Before we dive into how AI can help write emails, let me just say that this post isn’t about fueling the humans-versus-machines debate. As an email marketing expert who loves helping small business owners get strategy-savvy and spice up their email copy, I’m also interested in exploring how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help level the playing field for small business owners who are bootstrapping their marketing.

Why AI? Why now?  

I’m the kind of person who doesn’t easily fall for the latest marketing trends, I’d rather watch from the sidelines and see how it goes before jumping in (remember when everyone was going gaga over Clubhouse? Not me!).

So it’s funny that I found myself tinkering with AI tools to see if they worked for/with/against my business.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m a one-person marketing team, or because the bar for accessing an AI tool is very low (and free!), but over the past month I’ve kept my “AI” tab open more and more!

I gotta say, it’s been nice spit-balling ideas where previously my only options have been two elderly cats and a Magic Eight Ball.

So, what is AI, in simple terms?

If you’re tired of hearing about AI and pretending like you know what it means, here’s what I know… AI (or artificial intelligence), is like having a smart robot buddy that we teach to do human-y things for us (pretty sure I read that in a tech journal).

There are two main types of AI to know about that will help you keep up with dinner party conversation.

~~ The machine learning one, where computers learn to recognise patterns and make decisions based on data. So, if you just got a kitten and suddenly start seeing ads for cat food, that’s machine learning in action

~~ The generative production one, where computers use lots of information to make new things for us, like writing stories, making pictures, or even composing music. This is the one we’re talking about today!

Isn’t AI a bit controversial?

Look, we know that AI is the shiny new toy everyone’s playing with, and it turns out that some AI tools can be a bit, shall we say, biassed.

For example, if you ask for an image of a CEO, you might only see pictures of white dudes, yikes! Errors like this can happen because the AI is still learning, and sometimes it’s sobering to see ourselves reflected back by what it’s learned from us as we’re trying to right our past mistakes.

To make it easier, think of AI like a toddler learning to walk. It needs good information to grow up right, as in the fact-checked and unbiased kind!

You only need to perform a Google search with the terms: Gender Bias / Racial Bias + AI to find other examples. I suggest you do to keep up to date with its limitations.

How does ChatGPT fit into the AI puzzle?

If you’ve been looking for a little (AI) assistance, you might’ve heard of ChatGPT – it’s like a digital co-worker who never gets tired of listening to you.

It’s clever at understanding what you say and coming up with a response that actually makes sense. How? It recognises patterns in your words and uses its language model to create something totally new and unique based on what you ask it.

So no, ChatGPT doesn’t work by munching on the entire internet and regurgitating vaguely coherent content. It’s a smidge more sophisticated than that.

It’s more like a really big book of knowledge, using what it’s learned from people like you and me to generate text. It can’t browse the web on its own or gather info without our input, so the better quality content we input, the better quality it will output.

Why should we give ChatGPT a try to help write marketing emails?

Firstly, there’s the accessibility challenge.

AI tools, like ChatGPT, have the potential to level the playing field for business owners who are not natural writers and may rely heavily on YouTube tutorials, Googleversity or generic copy templates to get their ideas ready for market.

Thing is, 71% of consumers expect brands to give them personalised interactions, so any opportunity to tailor content ideas specifically for an audience is only going to help.

That’s exciting, not to mention free (and free-ing!) for small businesses owners who otherwise might be left out in the cold.

Should I start using ChatGPT to write email copy?

The fact is that ChatGPT can write a marketing email in less than a minute, but on a scale of passable copy to high converting copy, its output tends to be closer to passable than something you might actually want to publish.

That’s why I like to use it for building on my ideas, instead of asking it to produce complete content.

To get the best out of ChatGPT, it’s essential to know how to give it good directions (or “prompts”). The clearer the direction you give, the better the copy it will generate.

Think of what you’d need to tell a real person to get your ideas across, for example, you need to be clear on what you want to achieve, how you want it to look, and what tone of voice your brand has.

Here’s some tips to keep in mind when formulating a prompt:

1 ~ Give some context. Let it know who it’s writing for and what you’re trying to achieve.
2 ~ Talk to ChatGPT like you’re chatting with your work bestie.
3 ~ ChatGPT is like a real chat, so feel free to follow up with it if it gives you a crappy response.
4 ~ You don’t have to speak English to talk to ChatGPT. It’s multilingual and can handle just about any language you throw at it.
5 ~ If you find a prompt that works well, keep it handy in a notes app or document so you can simply copy+paste it for next time.

Here’s an example from a recent chat about ideas for an organic skin care brand:

An example ChatGPT conversation for generating subject lines for an organic skin care brand.

Prompt structure: Give me X email topic ideas for a [brand type] that uses [key feature] in its products that are [a unique selling point]. The target audience is [describe audience and what they need to know to help them make a buying decision].

Original: Give me 5 email topic ideas for an Australia organic skin care brand that uses native botanicals in its products that are formulated in small batches by hand. The target audience is women who are mother’s and want to know how our products can help them.

Then, I refined the prompt focussing on a night time care routine:

Refining your prompt in ChatGPT is a good idea to get more specific.

From there, I wanted to see what some potential subject lines could look like, so I asked it to shorten these 5-7 words long each for a marketing email:

Asking ChatGPT to shorten the headings into subject lines.

These are definitely punchier and can be used as inspiration for a subject line, or as is.

As a copywriter, I prefer examples that sound less like a tagline and more like natural speech. So, number 2 “Wake up refreshed with our skincare” or number 4 “Beauty sleep made easy for moms” makes the most sense to me.

Would I actually use these subject lines for a client?

In truth, probably not… but I would use certain words and remodel the copy it gave. For example, my subject lines might look closer to these:

Statement: “Rise and Shine (and glow!) with nourished skin!”
Question/curious: “Skin care that refreshes while you sleep?”
Helpful/educational: “How to wake up to gorgeous skin, everyday”

The key takeaway is that I’ve got some topic ideas and am inspired to work up a concept or two for a client – whether it’s with ChatGPT or by myself.

What can’t ChatGPT do for email marketing?

If you’re looking to use ChatGPT for email marketing, there are a few things to keep in mind that it can’t do: 

Firstly, just remember, ChatGPT is a great starting point, but it’s not a magical fix-all for your email marketing. You’re still the boss when it comes to your email strategy! It’s not going to tell you what kind of emails to send, give you tips for getting your emails read, or when to send them.

Secondly, ChatGPT isn’t going to build your emails for you. It’s a smart cookie, but it’s not at that level of superhuman ability. You’ll still need to bring your creative flair to the table when it comes to the look and feel of your email template.

Thirdly (yup, it’s a word!), it’s not a professional storyteller. Your brand has its own unique voice and story to tell, and ChatGPT can’t do that for you.

So, can AI really help you write better emails?

While there’s a long way to go for AI to generate polished and ready-to-use marketing content, it’s still helpful in refining your ideas. And that’s the key point: YOUR IDEAS!

Whether it’s ChatGPT or any other AI writing tool, it’s important to remember that they don’t have a nuanced understanding of your business, audience, and what you sell.

But it’s not all bad news! AI is a great assistant to complement and build on your thoughts and ideas when your creativity needs a boost. And, for small business owners looking for a kick start to coming up with content ideas, creating subject lines, or even wanting a simple grammar check on their copy, AI is worth investing your time in.

Are you using ChatGPT or any other AI tool to help you with marketing? Let me know in the comments.


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