Industry experts say AI and machine learning will revolutionize email marketing.
From self-running campaigns to clairvoyant customer insights, the hype is building.
But is your marketing technology ready to deliver?
This article was produced in partnership with Adestra.
The robots are coming!
Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Elon Musk. They’ve all said AI is one of the greatest threats to humanity we’ve ever seen. So why aren’t we filling our cars with cans of tomato soup and shipping out to the mountains?
Because when marketers talk about AI, they’re not talking about the kind of unnerving, pseudo-human machines that belong in science fiction. They’re talking about technology that can ‘learn’ from past experiences and adjust its behaviour accordingly – all without human intervention.
Although the tech is still in its infancy, it has the potential to deliver some fantastic benefits to email marketers. Not so scary, right?
Why is technology like AI relevant to email, you might ask?
Because of its simplicity and capacity for personalization, email marketing has stayed at the forefront of innovation – weathering criticism of irrelevance and, according to eMarketer, delivering the highest ROI of all marketing channels (122% in 2016).
In recent years, there have been several important innovations that have kept email relevant. Two of the most important are automation and audience segmentation.
The former allows marketers to schedule emails to be sent based on behavioural triggers, such as website interactions.
A common example of this is the confirmation link – sent automatically when a user completes a sign-up form. It can also be used to re-engage users who have viewed a particular page on your website, or abandoned their basket before completing a purchase.
The second, audience segmentation, unlocks one of the biggest benefits email marketing can offer – personalization. Splitting your customers into chunks based on their behaviour and preferences allows you to craft ultra-relevant messaging.
More relevant emails drive better open rates, click-through rates and conversions. Research by Experian found that personalized promotional email saw a 29% increase in unique open rates and a 41% boost in unique clicks.
The true promise of AI
Automation and segmentation are incredibly useful tools that help marketers send better emails. But currently they’re still a highly manual process: relying on the marketer performing tests, drawing insights from the results and making incremental changes.
The human element of this makes it time-consuming and prone to error.
In time, AI could take the human out of the equation entirely – performing the same tasks quicker, more accurately and on a larger scale, optimizing the process as it happens.
Last week, Campaign reported that a lingerie brand had handed over their digital advertising to a custom-built AI called Albert, who increased their return on ad spend by 50% in the first month.
This kind of technology isn’t mainstream just yet, but that’s not to say progress isn’t being made – this article from Email on Acid picks out a few interesting use-cases:
- Phrasee – uses artificial intelligence to generate and optimize the body copy in your emails
- Conversica – a virtual sales assistant that sends out lead-nurturing emails based on behavior
- Automizy – automatically optimizes send time, and can test three versions of each email in a campaign simultaneously.
Consumer standards are rising
One thing is certain: time is running out for marketers who ignore these innovations and continue to rely on ‘batch and blast’ approaches to get their customers’ attention.
Competition in consumer inboxes is fierce. According to the Radcati Group, the average office worker receives 121 emails every day.
Email is cheap and easy to do in high volume, and it’s often abused by businesses that believe high volume is the best strategy (I’m looking at you, Groupon).
This has resulted in rising consumer standards. Adestra’s 2016 Consumer Adoption and Usage Survey found that 67% of individuals will unsubscribe when confronted by an undesired email. Consumers don’t have the time or attention span to concentrate on something that might be relevant to them.
Luckily, marketers are beginning to understand that successful email campaigns are about working smarter, not harder. A Weber Shandwick study surveyed 150 senior executives in five countries and found that 68% were currently selling, using or planning for business in the AI era. Nearly 60% thought that companies would need to compete in the AI space to succeed.
In other words, it’s never been more important to ensure your email marketing technology is delivering the ROI it’s capable of.
To find out whether your email technology is ready for the future, download ClickZ Intelligence’s latest Zoom-in report ‘Email and the Age of First-Person Marketing’, produced in partnership with Adestra.
This article was produced in partnership with Adestra. Click here to read our collaborative content guidelines.