Did a robot write this? The value of AI in email marketing

An email newsletter from a financial advisor may not be as flashy as a message hitting your inbox from Amazon, Anthropologie or the NFL—but it surprisingly might be just as persuasive.


You can thank—or blame—robots.

That’s right, artificial intelligence (AI)—which we’ll define as the ability of computers to exhibit human-like knowledge—is in the process of making a pivotal leap from the world of tech giants and trendsetters to the corporate office. Slowly but surely, more and more professional services firms—namely, companies in the financial, legal and health care industries—are turning to AI to gain a competitive advantage and further elevate their brand presence. How?

You guessed it: By utilizing AI in their email marketing campaigns. (Sidenote: If you received this post via email, we promise we wrote the subject line on our own.)

The need for help

If you’re a marketer in the professional services industry, email campaigns are on your menu—and they’re no small potatoes, either. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 93% of B2B marketers use email to distribute their content—more than any other channel. Yet, long gone are the days when firing off emails in bulk could translate into business. Nowadays, it takes a carefully constructed and customized email marketing strategy to develop trust and loyalty among your readers, before most will even consider opening up their wallets. Why?

Email overload. One of the main reasons people unsubscribe to email is that they aresent too many—the average business worker receives 88 a day. So, while your organization may truly be hosting a killer event at the swankiest gallery—for free—getting a recipient to even open your email, let alone click the “sign up today” button, can be a perpetual uphill battle. To wit, the average email click-through rate—the percentage of people who click a link in an email—is just 3.1% in North America.

As any email marketer knows, solving this problem can feel like a gargantuan task. List segmentation—that is, the slicing and dicing of contacts on a list by zip code, job title, prior email engagement, etc., in order to tailor your content to a narrower audience at an optimal time of day—has long been considered the best way to tackle this. The problem? It’s largely a manual process—and a time-consuming one at that. And with the volume of email only expected to increase in the years to come—the forecast calls for 246 billion emails to be sent and received per day in 2019—things are only going to get harder.

Enter AI.

How does AI make your life easier?

For starters, AI eliminates the need for manual list segmentation by studying the behavioral patterns of each recipient on your list, and applying this knowledge to deliver emails at the time of day when each recipient stands the greatest chance of engagement. In doing so, AI eliminates the guesswork often involved with list segmentation—i.e., “I think I’ll send this email to everyone on the East Coast at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, because that’s probably when they’re most likely to read it.” With AI, human assumptions and biases are no longer in play—rather, computers fully assess the behavior tendencies of each recipient, and pick the time that the data says is best.

And if the data says that Joe Smith is most likely to open your event invitation email at 2 p.m. on a Monday, but Joe fails to do so? AI automatically adds this information to its fount of knowledge and applies it for the next go-around, continuously tinkering with and fine-tuning its understanding of each recipient on your list.

Email personalization

As any marketer will tell you, the key to engagement is often not what you say, but how you say it. It goes without saying that figuring out the specific messaging that will resonate with your target audience—which words or phrases are most likely to get an individual to pay attention to your email—is a challenge in and of itself.

Currently, many companies rely heavily on A/B testing to try to identify these so-called trigger words with their audience—especially when it comes to subject lines and calls-to-action. The process can be painstaking and tedious: Countless hours have been spent by email marketers across the board, poring over word choices and trying to get inside the minds of their readers.

With AI, there’s no need to work up a sweat over this. Thanks to companies likePersado, machines can now read what you have written and then make alterations based on their understanding of human behavioral tendencies. Marketers can now take a first pass at the content in an email, and let AI bring things across the finish line. This includes calls-to-action, body text, subject lines and even imagery—you name it.

AI can make changes, on a per-recipient basis, based on its understanding of how the human mind works.

Building a connection with emotion

One of the core findings of Persado’s experiment with AI has been that humans are much more likely to engage with an email when emotional language is used. This may come as no surprise to many professional services marketers, who have likely tried to weave such language into their emails before—only to have it nixed by a boss, on account of being “too risqué” or “too bold” for the industry. How many times have we heard a manager say something along the lines of, “Our clients would never go for that. This is the legal profession, after all!”?

The truth of the matter is that, no matter what your audience is comprised of—in-house counsel, financial advisors or health care professionals—they are human beings.

Human beings respond best to words that trigger an emotional connection.

With AI, you no longer have to make the case for using language like this with the powers-that-be. The proof is in the pudding.

Your friend, not your foe

Naturally, the more integrated AI becomes in the professional services industry, the more marketers have started to panic. Questions like “Are robots going to replace me?” and “is AI going to devalue my copywriting skills?” are commonplace across the corporate world today.

The short answer to all of this is that, no, robots aren’t going to take over our jobs—at least not anytime soon. AI isn’t at a place yet where it can run on its own. Its capabilities are still in the infancy stage, in many ways—as Fast Company notes, AI relies on large sets of data that often require years to assemble.

With all this in mind, we recommend thinking of AI as a resource, rather than a replacement. By automating labor-intensive tasks like email list segmentation and A/B testing, AI clears up room for marketers to spend more time on content creation. Case-in-point: Those two hours you’re currently spending divvying up a mailing list in Excel? With AI, that’s two hours you can devote to a blog post, whitepaper or state-of-the-art video instead. Or, it’s extra time for a deep dive into your organization’s social media strategy, or perhaps a brainstorming session on content marketing initiatives for 2018—all things that only humans can do.

So yes, your boss still needs you—now, next year and beyond. And by the same token, you’ll increasingly need AI—in order to work smarter, not harder, and truly take your company’s brand to the next level.

*Co-authored with Justin Shaw