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Authentic Marketing in Email: How to Add a Human Touch in the Age of AI

What does “authentic” email marketing mean in the age of generative artificial intelligence (GenAI)? Well, here’s what ChatGPT had to say about it:

"In the fast-paced digital landscape, where inboxes overflow with promotional messages and spam filters work overtime, the quest for authentic communication has never been more crucial. Authenticity has become the cornerstone of successful marketing strategies, and in the realm of email marketing, it stands as a beacon guiding brands towards genuine connections with their target audience."

That sounds pretty good, right? Except… it’s not very authentic. (And you've got to laugh at all those buzzwords ChatGPT managed to work into one paragraph.)

The struggle is artificial

With so much AI-generated out there, it’s difficult to know what came from a trusted human expert and what might be full of questionable information. Authenticity requires that you are building trust among your target audience. If you don't seem real, in some cases, your brand may be harder to trust.

Bots can be a problem for marketers as well as those being marketed to. Just as it’s important to remember there are actual human beings opening your email campaigns, subscribers also want to know there are real people behind the brands they love (even if you are getting help from AI).

Your subscribers want to feel seen, they want to feel connected, and they want to be more than just their data. Authenticity is still one of the best ways to drive connection (and conversion) in your email marketing.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with using AI in email marketing, but if you don’t have the time to create awesome emails with a human touch, why expect that your subscribers will take the time to engage with them?

In this article, we’ll talk about what authenticity in email marketing looks like, how it works in the age of AI, and why adding a human touch can pay off in the long run.

What does authentic marketing really mean?

Authenticity is about being true to yourself. In marketing, that means being true to your brand.

What does your brand stand for? What are your company values? You need to be able to articulate these as a team before you can translate those values to email. For example, if one of your brand values is “honesty,” but you consistently send emails that it’s the “last day to save!” even though the sale really ends in a few more days…that’s not very authentic. And subscribers see right through that.

Just as a reminder: Real people are reading your emails, and they’re (hopefully) opted-in to receive them. That’s a huge gift that should not be wasted. Stay true to what you promised subscribers when they signed up for emails and maintain your credibility.

Why an authentic marketing strategy matters

With the rise of AI-generated content, authenticity in marketing is what’s going to help you stand out.

Subscribers know that you’re collecting their data. They know that you’re probably using AI-generated words or images, or suspect it. There’s nothing wrong with speeding up your email marketing process—and making your life a little easier. For example, Sinch Mailjet offers an AI Copy Generator that helps marketers come up with better subject lines, calls to action, and more.

AI generated copy doesn't have to be inauthentic. But if you’re leaning too heavily on artificial intelligence, your emails are going to start sounding and looking the same as everyone else’s. You’re missing out on the opportunity to start a real conversation with your subscribers and make them feel special.

Authenticity can even reduce price sensitivity and increase brand loyalty among key demographics. CX Today cites a study from the UK indicating 48% of Gen Z and 51% of Millennials would be less concerned with price increases due to inflation if the brand was authentic.

So, for example, that could mean being honest and upfront with customers about why you need to raise your prices. Go ahead and ask Chat-GPT to help you explain that to people if you want. It's not about using or not using artificial intelligence. The point is, your marketing efforts have authenticity baked into them, which makes you a more authentic brand.

But how can the email channel bring authentic marketing into everyday communications?

5 ways to add a human touch to your email marketing

At it's best, digital marketing is essentially a form of customer service. Email is a great way to let your customers and subscribers know that you care. Here are five ways you can add a more human touch to your email campaigns:

1.   Email permission and preferences

The first way to be a human: Make sure everyone on your list actually wants to be there.

You need to have permission to send your subscribers emails. This isn’t just a suggestion. It’s a law in the EU and Canada and a requirement for most inbox service providers (ISPs) and email service providers (ESPs). That’s why purchasing an email list is not a good idea—buying a list doesn’t count as consent.

Here are some ways to obtain consent and set expectations:

  • Use either single or double opt-in when people sign up for your list.
  • In your welcome email series, let new subscribers know exactly what type of authentic content you’ll send so they know what to expect.
  • Always include a clear unsubscribe button. You may also choose to include a preference center, which helps subscribers choose what kinds of content they want to receive.

It’s much better to have a slightly smaller email list with subscribers that open, read, and click on your emails than a ton of subscribers that ignore you (or worse, mark you as spam.)

By the way, new sender requirements in 2024 mean you should be paying extra close attention to spam complaints and the unsubscribe process. Gmail and Yahoo want senders following RFC 5058 for one-click unsubscribe functionality in email headers. Plus, you need to keep your spam complaints below 0.1%.

2.   Email personalization

To personalize your email, you don’t necessarily need to know a subscriber’s name. Personalization goes beyond variable mapping to populate a template with your subscriber’s name—it’s about recreating the feel of a conversation.

Email personalization really comes down to providing value to our subscribers. In other words, you want to make today's consumers feel like you wrote and designed an email just for them, even if you’re sending it to many users on your mailing list.

For example, an online retailer could send personalized recommendations based on what customers have bought in the past or what content they’ve downloaded. You can also use other data to craft compelling marketing messages specific to certain consumers (and don’t forget to keep empathy in mind).

Here are some additional personalization strategies to implement in your email marketing campaigns:

  • Analyze your data, so you know what messages resonate with which kinds of subscribers.
  • Use dynamic content.
  • Draw on the customer data you already have. Pay attention to purchase history, browsing behavior, and survey answers.
  • Use list segmentation to create segments of target audiences who exhibit similar characteristics drawing from demographic, geographic, or psychographic data. Then, send targeted emails to these segments.
  • Offer tailored coupons, special offers, and product recommendations.
  • Send celebratory emails for anniversaries or birthdays.
  • Take into account subscribers' time zones to optimize send times.
  • Create a personalized call-to-action (CTA).

Above all, strive for the “personal” in “personalization.” Use the data you’re constantly collecting on your subscribers to craft relevant emails that speak to where they are in their customer journey.

3.   Email accessibility

Always make sure that your entire list can read and engage with your emails. According to the CDC, 26% of Americans have some degree of disability. Around 5% have vision impairments that qualify as a disability, but many more of your subscribers may also have common vision problems.

While devices and tools can help people with vision impairments access the internet, email developers and marketers can help recipients have the best possible experience with a few code and design adjustments. A few ways to make your emails accessible:

  • Use a simple layout with white space
  • Write alt text for your images
  • Evaluate your color palette for appropriate levels of contrast
  • Use a readable font and font size
  • Include podcast and video transcript links
  • Write clear, easy-to-understand copy

Show you care about every subscriber on your list. Building genuine relationships with customers means removing barriers.

4.   Brand voice in email copy

Brand authenticity means developing a clear brand voice so your copy across all of your digital marketing channels sounds similar. You probably already have a brand voice, whether you’ve defined it clearly or not. Even if you plan to write with a little help from generative AI, know what kind of style conventions you include.

That means making decisions on:

  • What kind of punctuation you use
  • Whether or not you’ll use contractions
  • How colloquial your speech will be, in terms of slang or memes
  • If you’ll directly address the reader or if you’ll use “I” or “we” conventions
  • What technical terms or vocabulary you’ll steer clear from

Overall, you want to write like you talk. It’s okay if your brand is on the more formal side—but it should still sound like a human, not a robot. If you wouldn’t use it in a conversation (or it sounds ripped out of a cringey corporate handbook), don’t use it.

5.   Owning up to mistakes

Email marketers make mistakes. Who hasn’t sent out an email with a typo or broken link? It happens to the best of us.

Admitting it and apologizing can create an opportunity. This may mean sending a corrected or apology email to your entire list or replying 1:1 to a subscriber that’s having a customer service issue. The more you can acknowledge the humans behind the computer exchange, the more likely you’ll come across as authentic in your email marketing.

5 examples of authentic marketing emails

Authenticity is earned. It may take some time for your emails to start to feel more aligned with your brand as you define what makes your emails specific to your program. In the meantime, take a look at these examples:

1.   Send a personalized email based on behavior

Personalized email from a pet company.

Finding the right pet for you takes time and effort. Petfinder helps match aspiring pet owners with animals in need—and when there’s a potential match, they notify their subscribers via email. This is a great example of using data that already exists in the system (in this case, search preferences, such as dog breed, age, and location) and delivering a relevant message.

2.   Lean into empathy with your subscribers

Empathetic COVID-19 email with human touch.

No matter what services you offer, there are bound to be sticky or uncomfortable moments in your customer journey. Putting yourself in your customer’s shoes is the key to crafting an email that just gets it. This email from On/Go is a great example of this. If you’re taking a COVID test, you probably feel sick—whether it’s COVID or something else, you’re not at your best. This quick email gives subscribers everything they need for next steps right away.

3.   Check in with subscribers on interest

Email checking for subscribers' preferences

As scary as it is to court unsubscribes, it’s much better than the alternative low engagement or spam complaints. This email from Animoto does a great job at asking subscribers if they still want to receive emails without it feeling like it’s an automated follow-up. Part of that is the language they choose, like phrasing it as a question and using contractions to sound more friendly.

4.   Include human voices in your email

Email from a food brand with friendly tone and human expertise

Graza is ostensibly an olive oil company, but the way they send their emails makes it feel like a friend chatting in the kitchen. One way they add authenticity to their emails is by introducing real (expert) voices. In this case, they’re talking about a shakshuka recipe and dropping the name of the writer in the copy before a few additional tips.

Including testimonials or other types of user generated content (UGC) is another effective way to add authentic human voices to email campaigns.

5. Own up to your mistakes

Mistake email from a coffee company

To be human is to make mistakes. What matters is addressing them head-on rather than ignoring them, especially with a gaffe like this email. While you’ll still deal with fallout from your mistake (depending on what it was), it’s important to show that you care about what you do, even if you don’t always get it right.

Humans make mistakes (but you can catch them)

P​​art of being human includes making mistakes. But mistakes are probably something you want to keep out of your email marketing… at least as much as you can.

Sinch Email on Acid is designed to help designers and developers catch as many problems as possible before hitting send. That could be anything from an accessibility issue to a typo. Where we really shine is pre-send testing that produces reliable Email Previews showing you how your campaigns render on more than 100 clients and live devices. Unlike other options, Sinch Email on Acid offers unlimited email previews with every paid plan.

But you can try it out first! Check out the free trial to take our email readiness platform for a test spin.

Boost ROI with Accessible Emails!

People all over the world live with visual impairments. How many of them are on your list? Can they read and act on your email campaigns? Email Accessibility is about more than just improving your reach. It shows empathy for every subscriber. Use Sinch Email on Acid to check accessibility before you hit send.

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