VIRGIN’S USE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE OUTPERFORMS HUMANS BY 10% – BUT IS AI ALL IT’S CRACKED UP TO BE?
Artificial Intelligence is a big topic in the digital world and, more specifically, in email marketing. Increasingly brands are using AI technology to stay in touch with customer interests and buying habits – ultimately promising to increase revenue by using machine learning to understand what your customers want.
Big brands like Virgin are already adopting AI technology to optimise and automate their email marketing subject lines – with the machines outperforming humans by up to 10 percent for open rates! But is there a fine line between allowing machines to literally do the talking for you, and completely obliterating the human touch?
AI & THE EMAIL
You already know that there’s a knack for writing good subject lines. It’s a huge part of every campaign – if you can’t get the opens, there’s a huge missed opportunity for reach and you may feel like banging your head against a wall when you accumulate all the time spent on strategizing, developing and executing.
What if a platform could create the perfect subject line every single time whilst also giving your profits a guaranteed boost? Sounds pretty goddam good, right…?
It was exactly this motivation that drove Virgin to take the plunge with AI – their team became increasingly frustrated at the lack of traction they were receiving from emails. By putting their faith in AI start-up Phrasee, Virgin increase their revenue by around 2% – earning them hundreds of thousands by allowing Phrasee to generate their subject lines from one algorithmic software.
CREATIVE MARKETING OR ALGORITHMIC MARKETING?
However, as forward-thinking machine learning may be do we really want to give a machine the authority to sign off your campaign and trust that the subject line 1. actually makes sense and 2. is going to improve your results?
Some argue that with AI technologies we will never write a bad email again, with the likes of Persado allowing us to optimise our body content to drive more prospective leads and customers through the purchase funnel and boldly claiming to enable personalised emotional engagement at scale.
We must admit, Virgin’s success speaks for itself, but we can’t help but question if the industry is beginning to become too data driven instead of creative driven. Allowing machines and algorithms to take over creative control seems to completely undermine the purpose of marketing alone. If marketing is about showing the value of the product or services we’re offering, then we’ve got to think outside the box to attract, retain and delight our customers. And a machine simply cannot deliver the creative element that almost all successful campaigns require.
WE ALL HAVE A GOOD SIDE, RIGHT?
Despite all its critics, there is a bright side to AI and email automation services. Let’s not forget all those features that seemed impossible only a few years ago and are now configured by the touch of a button:
- Ability to schedule and segment sends to land in our recipient’s mailboxes at every time zone’s optimum period
- Ability to segment our subscribers
- Split testing on subject lines, body content, rich content and more.
It’s no doubt that AI and automation has opened a wealth of opportunity for brands.
But as a creative agency, we don’t want to see our industry become so fixated by how quickly we can target consumers and less in touch with how we use our creativity to relate to our customers. AI risks our society becoming reliant on an algorithm, rather than human analysis to decide what we, as a consumer, actually want.
THE FUTURE OF AI
It’s unclear to say what the future of AI will be. Virgin make a point of showing how they will continue to tweak the algorithm within Phrasee in a bid to allow it to learn and develop the tone and voice of previous Virgin campaigns, aligning it with brand guidelines and public reactions. As some applaud the brand for taking initiative, others wonder why they’ve not just let their staff go back to the drawing board and work on their strategy and campaign execution to improve results.
We think that the introduction of AI into marketing should be perceived as a way of assisting our creativity, not taking it away from us. Of course, we need to move with technology in order to stay ahead of the curve but be aware that we still hold