Survey: Spike in Use of AI in Email Marketing 

The report by RPE Origin found growing use in AI tools, but also concern about how recipients will feel about “creepy data.”

A new survey of email marketers reveals an explosion of use of AI, with plenty of room for growth in the future.

The report by email marketing firm RPE Origin, released earlier this month, is based on a survey of more than 100 enterprise marketing professionals about their email practices. Nearly half of the respondents (48 percent) say they plan to use AI in the coming year, a spike from 26 percent in 2022. Nearly a quarter of respondents (24 percent) say they’re already using it “extensively.” 

The top ways marketers are using AI, or plan to, are content personalization (50 percent), email retargeting (47 percent), and subject line optimization (47 percent). Nearly all respondents (99 percent) say their experience with AI has been extremely or somewhat positive.

The rapid growth in AI use this year reflects the rise of more affordable or free tools like ChatGPT, said RPE Origin Managing Partner Ryan Phelan. “Before, you had to commit to it, find a budget for it in an industry where your budget is not always a given,” he said. “ChatGPT and the generative AI tools that have come up are free for everybody, so now we’ve opened up the door.”

That growth will allow marketers not just to develop email content quickly and improve audience segmentation but also to better tailor communications based on a host of data points. “From an association standpoint, we can get to a point where, based on your email address and a few different questions, we can suggest the track that you should take at a conference,” Phelan said.

Forty-five percent of respondents said their biggest concern around AI in email marketing is “customer privacy and data protection.”

AI tools may also be better equipped to make networking recommendations. “You can start to say, ‘You should talk to this person,’ because the AI has gone through the list of priorities for your company and done an analysis,” Phelan said. “For a sponsor, it might say, ‘Here are the people you really want to connect with because of their behavior, or the company’s behavior.’”

That kind of seeming omniscience can be troubling for many, and Phelan said marketers will have to be increasingly mindful of their use of what he calls “creepy data.” (Forty-five percent of respondents said their biggest concern around AI in email marketing is “customer privacy and data protection.”)

“The key for the marketer is to use that for targeting, not to be blatant about the holding of that data for the message,” he said. “It really does take a marketer who is smart enough to disconnect themselves enough to be relevant without being creepy.”

Phelan encourages email marketers to spend more time experimenting with AI tools, setting up control groups to determine what AI-generated messages and processes are effective. But he cautions marketers that AI alone won’t produce emails that hit the target.

“I can go to ChatGPT and fill in all this information and say, ‘Generate X,’ but I still as an individual need to go through and humanize it,” he said. “I need to make sure it’s my voice, that it’s still the company style. We haven’t reached that point yet of surety in the tool. We’re still in the experimental stage.”


Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!