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This holiday season will be a strange one. With the pandemic still raging in many places and many physical stores closed, many businesses will rely on digital marketing to generate sales. At the same time, we are in the middle of a revolution that may well change digital marketing forever — the advent of AI tools.

By 2021, 80% of emerging technologies will be AI-based, Gartner predicts. The first of these AI-powered tools are already gaining popularity and changing the way we do business. Further, we’ve entered the twilight zone and now live in a world where AI-produced ad copy is becoming indistinguishable from humans and is predicted to become one of the most prominent digital marketing trends in 2021.

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In this article, we’ll take a look at how you can use AI to improve your email marketing campaigns to make the most out of this strange holiday season and beyond.

The Basics

First, though, a word of warning. Using AI to improve your email marketing is not as simple as downloading a few tools, turning them loose on your email system, and hoping for the best. To get the most out of these tools, you will need to collect large amounts of data from your customers.

This means, in turn, that you will have to consider three aspects of your email marketing system carefully. First, you will need to ensure that you are compliant with the relevant legislation. 

Secondly, and as part of this process, you must assure your customers that you are using their data securely. A few years back, the typically impenetrable Mac system was subverted by a paid app in the App Store claiming to combat malware (Adware Doctor). It was actually a piece of spyware, which cost the company involved severely and shook up the whole trust system. 

Third, you should consider investing in a professional data acquisition system. Most web hosts now allow you to collect detailed metrics on who visits your website and what they do there, but to supercharge your AI tools, you can also get a more advanced business intelligence system to collect even more detail. 

AI and Email: 4 Key Techniques for the Holidays

With the basics out of the way, let’s take a look at how you can use AI to improve email marketing today. 

1. Augmented audience research

Email marketing has become more competitive for decades. Knowing your audience is key to succeeding in what is now a very crowded marketplace. Predictive analytics can help you generate this kind of intelligence and even predict which types of customers will be interested in which lines of products.

This functionality is available through tools that use neural networks to predict behavior from buyer behavior information such as Google Analytics and structured data available through third parties. Such predictions become more accurate with each iteration, so deploying a tool like Quantcast allows you to start your campaigns with a leg up on matching user intent at each stage.

2. Natural language generation

One of the most exciting advances promised by AI, albeit still in the earliest stages of development, is these systems’ ability to generate massive quantities of genuinely bespoke emails based on information about individual customers. 

Several tools are emerging that can help you to generate email content based on user data. Most of these make use of AI to provide human-like writing. News outlets like Associated Press have already started doing this, and companies like Phrasee have calibrated their AI engine to meet email copy requirements.

3. Testing at scale

A/B testing email campaigns is one of the most resource-intensive tasks faced by small businesses and is another area in which AI tools hold great promise. 

More specifically, the kind of email efficacy testing now available via AI tools allows for far more extensive comparisons than the standard A/B test. When combined with the type of audience segmentation mentioned above, multiple independent A/B tests can be performed for each audience sector, and the results fed back into machine learning algorithms.

This kind of technique is particularly effective during product launches and sales periods, and as such, is a crucial holiday selling technique. Outside the holiday period, this technique can also be leveraged in AI-driven product implementations.

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4. Segmentation and behavior prediction for retargeting

Retargeting is one of the most under-utilized tools in email marketing, even though many popular email providers offer this functionality right out of the box. Take a look at your analytics from the last holiday season. You’ll probably see that the period is marked by an unusually high rate of abandoned carts. Companies that use a service like AdRoll can automatically send email reminders about this kind of aborted purchase attempt to customers. You can also create dynamic ads based on site visitors’ behavior throughout your online store and have ads and emails work together to rekindle interest.

AI for the Holidays

If you run a small business, these techniques might seem out of reach and more suited to huge multi-nationals than local retailers. However, many of the AI tools we’ve mentioned can be used to improve the efficacy of any email campaign. Many AI tools will work straight out of the box, whether you have expertise in data analysis or not. 

Getting these tools in place now — ahead of this holiday season or well in advance of the next one — will also help you start the new year in a strong position. And, if the coming robot apocalypse does happen, at least you’ll be prepared for it.

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Author

Brian Skewes is a technologist into deconstruction. Over two decades of self-employment, he has accumulated a wealth of inadvertent real-world lessons related to building, running, and preserving a small company.