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BizReport : Email Marketing : July 30, 2019

How AI is changing email marketing

The first email was sent in 1971. Today, the world of email (and the spam that plagues it) is way more sophisticated. From 1 million email users in 1995 to 2.5 billion in 2015, email usage has exploded. And now mailbox providers and spammers alike rely on artificial intelligence.

by Kristina Knight

Kristina: How are mailbox providers using AI?

Brianna Connelly, Return Path: The average mailbox provider like Gmail uses a ton of AI to determine if emails are spam, then delivers them accordingly. But that's just the beginning. Now, mailbox providers use advanced AI and machine learning to not just stop spam, but to significantly improve the email user experience. Email users may not always see this AI at work. But it has a big impact on email marketing campaigns.
Kristina: How exactly is AI impacting email marketing campaigns?

Brianna: Email marketers have all felt that horrible sinking feeling when we realize their latest, greatest campaign is going right to spam. Or the misery of getting buried in a prospect's promotions folder under the communications from a bunch of other brands. Artificial intelligence systems make these decisions. They use very specific rules that ingest lots of data from millions of users to determine how emails should be classified. These machine learning models then improve over time based on user behavior.
Kristina: Has this always happened? Or is this a new problem? 

Brianna: The use of AI in the email industry isn't new. In fact, AI has been used since the machine learning driven Bayes classifiers of the 1990s to filter spam. From there, it evolved to focus on reputation filtering, looking at your send patterns and finding abnormalities. Today, the AI systems used by mailbox providers also look at how people at a subscriber level interact with your communications. This all presents a real challenge for marketers.
Kristina: What are some examples of the challenges this causes for marketers? 

Brianna: Nobody knows exactly how different mailbox providers use AI and machine learning to filter emails. There's no list with all the rules Gmail or Yahoo or any other provider uses to determine where emails end up. Each provider uses different criteria, tests, and models to inform email decisions. And these decisions are driven by each company's unique business opportunities and challenges.
On one hand, this means email marketers must do what they're supposed to be doing in the first place: Send great emails that users love to open, read, click on, and engage with.
If marketers do that, they're well on their way to having users engage with emails, which in turn signals to back-end AI algorithms that emails are trusted and worth prioritizing.
But on the other hand, this means the stakes have never been higher.
The real danger isn't that marketers send an email customers ignore. It's that marketers send too many emails that users ignore, mark as spam, or move out of their primary inbox. Over time, the robot overlords that determine how your emails get delivered are going to learn one thing and one thing only from these user behaviors: Your emails aren't as trustworthy or valuable as other emails hitting a user's inbox.
Kristina: What does this mean for email marketers? 

Brianna: Unfortunately, this means the user is in total control. And every action the user takes informs the machine models that determine how future emails are delivered. Unfortunately, there are too many variables involved for any one human email marketer to grasp and act on here. The AI models themselves run on hundreds and thousands of machine learning rules. These rules are informed by many user behaviors and actions.
To help with this, email marketers should consider benchmarking how their emails perform with actual users. Here, it's important to use human experts or machine tools to gauge current deliverability and engagement rates. It's also important to determine sender reputation, which informs how AI models treat emails. 

Tags: advertising, email content, email marketing, email marketing trends, email trends, Return Path

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