This AI platform wants to send you email only when you want it

Andreas Rekdal
March 22, 2017

Understanding your audience is the key to successful marketing.

Still, there are limits to how well marketers can adapt an email campaign to reflect each customer’s tastes and habits. Optimail, a Chicago startup, uses AI to bring an individualized touch to email marketing.

“Optimail is a platform for marketing automation that provides adaptive messaging,” said co-founder Jacob Zweig. “It learns about each customer, what they’re likely to respond to and when they’re likely to respond. Then it automatically adapts the campaign to send them the right information.”

For instance, if a customer is more likely to click on emails during a morning commute, Optimail will learn that pattern and keep sending emails in the morning. The platform also adapts factors like subject lines and content of the email itself for the customer.

“The idea is that not every customer interacts with you in the same way. Everybody has their own preferences, so they shouldn’t be getting the same messaging,” said Zweig. “They should get messaging that’s relevant to them.”

It’s not just about personalization. Optimail also analyzes campaign performance on a higher level to unveil the kinds of insights marketers typically garner through A/B testing. By leveraging machine learning, Optimail can analyze a broader range of factors over a longer period of time and fine-tune ongoing campaigns based on how they’re performing.

“It’s a ton of data and it’s hard to pull it apart, so using robust statistical methods actually tends to perform better than really experienced marketers,” said Zweig. “We had a control test where we had an experienced marketer set up a campaign and compared our platform with that. In two to three weeks, we saw Optimail outperform them with statistical significance.”

Zweig and co-founder Brock Ferguson both hold PhDs from Northwestern University in neuroscience and cognitive psychology, respectively. Zweig said the two bonded over an interest in machine learning and statistics and saw an opportunity to employ the techniques they used in their research to create better email marketing.

Zweig, who has previously worked as a user experience consultant, said usability has been one of his team’s biggest priorities in designing the platform. To that end, Optimail gives customers a visual interface for building out emails, as well as a website integration that helps track how customers interact with the site.

In its current iteration, each company using the Optimail platform will start with a fresh installation that starts learning about customer behavior completely from scratch. Zweig said he and Ferguson are working on algorithms that draw insights across installations but are holding off on putting them into production until they are sure they can do so while protecting user privacy.

The two founders officially launched Optimail last month and are bootstrapping the startup while doing data consulting on the side. Zweig, who defended his PhD dissertation last month, said the pair is excited to engage more deeply with the Chicago tech scene.

“It’s not San Francisco, and that’s a good thing,” he said. “It’s fun and it feels like it’s growing. It feels like we’re starting out exactly at the right time.”

 

Images via Shutterstock and Optimail.

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