Email Design

Can AI design a marketing email?

AI is a big deal at the moment. And by “the moment”, that likely means from this point onwards in human existence.

We’ve previously talked about AI’s skills as a copywriter and its influence on email marketing in general. Now it’s time to look at another major branch of AI content generation: imagery.

The journey begins

Midjourney is one of the most advanced and best-known AI image generators in the market. If you’re not familiar, let me explain – it’s a form of digital magic that needs to be seen to be believed.

Picture something in your head. Anything. Now type it into Midjourney’s prompt bar. Within seconds, it will generate four images based on your input. How about:

a Jaguar E-Type parked next to the Eiffel Tower in the rain

Four AI-generated images of a Jaguar E-Type in front of the Eiffel Tower

Incredible, right? Pictured unmistakably are the vehicle, landmark and weather conditions of my choice. But after the initial wow factor has worn off, it doesn’t take much scrutiny to spot the flaws. In one picture the Jag is making a nuisance of itself in the face of oncoming traffic. In another there’s not one Eiffel Tower, but two. This is a landmark that surely doesn’t need any more replicas!

As a user, there are several options at this point. We can spin again and get four brand new images based on our original prompt. Or we can ask Midjourney to create variations of what it’s already generated. Maybe we’d like to do some manual editing in Photoshop, feed the image back to Midjourney and ask it to work from that. Perhaps we’d prefer to rewrite our prompt and be a little more specific.

But let’s move on. We could play with whimsical pictures of this and that all day, but we’re here to examine Midjourney’s potential visual contribution to email marketing.

An a-eye for design

We’re going to test this from two distinct angles:

  • Overall email layout
  • Individual images

I should preface this by saying that Midjourney clearly isn’t intended for the design of websites or emails. It’s a tool with an artistic bent (and one that gives it a distinct character from its rivals). Nonetheless, let’s see what it can do as a source of design inspiration.

We’ll work with purpose. Our goal is to design an email for a make-believe travel company. Its brand colours are a sunny blue and a beachy tan. Those can sit on a traditional white background, with body copy rendered in an eye-pleasingly contrasting dark grey. AI can’t read our minds (yet), so my request is quite specific:

Marketing email for a travel company. Beach imagery. White background. Dark grey text. Use of colours #6084f7 and #c1aa60

And here’s what it came up with:

Four email layouts created by AI

TO TE MAIAY THI – do you know what language that is? It’s mangled English. And that’s an indicator as to how AI image generators work. The output is a visual echo, based on countless source images that have been fed in. That’s why it’s not uncommon to see distorted intepretations of brand watermarks or artist signatures. As with all AI products, we’re seeing the results of complex algorithms rather than any real intelligence.

But can we make use of these mock-up emails? Of the four images above, option 1 is the most useful. It may have largely disregarded my colour choices, but in terms of layout and volume of content it’s the most plausible as an email. Now we’ll conjure up some imagery to bring it to life.

It’s a kind of image-ic

The big beach image from our layout mock-up is pretty nice:

AI-generated image of a beach

That picture is of too low resolution to use in its current form but thankfully Midjourney is a flexible tool. I’m going to feed the image back to the platform, along with some instructions:

[beach.jpg] panoramic illustration of a yacht next to a tropical beach with palm trees and rocks --ar 11:4

That ‘ar’ tag at the end is a way to define the aspect ratio of our images. We don’t want the default square shape in this case, so I’ve picked dimensions that suit a long strip-like image.

Here’s the result:

Four AI-generated images of beaches

I like option 4. So let’s upscale it to a useable resolution, and I’ll modify the colours a little in Photoshop to make it more on-brand.

Final, modified version of an AI-generated beach image

We have a layout. We have a main image. Now we can move onto the final step.

Assembly required

Let’s put the AI-generated components into an actual email. If this was a real commercial mailing, we’d have generated many more trial layouts and images, and made a lot more edits along the way. Working with AI tools feels a bit like the infinite monkey theorem. Spin and spin again until we finally get the result we had in mind.

But what we have here is good enough for experimental purposes. Here’s the final product:

Is it a revolutionary design? No. Could the main image be better? Yes. The point isn’t perfection but progress.

Some final thoughts on AI email design

AI content-creation tools are becoming more sophisticated and widespread. It’s not far-fetched to see image generators becoming an everyday tool that lets marketers conjure up fresh, on-brand graphics in seconds.

In answer to the opening question – can AI design a marketing email – my verdict is sort of. It can certainly help. But at the current rate of progress, who knows what it’ll be capable of a year from now.

Email Marketing

The future is here. How will AI impact your emails?

Artificial intelligence is a hot topic. There are several AI-powered tools on the market, whether in a commercially-viable or prototype form. Perhaps most significant is ChatGPT by OpenAI, which was made public at the tail end of last year. What’s ChatGPT? Why don’t we ask it:

Me: what are you? ChatGPT: I am an AI language model developed by OpenAI, known as ChatGPT.

To describe itself as a “language model” may be correct but it’s a little modest. ChatGPT’s abilities are vast. It can answer questions, generate code, write articles, translate documents, tell you a joke, or engage with you in some good old-fashioned chit chat.

This of course is an impressive piece of technology and a fun tool to experiment with. But its scope and usefulness extend far beyond curiosity. It has practical, real world applications. Why spend time programming a website component when an AI can do it for you in a fraction of the time? Why struggle with writer’s block when a copywriting deadline is looming? Why be presented with adverts when searching for information online? Prompt ChatGPT and it’ll take on the task and output some code, content or answers within minutes if not seconds.

Amazing, right?

Let’s take a step back

The validity of the phrase artificial intelligence is often contested. As a species, we are yet to develop something that is actually aware, or truly understands what it is doing. Perhaps a more accurate description is fancy algorithms. Patterns, machine learning… and sometimes very wonky output.

On that topic – ChatGPT makes mistakes. That’s not a criticism. Just like a human, ChatGPT learns from mistakes… but it doesn’t feel embarrassed about it. When things go wrong, you can tell it so. It’ll then take steps to rectify the error. There’s some give and take when working with ChatGPT.

What artificial intelligence could mean for email

The combination of email and AI (or fancy algorithms) is nothing new. One-to-one product recommendations have been around for years, picking relevant items based on previous shopping behaviour. Spam filters automatically guard inboxes against emails of the shadiest kind. Customer journeys and automated emails are made possible through complex workflows with little post-development need for human intervention.

What is new however is the concept of emails that are predominately or even completely designed and coded by computers. Imagine high-quality, on-brand design and copy that is generated in seconds. Perhaps the same AI tool could then select the audience, send the email, read the report and optimise the next send. Is there a point at which human input becomes zero?

What artificial intelligence currently means for email

Don’t worry – we’re not at the human irrelevance stage yet. In my tests with ChatGPT, I’ve seen it output some erroneous facts and broken code. From what I’ve seen it’s neither ready to fly solo nor likely to achieve such independence any time soon.

That doesn’t mean it’s not a revolutionary and practical technology in its current state. I already use it almost daily for writing inspiration and to help with coding questions that would otherwise mean trawling through forums for answers.

ChatGPT and other pioneering AI technologies have already changed the way we work, and they will only continue to evolve. It’s incredible to think that what was only recently in the realm of science fiction is now becoming a reality. The future really is here.