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Artificial Intelligence in Email Today, Big Impact Tomorrow

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been glorified for many years in science fiction movies with depictions of human-like robots and omniscient computing devices.

Today, the lofty ambitions of AI have taken a more practical form, and applications have made their way into marketing with solutions that enable marketers to use data about a particular customer or contact to predict future behavior – all in real-time.  

Applications for Email Today

The email marketing industry has access to a handful of specific AI applications, some of which are in practice today. The technology, for example, can be used to trigger campaigns designed to reactivate subscribers who have been inactive for a period of time. In analyzing data of a brand’s subscriber base, AI can detect the absence of data on a particular customer and start an automated process of distributing messages and content aimed at bringing that person back into the fold.  

AI can also analyze a customer’s past purchase behavior to suggest complementary products or encourage the reordering of a product that may have expired or been consumed. For example, if purchase behavior indicates a customer purchased a water filter that should be replaced every six months, AI can automatically notify that customer five months after that purchase with a suggestion to order a replacement. What’s more, the campaign can learn from itself, adjusting elements based on a person’s propensity to click or convert.

Adoption Challenges

Although these applications exist, adoption of AI in email marketing has been slow (but steady) and much remains to be seen in how it will impact the industry’s future. There are several challenges marketers must overcome to be able to effectively use AI to drive meaningful results. The data needed to make predictive decisions (such as those related to past purchase behavior), for example, typically resides in a different system than the email marketing system. Marketers must develop an integration that allows the two systems to communicate and the data they house to be paired.

The industry, however, is starting to see some of these integrations come to fruition as providers try to make it easier for marketers to collect and use data. For example, an email service platform that integrates with a shopping cart can give retailers easy access to shopper information like purchase data or item inventory for campaign segmentation. However, there is plenty of room for growth.

Even with tools like this, many AI applications require data analytics and data science skills that are not currently part of a traditional marketing organization. Marketers must hire individuals specialized in this field so they can manipulate the data they have, build effective integrations and ensure AI is using the data in a meaningful way. As more data scientists enter the workforce, businesses will find they’re better equipped to use AI as an integral part of their marketing processes.  

Future Potential

Marketers are starting to see beyond the hype of AI as its potential in marketing is becoming much clearer. For email marketing, it promises even more personalization for subscribers, which can ultimately boost interaction, engagement and conversions for businesses.

As artificial intelligence integrations and applications become more commonplace, their use cases and benefits will extend from enterprises to small- and medium-sized businesses, leveling the playing field and helping them compete.

It will certainly be an interesting future as AI gains momentum and starts to reach its full potential, and marketers should be excited about the emerging opportunities this will bring.

About the Author
EJ McGowan, general manager of Campaigner, has more than 25 years of experience in the software industry with expertise in building highly available, scalable SaaS-based solutions.

Keep Learning:

Past the Tipping Point: Strategies and Metrics for Mobile-Minded Email Marketers
Email Marketing in 2017: Insights and Investments for the Year Ahead
Christmas Email Prep: Steps Retailers Should Take Now
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