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07/22/2021

How AI is Shaping Email Marketing in an Evolving Landscape

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Jonathan Treiber is Co-Founder and CEO of RevTrax.

Email is one of the most enduring tools within a marketer’s arsenal. As one of the foundational components of the internet, email has managed to remain relevant as a key facilitator of one-to-one communication between brands and consumers. What’s more, when the pandemic forced a wedge between the consumer and brands, email served as a vital lifeline for marketers, offering a consistent touchpoint to keep customers informed of product offerings, reopening measures, and promotions.

Why Email is Such a Unique Marketing Channel

Digital marketing strategies have been in a constant state of evolution over the past ten years, but the end goal has been offering consumers more personalized experiences and offers to drive sales. Over the past few years, this drive towards better personalization has been accelerated by a push towards better data. As third-party cookies look to get phased out in the next few years, and regulatory bodies begin cracking down on less transparent data practices, brands are now in a position where they need to both understand the imperative of personalization while also respecting consumer data preferences.

Email, for its part, is a unique tool for marketers because it’s context managed by the consumer. Oftentimes email preferences can be easily adjusted by the consumer, unsubscribing is simple, and it’s a platform consumers control; meaning they can choose which emails they open and when. Recent announcements from Apple have further codified the need for consumer opt-in, which has the potential to remove vital insights that brands have long relied on in their personalization efforts, like open-rate data and various third-party identifiers that have been used for more tailored email messaging.

Brands, particularly CPGs that are moving more into the direct-to-consumer space, are at an inflection point, where email is proving itself to be instrumental in personalization and outreach, yet the data needed to drive that personalization is becoming more scarce. New advances in AI, however, can offer brands the insights they need to make the most of their email programs going forward.

Where Email Falls Short, and Where AI Can Help

Because email is such a cornerstone of brand-to-consumer outreach, it tends to have a fatal flaw: it can be used as a vehicle for mass discounting. Email marketing campaigns can spread broad-based discounting strategies which can drive sales, but can also heavily drag down margins when not approached with a degree of nuance.

Artificial intelligence can be a key to addressing both the issue of mass discounting while also taking into consideration better personalization strategies, all while removing some of the reliance on the metrics impacted by the iOS update.

New advances in AI integrate individual, consumer-level data, which allows brands to base their outreach on key metrics that motivate consumer behavior. For example, consumers can be targeted based on their price sensitivity or discount dependency, and as a result can be offered only the level of discount they would need to motivate a purchase. Instead of sending out a broad-based 50% offer to an entire email list, one consumer may only receive 10% off if their metrics have indicated that is enough to motivate a sale. This consumer-level data enables personalization while remaining conscious of margins.

Also, because this data is individually deployed on the consumer level, it removes the need for exhaustive audience segmentation and testing. As the iOS update makes insights gleaned from email programs less actionable, leveraging AI tools can help reduce the reliance on A/B testing while still tailoring messages to individual consumers.

Email marketing has endured as a marketing channel because of its capacity to foster a direct connection with consumers. As regulations and data practices evolve, however, it’s time that email evolves with it. Advances in AI can be a key to navigating this new terrain, and marketers should begin incorporating it sooner than later or risk missing the boat.

Jonathan Treiber is Co-Founder and CEO of RevTrax.