Can automation and AI help create better emails?

Forty-one percent of employees believe email is critical to a company’s overall success, according to the Litmus 2021 State of Email Report. But email isn’t the same today as it was a few years ago, and it’s time to put the basics aside and start thinking about how best to leverage email throughout the customer life cycle.

Emails sent by companies

In the Litus report, the two most popular emails are the welcome email and the newsletter. The welcome email welcomes someone at the start of their relationship with the brand, and the newsletter works hard to keep subscribers coming back again and again.

But there are many other types of emails, including product emails and sales/promotional emails – these complement the top four types cited as the most created.

All of these types of emails need to be personalized or better targeted to the person receiving them. Yes, we are talking about personalization again, because generic emails will not suffice. But we are talking about much more than the personalization of the greeting message: “Hello>, How do you appreciate your work at>?”.

By the way, I’ve seen Robert Rose call it “familiar”, not “personal”. And a Validity webinar called it “tokenization”. They are both right.

The report lists the main personalization factors as follows:

  • Profile data
  • Customer segments
  • Past Email Interaction
  • Location/Geolocation

In the Validity webinar, Kate Adams, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Validity, offered better ways to personalize emails that are a little easier for B2C. For example, if someone was shopping on a site and put something in their cart but didn’t pay, or if they spent a long time looking at a particular product, an automated email can be sent that includes these informations. Or, if they purchased, they receive a personalized email showing the product and offering related items.

How can you do this on the B2B side? If someone has downloaded a closed resource, you know who they are and customize your emails to offer related information. And if they’re also spending time on your website viewing pages, you can create an automated workflow that sends personalized emails based on that information.

The key is that you’ve personalized the email based on what you know about the person receiving it. And that requires you to know something about them. But can we go even further?

Optimize with the help of AI

Subject line testing happens often, but it’s usually a marketer who creates options A and B and runs the test. Yes, you can run your subject line through a tool like CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer, and you can get a score that shows how well it uses power words and emotion words, if that’s the right length, right reading level, right feeling, and soon. But that’s not customization, that’s optimization. To go further, you need different tools.

An example is integrating a tool like Phrasee into your messaging platform. Phrasee is an AI-powered copywriting platform that can help you determine the best content for your emails (and other copy):

When you enter a brief, Phrasee generates thousands of potential copy ideas — whether it’s a headline, subject line, or something else entirely. It then takes all of these copy variants and puts them through their deep learning engine to rank the best ones in order of predicted performance. It then shows a sample of that ranking for the user to choose from.

Phrasee and MessageGears, a B2C messaging platform, recently announced their integration. You need to be a customer of both platforms, but it allows marketers using MessageGears to pull tested messages from the Phrasee platform without switching between them. Using Phrasee’s AI, email subject lines can be better targeted or personalized.

And this is just one example (Albert is still there too). Many AI tools can help you create more personalized messaging experiences, some integrated or native to your messaging platform, others you’ll need to use separately.

Ask your favorite AI to help you

When we look at AI tools that help improve targeting or personalization, the list starts to get a bit long (there are many more to come).

A couple I looked at:

  • Jasper.ai – formerly called Jarvis, I looked at this tool for a client, and it had so many features it was almost overwhelming.
  • Rasa.io – I came across this one from a blog on the Marketing AI Institute. Rasa helps you send personalized newsletters. Not segmented, but personalized to an individual.
  • Persado – I wrote about Persado; it’s an enterprise-grade platform that can help you optimize your copy for all types of short-form content.

The problem with most of these tools is that they work at the campaign level. They analyze the emails, content, and topics of a segment or group of people and in turn come up with the best messaging for the group.

The big question about tools like Phrasee, Persado, and Albert is: do they work for individual emails? Or only for segments? Can you create tests in these tools that test an individual’s preferences?

For example, if I received 20 emails from a brand, can they tell which subject lines appealed to me the most, and then deliver the next email based on what I like? Can they review the text of emails sent and say what I read or clicked on, compare that to what I did on their website, what products I may already own, what support issues I’ve had, then come up with additional ideas for new emails – specific to me? And then do that for the thousands of other people on the brand’s mailing list?

AI works because it analyzes a lot of data. But one person does not produce so much data to analyze. That might be enough to figure out the next best step for a person, but that’s not what most AI tools do.

my catch

Brands are more successful in email when they think strategically about email. Privacy is something they need to incorporate into this strategy early on. But just as important – or perhaps even more critical – is designing an email program that sees the person receiving it as a real person.

Small businesses will fare better because they have fewer contacts to work with. Rasa.io seems to do this with its personalized newsletters. But we have to see it with all email marketing. This is where we need to focus our messaging strategies and technology.

About Nereida Nystrom

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