Artificial intelligence (AI) describes many types of smart technologies that mimic human intelligence and automate problem-solving. The use of AI has increased by email marketing platforms to predict, recommend, and decide certain daily tasks for a marketer. It excels in analyzing large sets of data to decide what works for providing a high email campaign performance.
The question is apart from the data insights and the technological feed, can AI also help improve your email strategy? What inputs can it give to make the job easier for an email marketer?
We asked some of the leading Industry experts – Jenna Tiffany, Andrew Bonnar, Ryan Phelan, and Chris Marriott as well as yours truly to share on how AI is reshaping email strategy and what are the pain points of a marketer that it will help to resolve in coming years?
Combining AI and marketer skills to create personalized experiences
I was watching a scene from the Steve Jobs movie recently, where the character of Jobs, tells his daughter
“I am going to put a 1000 songs inside your pocket.”
He was referring to the innovation of Ipod. That got me wondering if, a marketer can rely on a digital assistant to handle their entire email marketing program on their own.
Like the innovation of an artificial marketing mind. You can put on a small device, activate the plan using a few buttons and your email strategy is created by the machine. Easy!
You might think I must be exaggerating the impact of AI/ML has had on the marketing world.
We have seen the rise of AI/ML in marketing technologies. But, how is it reshaping the way we see email marketing?
Is AI Changing The Way We Look At Email?
AI/ML technologies are being used by marketers to improve their engagement and ROI. Now, if you have the AI-powered marketing platform, you can automate some of your daily time-consuming tasks like :
- Come up with the best subject lines for high open rates.
- Think of the best content to send the audience.
- Send the campaign to the users when they check their mail.
- Decide which users are the best ones to engage.
Some think the time of a marketer gets reduced as the smart engines can make the decisions for themselves.
But you have to blend the email strategy with your content and unique brand identity to better your user experience. In the end, your email program doesn’t have to provide you only with engagement but also to provide value to your subscribers.
AI helps to find the right tone for you to speak with your subscribers. It can help to engage with them and increase your brand equity. It can even improve your email deliverability!
What you shouldn’t forget though is that email marketing is a combination of art, creativity, and technical domain knowledge.
While AI can master the technical part, it filters the breaching in the creativity part by the use of neural networks to come up with creative solutions. Gmail has developed supercomputers that imitate an artificial brain to make spam filter decisions.
The AI/ML technologies of the mailbox provider filter the billions of emails per day for their spam classification. So, if AI/ML can filter email spam, it can also create email content that creates an impact. Which gets us to the part of how will AI help the marketer on a daily basis….
What Are The Pain Points Of A Marketer That AI Can Resolve?
So the following are some of the benefits of AI so for seen for a marketer:
Improving Subject Lines For Engagement
AI feature of Subject line optimization (SLO), processes the keywords and subject lines used in the past, to come up with keywords that have worked to increase engagement. Crafting an email subject line requires some time with great copy-writing skills and lots of A/B tests. A marketer won’t have to waste their time on such issues anymore with AI algorithms able to predict the best attention-grabbing subject line.
Optimizing Email Send Times
You can get the best open and click rates and drive transactions with optimizing send times.(STO) . You can use this feature by placing your emails on top of their inbox by optimizing the delivery time. According to a recent survey by Netcore of their brands using STO, it has doubled the open rates.
Example: While Annie might be more likely to buy something from an email that’s sent to her on the weekend. Bobby might respond better to an email that’s sent to him on Monday morning during his commute to work.
Personalizing User Experience
User personalization has also got a shot in the arm with AI algorithms that are able to predict based on past browsing and interaction history. They can tell what kind of contextual personalized content needs to be targeted to a user to get them hooked to your products/services.
Even email deliverability has seen an uplift up to 30% and engagement by a further 35-50% according to a recent analysis we did on our brands that enabled the predictive engagement feature. It is such a cool feature that we have at Netcore, you need to read about it here for what it does.
Email Marketing Needs A Human Touch
This does not mean that one day AI will completely replace a marketer, as marketing needs a human touch to blend the message with the audience. Marry your marketing skills with AI features to come up with extraordinary results. A marketer will design their content adhering to the brand guidelines and tone and format of interaction. You can also select the best segment to target the audience.
Another con that I have observed with organizations is that sometimes the cost of investment in AI can also outdo your returns from email. That is something a Chief Marketing Officer/ Marketing manager needs to check before being on board with the AI experience.
AI is changing how marketer designs, plans, and implements their email program. A lot of campaign decisions can be taken by your AI software, which will reduce the time and effort of an email marketer.
But email marketing requires many aspects which need human intervention. Right from deciding the email strategy to executing the overall program to achieve your goals. Also, the cost vs benefit of AI needs to be calculated for any organization before going ahead, otherwise, you could find yourself having a sophisticated marketing platform with little ROI to show for it.
The best way forward for a marketer will be to use AI for providing its users with a more personalized experience and generating desired ROI and results. AI and the marketer can combine forces to offer their customers more personalized and contextual content.
AI may come in as the tactical approach to fulfilling the strategy
I’m excited by the impact AI can have on email marketing. I’ve helped several clients implement AI solutions to improve email campaigns, mostly focused on optimising subject lines. It’s incredible to witness AI recommendations outperform marketers and repeatedly do so. Typically machine learning will also be incorporated learning from subscriber engagement with the capacity to adapt at scale.
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned strategy yet. AI is fantastic, there is no doubt about that and provides vast opportunities to email marketers. But it doesn’t create miracles. The email strategy still needs to be defined, objectives set and then AI may come in as the tactical approach to fulfilling the strategy. Without a strategy, choosing AI over clearly defined goals means that you’ll struggle to determine how successful it has been for your email marketing. It’s essential to decide on what you’re trying to achieve and the problem you are trying to solve before choosing the technology/solution.
That being said, if AI is the right fit for your email marketing strategy, it needs the marketers’ input. AI feeds off data. It also needs to understand about your brand voice, the campaigns you’re sending all of which the marketer is crucially required.
Email marketers and AI working together have a long future ahead.
Jenna Tiffany has been recognized in 2020 as one of the top 50 marketers to follow in the world. Jenna is the Founder & Strategy Director at Let’sTalk Strategy providing strategic consultancy services across the digital marketing mix. Jenna is a Chartered Marketer and awarded Fellow of the IDM with over ten years’ marketing experience. Jenna has consulted with brands such as Shell, Hilton, and World Duty-Free to name a few on email marketing strategy.
Jenna is an elected member of the prestigious DMA UK Email Marketing Council, the Chair of the Research hub developing the latest email insights. Jenna is also a marketing tutor as well as a competent public speaker and publisher, speaking regularly at hundreds of marketing. Jenna regularly gets interviewed for her thoughts on the latest trends regularly contributing to Only Influencers email marketing blog and authored Smart Insights Quick Win Guide: Designing an email welcome journey.
Delivering tangible value to your subscriber through the utilization of AI
I think much of the answer lies in the way that marketing and business have been reshaped by AI and how that has impacted email. AI permeates every area of email marketers’ life in 2020 whether they care to realize it or not. Those filtering decisions impacting a campaigns deliverability are increasingly adopting AI, in the effort to better classify ham (as opposed to spam), to help classify email, no longer is it just one or two inbox providers using smarter AI to make filtering and classification decisions.
In terms of what can be done inside an email and the subscriber journey, much of the behavioral analysis has been around for many years. insights into subscribers behavior within your email campaign cycles and even their interactions on your site have long been married together by smart marketers looking to provide a more granular trigger-based email campaign cycle.
I think where AI is able to come into its own for email marketers is when you are able to implement learnings made from delivering the benefits of AI to the end consumer. Finding how to harness AI in a way that you are delivering tangible value to your subscriber directly through the utilization of AI, and also benefiting the brand directly with long term returns is the real challenge for marketers. How do you provide AI tech to your consumers for their benefit and also gain at the same time?
In terms of the ability to deliver smarter more effective email campaigns, build bigger lists, and deliver greater ROI from your email marketing using AI delivered directly to the consumer you only need to look at a business like L’Oréal and how they utilized AI in providing virtual dermatology checkups to consumers, encouraging them to opt-in via email and/or enhance their subscriber profile with valuable information.
L’Oréal cracked the code (we posted a recent case study from EmailSOldiers about how the additional data garnered greater lifetime ROI) and found the way to deliver the win-win, with their interaction with the consumer where they exchanged a photo/video of themselves in exchange L’Oréal provided tailored, individualized recommendations of products.
A veteran of the email space for over 25 years, starting the receiver side at @Pobox UK as co-Founder of the world’s first free email service. Now immersed in his work at emailexpert.com as co-founder of the leading inclusive community for email professionals and occasional working with select enterprise senders in respect of their deliverability challenges.
Is AI the holy grail? It’s pretty damn close.
I don’t think AI is reshaping email strategy yet – at least, not at a scale that moves the needle.
For 20 years, the email industry has worked, spoken, published, and preached about the need to use data to enhance targeting and relevance. Yet, after all this influence, we’ve only just cracked the barrier where more than 50% of marketers use some sort of data (ref. 2018 Relevancy Group Study) in their email programs.
We generally see rapid advancement at the top percentage of marketers at companies in the Fortune 100. Advanced uses of data and technology usually trickle down from there, but that takes time.
Don’t get me wrong, AI, or machine learning, is a wonderful goal, but it’s a goal that doesn’t have wide adoption or ease of use … yet. The recent COVID tragedy has amplified that many companies struggle even to achieve digital transformation. How can we link that disconnect with the adoption of a technology that outpaces current systems?
All this may seem bleak, but there’s hope out there. Marketers need a simple and straightforward way to understand both the systems that can produce AI/ML output and the data sciences that are the underpinning of the strategy. There’s a lot to learn. So, the confluence of “easy button” technologies and education will be central to this adoption and widespread use.
As for the pain points that it can resolve, that’s easy. At scale, AI can make connections faster than we can. Aside from knowing that AI/ ML is only as smart as the person who programmed it, we can clearly see through other applications that they allow the marketer to connect directly to the subscriber.
Is AI the holy grail? It’s pretty damn close.
In Ryan Phelan’s two decades of global marketing leadership, he has spearheaded innovative strategies for high-growth SaaS software and Fortune 250 companies. His experience, knowledge and unique perspective have also given him an international reputation as a keynote speaker and thought leader. Ryan is currently the Co-Founder of Origin Email Agency and is based outside of Dallas, Texas.
Third-party platforms to bring the AI to decide the image to deploy
Personalization at scale remains a goal of digital marketers, but it’s a goal that is aspirational more than one that can be reached by most marketers. But now, the technology to enable it is finally coming into view. Today, martech and adtech platforms are increasingly using machine learning and artificial intelligence to score, rank and recommend optimal image (photo, drawing, etc.) for digital marketing. These platforms ingest inputs from a variety of sources (audience data, purchase history, location, other signals) to enable fully automated, highly personalized imagery. From what I am seeing, the early use cases seem to involve platforms targeting SMBs where the focus is on high scale projects that require both the automation and optimization of creative, in particular, fully automated display ads.
It seems logical that this type of hyper-personalization would be applied to email campaigns, particularly at the SMB level. But SMB platforms aren’t built to support creative optimization at scale. In fact, most ESPs can’t really support the degree of personalization currently being used in display advertising. So I see an opportunity for a third-party platform to step into the breach and bring the AI to decide the image to deploy and the API to deliver that image in real-time (at build OR open). In theory, this will enable marketers maximize the impact of their messaging and increase click rates on opened emails. Will it? We won’t know until someone tries it. On a related note, it’s worth noting that I am seeing the businesses models evolve – aligning with how these approaches could improve performance. In effect, they become a “cost of sale” as opposed to a marketing expense.
President & Founder of Email Connect LLC
A 25-year veteran of digital marketing, including well over a decade in email marketing, Chris is a recognized expert in the process of connecting leading brands with the right marketing technology partners and platforms.
Prior to founding Email Connect as a consultancy focused exclusively on the ESP vendor selection process, Chris served as a tenured executive at Acxiom, leading and building its Global Digital and Email Agency Services team into one of the industry’s top services providers.
Additionally he is a regular columnist on email marketing and the RFP process, and is an adviser to several emerging marketing technology companies including AudiencePoint and Shotzr. He holds a BA from Dartmouth College.