lynda.com, you will be well on your way. So turn 2014 into your own personal year of learning!

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Originally published Jan 14, 2014 10:00:00 AM, updated January 18 2023


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