When we hear the term Artificial Intelligence (AI) it’s not unusual to think of high-tech robots or even a Tesla car. In reality, AI is an umbrella term for the use of systems and computer technology to help improve and perform tasks that were once done by humans.

Did you know that you’re engaging with AI when you tag a friend in a photo on Instagram? Or when you receive an email from a retailer offering you discounts on brands you’ve purchased before? In fact, AI has been driving spam filtering and fraud prevention solutions for several years, with one of the best-known examples Gmail’s filtering solution.

The onset of COVID-19 has forced marketers to become more creative and agile in order to remain relevant, and one of the key technologies they’re employing to gain a competitive edge in their email programs is AI.

AI is now used to provide many different functionality elements in email including send-time optimisation, engagement prediction, best offer selection, better personalisation, and next-best channel identification. These functions allow retailers to better understand their customers, provide enhanced experiences, make more accurate predictions around sales and trends, 1:1 personalisation at scale and to retarget customers who abandon their search or purchase. For consumers, AI ensures their experience is faster, more seamless, and customised to their needs — all factors that we know lead to greater sales and revenue.

With all of this in mind, it’s not hard to see why AI is now a staple for sophisticated email marketers. In fact, many retailers may not realise that they’re not required to build AI solutions from the ground up, and may have already incorporated some kind of AI into their marketing plan without knowing. For instance, in many retailers, if you use technology like fraud protection or spam filtering, you’re already using AI technology. But if you’re interested in incorporating more AI into your email program, read on to discover some of its most popular applications.

AI to power engagement scoring

Gaining reliable insights into what your customers like and want is crucial and AI has an important role to play in closing the relevance gap between marketers and consumers. One of the ways it does this is by powering engagement scoring – the metric used to determine how subscribers are engaging with your content and a highly useful tool forgaining insights into their preferences and spending habits. Many experts agree that scoring customer engagement is the best way to predict churn or to identify new opportunities to upsell.

Engagement scoring can be conducted manually, or more efficiently using A whereby your customer database is used to make predictions about customer behaviours and patterns. An example of this is Jetlore which uses AI to make next best offer selections based on previous engagement scoring.

AI is only set to become more relevant when it comes to measuring and predicting engagement in light of Apple’s plans to degrade pixel tracking. Many marketers rely on open rates to provide a measurement of engagement, however with Apple’s changes this metric will becomes far less reliable. Therefore, use of AI will become more important as senders use other data points to analyse past engagement and predict future engagement.

AI for copywriting

It’s becoming increasingly common for retailers to use AI to prepare email copy and there are now many solutions, such as Phrasee, which are well-known for automating copy and generating subject lines. These programs use AI to generate copy based on a brief description and selection criteria, streamlining what has previously been a time-consuming task for businesses.

There are of course risks associated with the implementation of AI for copywriting. Given your AI solution will likely review thousands of previous campaigns to identify the most effective language in order to generate copy, it is possible that copy produced by an AI machine may not be consistent with the brand’s tone of voice.  Therefore, it goes without saying that saying that AI-generated copy should always be reviewed by someone on the team before going live.

AI to improve ROI

Retailers should always be looking to improve ROI and an effective way to do this with your email program is by using an AI-powered email success platform. According to Validity’s report, Driving ROI – The Business Case for a Comprehensive Email Marketing Platform, using an email success solution can result in a 20% increase in email open rates, which in turn can help to significantly boost ROI.

A fully integrated email success platform such as such as Validity’s Everest provides marketers with crucial insights into patterns from large datasets, diagnoses and troubleshoots issues, and  increases visibility in the inbox, helping you to reach more people, increase engagement, and improve efficiencies.

Data is the power behind AI

The potential uses of AI are seemingly endless, however it’s important to recognise that its potential is directly connected with the quality of the data that informs it. For example, research by Alation and Wakefield Research concluded that 87% of AI initiatives fail due to poor collection and maintenance of quality data. Maintaining good data hygiene practices is an intrinsic part of avoiding missing data, incorrect data and data bias, all of which can cause your AI models to learn incorrect patterns and behaviors.

Retailers that want to embrace AI need to first ensure that data is sourced, integrated and managed properly through a comprehensive data management program. Fortunately, there are a number of solutions that can automate data management such as Validity’s DemandTools.

While AI may still seem futuristic to some, it’s fast becoming a marketing staple for many retailers, and those that continue to ignore it risk being left behind.

Tunc Bolluk is vice president for Asia Pacific at Validity Inc.