Email Marketing Needs to Become More Intelligent

Right out of college, I got a job managing the direct marketing program for a very large sports company. My education background was in marketing but this was the first time I had to handle direct mail campaigns. What intrigued me about direct mail marketing was at that time, success was getting a response rate of only 2-3% from the hundreds or thousands of mailers we would send out about products or specials we would offer every two weeks.

We would buy mailing lists we hoped matched our audience and hope for the best. Back then, we did not have the technology to do better targeted mailings or narrowcasting and get a better return for our marketing investments. Now, with the technology at our fingertips to do extremely targeted emails, I am surprised that even some big companies seem to be resorting to the old direct mailcasting model and just sending ads indiscriminately and hope some take.

I am convinced the companies behind these ads are becoming dumber or getting lazier when it comes to ad targeting. A couple of cases in point. On Saturday, I got an ad from JC Penny alerting me to “50 Plus dresses” I might like. (Do they know something I don’t?) Earlier in the week, I got an ad for sport bras. I also get ads for boats (not interested) mountain climbing expeditions (also not interested) as well as many that, if the advertisers even had a clue about me and my interests, they would not waste my time or theirs.

I am pretty sure I did not opt in for dresses or sports bras or even boats and mountain climbing expeditions. Yet, I get at least 300 ads a week I consider junk and delete as soon as I see them.
On the other hand, if I see ads about food, discounts on hotels and promotions about my hobbies like cooking, scuba diving or travel and flight discounts, I almost always check these out. This is a key issue for me and others; We only want ads relevant to our interests and needs, not junk emails most of us get in large quantities these days.

To say junk email clouds our overall negative view of email ads would be an understatement. And this level of unwelcome junk mail is on the rise. In my case, the only company that seems to get my targeted interests right is Amazon, which employs a special AI engine that scans my overall shopping interests and only sends me ads that are truly relevant. But even Google, who defined targeted ads, misses the mark with me frequently. It seems more and more eCommerce companies are not really even trying to understand what their customers want to only send them ads that are relevant to their interests or needs.

Of course, there are many new companies trying to solve this problem. The one thing I think will have the biggest impact on getting targeted ads right will be the interaction of AI and machine learning applied to more targeted ads. This holds a lot of promise as this technology applied to advertising could deliver many new ways to making sure people only get the ads they want to see.

In a recent article on this subject in Digital Marketing Magazine, Stephen Upstone, CEO and Co-Founder of LoopMe, stated:

“The more artificial intelligence is used the more efficient it becomes, eliminating wasted impressions and delivering users hyper-targeted ads. Not only does this mean that ads for football boots won’t be targeted at rugby fans, but a die-hard Arsenal supporter who spends hours on football sites – but never sets foot on a pitch – won’t be receiving this equally irrelevant advertising. Campaigns which use this technology can see up to 300% uplift compared to a campaign which only used standard targeting.

It’s also fast. Artificial intelligence optimises campaigns in real-time, in stark contrast to traditional campaign optimisation which relies on an ad-ops team to make adjustments manually. With most mobile traffic occurring over the weekend, when these teams are out the office, artificial intelligence comes into its own as an optimisation tool.

While AI is hugely important at a campaign level it also impacts on the industry as a whole. If advertisers use artificial intelligence to serve better targeted ads which drive higher user engagement and campaign results, then publishers will earn higher eCPMs (effective cost per mile, which translates to the advertising revenue generated per 1000 impressions).

Mr Upstone concludes this piece by saying:

“In my view artificial intelligence is the future of the advertising industry, not an add-on or a nice-to-have but a fundamental component of each campaign. By implementing this technology not only can we improve short-term campaign results for brands, but long-term online experiences for us all.”

I certainly hope Mr. Upstone is correct and the advertising industry does indeed adopt AI and apply it aggressively to their email marketing campaigns. If they do, perhaps my email box will become less burdened with unwanted ads and I will only get ones I really want to see.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

70 thoughts on “Email Marketing Needs to Become More Intelligent”

  1. “only sends me ads that are truly relative.”
    You mean relevant.

    “I get at least 300 ads a week I consider junk and delete as soon as I see them. On the other hand, if I see ads about food, discounts on hotels and
    promotions about my hobbies like cooking, scuba diving or travel and
    flight discounts, I almost always check these out.”

    What alien world do you come from where you do not have a filter that shunts all those direct marketing emails directly to the junk folder? Oh, right, you admit that you used to be a spammer yourself. So naturally bathing in the scum that pollutes your inbox strikes you as perfectly natural and hygienic.

    All direct marketing is run by subhuman vermin. There is no difference between the spammers sending advertising for real brand name products, the spammers advertising for fake Viagra, and the spammers sending out ads which are actually phishing emails. They are all equally beloved by the direct marketing association, which has lobbied the utterly ineffective US government into not banning opt out spam, and which has ethics only slightly more advanced than the sociopaths who run the NRA. They all deserve to be banished to a dome on Venus without any internet access for the rest of their unnatural lives (I am not a monster – the dome should have air, food, water, and plentiful supplies of counterfeit Viagra).

    The lack of difference between the utterly different categories of spam (ads for legit companies, ads for fly by night counterfeiters, phishing ads) applies not just the the nonexistent ethics of the people who send it out, but to the nature and content of the spam they send. They all use fake return addresses, they all use obscure unicode characters to attempt to defeat naive subject line filtering (thankfully Eudora doesn’t know unicode so the subject lines show up as gibberish in my mail reader), and they all use incredibly shady website addresses. About the only difference between the ads for real products and the ads for counterfeit products or for phishing purposes is the quality of the proofreading of the ad copy.

    Really the only spam that stands out as different are 1) the Nigerian scams, which always pretend to be from someone who puts their full name and honorific in the subject line, and 2) the opt-in email newsletters, which, astonishingly, have non-shady unsubscribe links that actually work, and work instantly.

  2. Internet/email marketing is very data driven and I’m sure that it’s getting more intelligent not dumber. You mention Google is not good either, but I’m sure that they have one of the most intelligent ad platforms. The problem is that advertisers have zero interest in your experience, and are only looking at their ROI. Even with AI, I doubt that this will change as long as ROI is the metric by which ad campaigns are judged. AI probably won’t change anything.

    The point about Amazon being better than the others is interesting. I’m not sure that I agree, but if this is true, this is probably because Amazon has better and more relevant data than Google. They know what people actually spend their money on. Google has vast data, but it may not be relevant to what you’re going to buy. I often think that AI is less about the actual algorithms and more about the quality and relevance of the data that you collect. I think Amazon’s data is precious, but I think the value of Google’s is less so.

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