Artificial intelligence (AI) is the sexiest conversation in email marketing at the moment, but few marketers are ready for it. Here's what the buzz doesn't tell you, and what you can do now to prepare for an AI-empowered email marketing future.
1. For most email marketers, AI is not the next step
AI depends on data to understand each of your customers across all devices and channels. It has the ability to help you recognize what thousands or millions of potential customers want before they even know it themselves, but achieving those insights at scale requires masses of organized, integrated data. That's about two steps beyond what companies typically have now.
Companies don't lack data. Marketers today have unprecedented amounts of data at their fingertips—so much that it can feel as if you almost need a data scientist just to understand what you've got—but the data is often disorganized or disconnected.
As a first step to get ready for AI, organize and integrate your data. You need a good, clean set of current data that encompasses information gathered at every customer touchpoint, from Web analytics to customer service interactions to social media conversations and so on. Centralize data from different departments, systems and vendors. The task takes time, especially for industry leaders that make it a priority to accumulate data, but having organized and integrated data will set you apart from your competitors and prepare you to take advantage of AI's predictive potential.
And it will give you a better foundation for evaluating which AI applications are usable, when you should use them, and whether or not you should take an all-encompassing approach to AI.
2. You won't achieve AI-powered email marketing with a giant leap
The hype around AI has trapped a lot of marketers. The technology is there, and it sounds great, so you easily get sucked into thinking of AI as the panacea that will fix every pain point forever. Then you avoid doing the real basics properly. Big mistake.
Email marketing remains the preferred channel across all age groups by a 2:1 ratio, but more than 80% of consumers say that less than half of the emails they receive are relevant or interesting, according to the DMA's 2016 Consumer Email Tracker. When the hype holds you back from making needed improvements, AI becomes the lazy man's answer to email marketing.
Your strategy: break the work into bite-size chunks. To start personalizing...
- Find out how often your customers want to be emailed and whether they would like to be contacted regarding specific events or products.
- Create customer segments that enable you to deliver a more personal touch.
- Send welcome emails, birthday emails, and thank-you emails.
- Email your customers when they stop browsing or abandon their shopping carts or reach a purchase anniversary.
- Remind them about events and sales.
Those things are all simple to set up and easy to do; the capability is available today. Test everything on a regular basis so that you can learn how to improve.
Use all the automated email tools at your disposal; if you're not, you're leaving money on the table. You won't move into AI with one great leap, but you can get there with pigeon steps.
3. You already have AI-type email marketing capabilities
Some benefits of AI exist today in email marketing, thanks to features such as send time optimization, which uses analytics on engagement history to predict the best time to send an email to each individual recipient. When you optimize your send time, your automated campaign starts the moment you hit "send," but individual recipients receive the email at the specific time of day that works best for them.
AI also already enables email tools that use language algorithms to create stronger subject lines, body copy, and calls to action. With analytics that evaluate hundreds of emotions, sentiments and phrases, AI predicts which language will best increase engagement, reflect your brand voice and sound human.
As you put your data in order and personalize your campaigns, consider current AI-type capabilities that help you add value to every customer conversation. You can't afford to wait in an era of increasing customer expectations, and the AI buzz itself has raised consumer expectations for personalization and relevant content throughout their brand journey.
By taking advantage of opportunities available today, you can put your brand's emails in the mix with those that consumers look forward to opening.
* * *
In the foreseeable future, AI will fast-track your sales pipeline by getting customized messages to people who are primed and ready to buy. Ultimately—the real payoff—it will help you aggregate insights across multiple data sources so that you can identify potential customers based on purchases they've made from other companies.
But none of that changes what you need to do today: Prepare your data, perfect the basics, and use the best tools available, and you'll find that AI extends the strategy marketers have always used... Just be as human as possible.