AI for Email? Marketers Enthused, but Not Without Concerns

April 17, 2018

This article is included in these additional categories:

Analytics, Automated & MarTech | Customer-Centric | Digital | Email | Personalization

Virtually all (96%) marketers are confident that machine learning can personalize email content down to an individual’s specific interests and improve the customer experience, according to a survey [download page] of more than 400 US marketers from The Relevancy Group, sponsored by OneSpot.

Beyond personalizing email content, the application of machine learning can eliminate some manual tasks that occupy a significant portion of marketers’ time, per the report. Those executional tasks include content selection, HTML coding and proof testing of messages, which marketers say collectively take up almost one-quarter of their work week.

In particular, senders at enterprise companies and those at Retail/E-Commerce companies appear to have the most to gain, according to the study, as they tend to spend an above-average amount of time on manual email execution tasks that could be automated.

Were they able to free up time by introducing machine learning, 7 in 10 respondents said they’d use that saved time for program planning, expansion and strategy. About half would put more focus on data analysis, and more than 4 in 10 to subject line optimization. (At least one company, Phrasee, already uses AI to write subject lines.)

But the use of machine learning in email doesn’t come without some challenges. Seven in 10 are concerned about the implementation and training involved in using such technologies to personalize content in emails. And an equal 7 in 10 are concerned about switching or adding a platform to their marketing tech stack.

These concerns seem well-founded, considering that marketers who have already adopted machine learning in their email programs said they spent 4 months on average to implement their solutions.

Meanwhile, two-thirds are concerned about giving up some editorial control to the technology. That’s a concern held by many different constituents when it comes to artificial intelligence: for example, few consumers would want to cede control of their shopping patterns to a digital assistant such as Alexa: in a recent survey, only one-fifth of shoppers said they would be comfortable letting AI proactively order items they haven’t purchased but might like.

Nonetheless, The Relevancy Group believes that concerns surrounding machine learning in email – including trusting its effectiveness, an issue for 4 in 10 marketers – will fade as marketers gain more comfort and data from using the technologies.

Indeed, some marketers are already making use of AI for email marketing. According to a study from Econsultancy and Adobe, about one-third of marketers and e-commerce professionals in the Asia-Pacific region are doing so, as are close to one-quarter of such professionals in North America.

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