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.

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Tink Taylor is founder and president of dotmailer, an email marketing automation platform that enables companies to use transactional, behavioral, and social data to design, test, and send automated campaigns.

LinkedIn: Tink Taylor