Eye On AI: Is It Really Helping Email - Or Is It Just A Buzzword?

Email agency RPE Origin made news this week by acquiring the email design firm LuckyRedPixel. MediaPost caught up with Ryan Phelan, managing partner at RPE Origin, to discuss the state of email in general and the impact of ChatGPT in particular.  

Email Insider: How is ChatGPT affecting the email business?  

Ryan Phelan: I don’t think it risks anybody’s jobs. It may expand personalization in a way we haven’t been able to conquer easily.

Can it write copy specific to what a model or cohort means, at scale? That vaults email back into relevancy in the inbox. But the ESPs or Martech are going to have to come up with ways to do that. They have to come along with a development of the language model to clean up some of the copy and stuff.



It’s going to take some lifts on the technology front. Now it’s wholly manual. They have to put some discipline into it, and not just create subject lines for me.

AI has gotten so washed out with the definition of that -- it has almost become a buzzword. It’s up to the companies to prove it’s actually artificial intelligence (AI) and not something else.

Email Insider: Reporters like me are getting deluged with announcements about AI products. How do you make sense of it all?  

Phelan: It’s confusing to me and to marketers -- what is the thing we should follow?

When the other techs have something new -- something I can control -- I can see where they’re pulling the information from. I can see the behind the scenes a little.

With ChatGPT, you almost need a doctorate to see how the hell it works. What it means to me is how I can adopt it to my company. There are more questions than answers right now. 

Email Insider: On a separate subject, have you seen these studies showing that text is more popular than email? 

Phelan: The whole text thing works great on one-to-one communications with a friend or acquaintance -- not when you put it into marketing communication. People may prefer it, but they’re still clicking on emails -- they still have an email address. You can look at channel preference, but I don’t think that number is indicative of a loss of market share for email.

I do everything on my phone, from buying products to managing stocks. The immediacy is in my phone, then I go to my computer. I see this all the time. If I have to charge my phone during the evening, I have nothing to do during the commercials.  

Email Insider: What’s next for email? 

Phelan: I think it’s connected to AI --in fact, I hope a lot of the change we’re seeing in vendors cascades to greater personalization. I hope that email can catch up with the rest of the web. Email is still playing catch-up. If I go to Amazon, it’s "Do you need replenishment?" It’s highly customizable.

Google News has news for you. That’s what the web is supposed to be -- an intelligent experience, not a dumb-down experience. With all this data, all this tech, why should the internet be stupid?

Right now, there’s a lot of dissatisfaction with the ESPs. They sat on their laurels and built infrastructure, and didn’t innovate very much.

Email Insider:  Any exceptions? 

Phelan: Zeta Global. I’m impressed with their performance in the industry.

Email Insider:  Is BIMI catching on? 

Phelan: BIMI is a great thing for brands -- it’s a great branding experience. I don’t know if it’s an authentication in consumer’s eyes. Does it truly increase my sales over time? I don’t know if it does. It needs a relevant contextual message, not the fact that Amazon’s logo is in the inbox. I think it’s a branding exercise. 

Email Insider:  How is RPE Origin doing? 

Phelan: Our whole thing is B2B companies -- or B2B2C.

We’re seeing business grow like crazy, there has not been any decline in spend. If anything, it’s accelerating what people are doing. They’re doubling down -- they want stuff fast, like within a month or in two months when it would take six, like "It has to be done by end of May."

Email Insider:  What accounts for that? 

Phelan: Market forces: People are wanting to get everything in place in case a recession hits, they need to get off current platforms ASAP — it’s inhibiting business. In this economic situation, the solution is not to run from spend but to spend faster to mitigate risk.

Companies are spending like crazy, which I don’t mind at all.

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