Artificial Intelligence – A New Chapter for Email Marketing

It doesn’t seem so long ago (to some of us!) that email as a marketing tool simply didn’t exist. This all changed in 1996 when Hotmail (known back then as HoTMaiL) exploded onto the scene providing anyone and everyone with a free, email account. With billions of people adopting webmail and able to view email from anywhere with a browser, it revolutionised the way we communicate.

It wasn’t long before brands saw the value of email as a powerful and incredibly cost-effective direct marketing tool. But the tactics were not sophisticated and the technology in its infancy (when is technology not in its infancy?!). The last two decades has seen email marketing messages evolve from text with a few links to something much flashier – stunning imagery, videos, embedded social media posts. Increasing internet speeds, advances in technology, changes in law (opt-in being the most significant and particularly current again with the GDPR shortly coming into force) and an increasingly hard-to-impress consumer base, has taken digital marketing on a huge journey. The spray and pray (tell as many people as you possibly can and they will come) strategies of yesteryear have been stamped out and a rise in automated and behavioural led programmes has enabled us to segment audiences and personalise messages based on a given groups’ needs and wants.

But now, we’re on the verge of entering a completely new era in email marketing and it’s a little too futuristic and scary. Last year, there was more interest in Artificial Intelligence among marketers than ever before and 2018 is going to see a growing adoption of these technologies that push personalisation into individualisation.

Delivering more personalised experiences has long been the goal of marketers from the times when the cutting edge of personalisation meant addressing email readers by their first name to more recent times where our email communications have been personalised around customer journeys, buyer personas and market segment analyses.

But, with AI-powered machine learning algorithms entering the arena, marketers have a way to crunch huge sets of data to personalise and automate customer communications in a way that simply isn’t humanly possible, and in this way, moving personalisation on to the next level….actually way beyond the next level!

Because the thing with AI is that, it doesn’t just take data-driven, complex tasks and make them look easy. It uses machine learning to continually create its own algorithms, learning and getting smarter all the time.

Using AI technologies, email marketing is no longer limited to the rule-based triggers to segment and automate, that we consider to be best practice today. It is fluid and completely in the moment, able to change instantly as new data comes in and provide insights into the courses of action that are most likely to resonate with the buyer. Constantly evaluating a huge array of audience data, your marketing emails can be timed to hit the inbox of any given individual at the time they are most likely to open it. Your campaigns can contain dynamic product recommendations created on a per customer basis in real-time. You can even vary the language and emotion of your email content to suit individual subscribers. See? Very scary!

You can see how these seemingly small adjustments, driven by some serious data crunching, can lead to more personalised user experiences that not only assist email marketers to build deeper connections with their subscribers but that in turn result in significant improvements to CTRs and lead to sale conversions.

The implication of AI technologies for email marketing is exciting (scary) but to be honest, we’re not quite there yet. Even so, it’s hard to believe how far email has come in such a short space of time and the mind boggles at what the future may hold. In 2018, AI seems so cutting edge and it’s hard to imagine how anything could be more sophisticated, but, in our efforts to keep this cost-effective, far reaching tool generating the best ROI of any marketing channel, how far can we go? How far will we go?

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