AI in Email Tech: An Intuitive Touch to your Customer Engagement

Email is the best and the worst marketing tool. It is the ‘go-to’ tool for building mindshare, finding leads and nurturing sales opportunities. At the same time, email is considered one of the most annoying, unproductive, time-sinks of the day.

Despite our daily griping about the size of our email inboxes, email is here to stay with higher volumes expected. According to Adobe’s latest email study, millennials expect their use of email to increase and can be expected to check their email more frequently than any other generation. Additionally, enterprise social networks like Slack were preferred by only one percent of the study respondents. Despite, or because, of our experiences and feelings, email users are stepping up to be ‘masters of their inbox’. People are becoming more selective in how they engage with email. Adobe found that:

  • 40 percent of emails are deleted without being opened.
  • Lack of relevant personalization drives brand dissatisfaction.
  • Email is effective for additional incentives to purchase (42%), not what to purchase (17%).
  • Time spent checking personal and work email dropped by 20 percent compared to last year.

Email has gone through various evolutions beginning with mass mail, segmentation, personalization to becoming true one-to-one marketing platforms that are tightly integrated into an organization’s marketing and sales ecosystem.

While email is here to stay, the technology capabilities are rapidly changing.

Artificial Intelligence Empowered Email

Machine learning is helping marketers get more granular in their buyer/customer engagement strategies, more responsive to their needs and interests, and ultimately more adaptive in their marketing outreach. Dave O’Flanagan, CEO at Boxever, a customer intelligence cloud solution, believes that new technologies can be instrumental in aligning email communications to each recipient’s needs. “Artificial intelligence and machine learning can help to solve this problem. Intelligent solutions will learn from past customer experiences and interactions and use that insight to dictate what they offer those customers in the future.”

Michelle Huff, CMO at Act-On Software, a marketing automation platform provider, sees email vendors increasingly adapting communications to context and looking to AI to bridge that divide and help their users anticipate buyers’ needs. “The convergence of technologies enables marketers to build Adaptive Journeys™ to support complex discovery and purchasing behaviors,” shares Huff.

“Intelligent technology can activate adjustments in messaging in real-time to ensure the right content is being sent to a customer for any given scenario,” agrees O’Flanagan. “This ensures customers are getting impactful, personalized email engagements.” But, technology is not a silver bullet; making email effective requires Sales and Marketing to work more closely together.

More Interactivity

According to Huff, “Email is really the workhorse of marketing. It is what helps to further a relationship: It is the nurturing engine used to warm up, prime, reconnect and stay top of mind with your buyers and customers.” Manohar Chapalamadugu, Founder and CEO of Agile CRM, believes as does Huff and O’Flanagan, that embedded videos and interactive content will increasingly become the norm within emails. Allowing the reader to engage with the content either by sliding, peeling, pulling or zipping integrates email tighter with marketing automation to score customer behavior.

O’Flanagan cautions that video and interactive content needs to be hyper-personalized to deliver true value. Huff advises companies to support email campaign with multichannel marketing. “By adding a display advertising element, marketing can bet on higher open rates and overall content engagement,” Michelle shares. “This can be two-fold: Retargeting email subscribers with ads across additional web properties to keep your brand top of mind as well as act as a reminder to open your most recently sent email or engage with your next email.”

Data-Driven

The trend that will have the most impact on email marketing is it’s becoming more data-driven. Huff states, “Being able to understand how a customer interacts and engages with your emails and the assets within it like CTA buttons, links and videos are digital breadcrumbs helping marketers better understand who their buyers are and where they are in their buying journey.”

Becoming data-driven is tightly linked to email’s role in helping companies achieve a true 360-degree view of customers and enable real personalization. That means capturing and rationalizing all interaction data across the relationship lifecycle and investing in a centralized data platform to get a complete cross-channel view of customers.

Yet at the same time, marketers will need to be more vigilant to their data and compliance obligations, prioritizing regular audits of customer data collected, ensuring that data is permissioned and sell-by dates enforced, as well as investing in third-party certifications. Huff advocates that “marketers and CMOs will need to look at privacy and compliance as weapons in a larger demand gen arsenal . One that is central to their brand promise.”

Individualized Marketing

By becoming more data-driven, email will evolve into what Act-On calls ‘adaptive individualized marketing’ to make smarter email marketing decisions about what the recipient should receive based on what is known about them. That will lead to true one-to-one marketing.

“Marketers must build Adaptive Journeys personalized to each individual based on the unique behaviors and preferences of each customer,” shares Huff. “A brand’s engagement with a buyer should not be program based, but predicated on who they are, when they prefer to engage, and across the channel they most engage on. It’s about delivering value to the customer where they are and when they want it.”

Adds O’Flanagan, “, brands must leverage customer data in an appropriate fashion and approach personalization subtly . To build trust and improve the overall brand experience.”

Email platforms are crucial to operationalizing customer experiences . Behavioral data will not only determine where in a journey an individual is but what is the next best action (to borrow a term from Pegasystems) and when. Huff stresses that “measuring the impact of individual email programs and tying that back to a centralized data repository draws a more complete picture of the lifecycle end-to-end.” This enables the whole organization to better understand how to correctly impact micro-moments of influence and pain.

First published in MarTech Advisor

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