As Benchmark Email continues to simplify email marketing for busy marketers with innovative tools, we had the opportunity to sit down with two key figures behind their latest AI project, Smart Design. Jeff Zimmerman, Chief Product Officer, and Paul Rijnders, Product Manager and the product lead for Smart Design, share their insights on the development and impact of this AI-powered email creation tool. Smart Design is set to simplify the email design process, making it quicker and more efficient for users to create professional-quality emails. Let’s dive into their journey and learn more about the future direction of Smart Design.

1. What was the background behind your decision to develop Smart Design?

Jeff Zimmerman: From the beginning, Benchmark Email has been designed with simplicity at its core. Email marketing can be challenging, so it is our pleasure to create a tool that helps our users easily bring their marketing strategy to life. Before we began incorporating AI, Benchmark Email was built around the easiest-to-use drag-and-drop email builder available, as well as an extensive library of email templates. The team has always been driven to constantly improve the process of building emails for our users.

Paul Rijnders: Still, we understood the difficulties for marketers coming in to a new platform and creating a new email from scratch. Our goal was to take a task that typically takes hours and boil it down to minutes. Generative AI tools have been picking up steam in the last few years – even before ChatGPT went public. In September of 2022, we released Smart Content to help our users easily create and update email copy in their email templates.

Jeff Zimmerman: Shortly after our Smart Content release, ChatGPT was opened to the public. We began leveraging the new OpenAI APIs to develop Smart Design. It was a natural progression from helping to ideate and write email copy with Smart Content to easing the workload of email template design with Smart Design.

2. What difficulties did you face from the development of Smart Design to its release? Please tell us about the episodes.

Jeff Zimmerman: At Benchmark Email, we keep the customer at the heart of product development. It’s not about what we think the customer should want, but what the customer really wants. One of the challenges we faced was not over-building Smart Design on assumptions from the start. Instead, we began with a lean version of the product. While the beta version of Smart Design was not as powerful as our latest version, it was a valuable starting point for understanding how our users want to use AI in their email design flow.

Paul Rijnders: With unlimited possibilities before us, we worked hard to constrain ourselves to the functionality that would be most helpful to our customer base. We did extensive research to understand the types of emails our customers send and launched Smart Design with promotional, newsletter, and welcome email template categories.

Another exciting challenge for us was creating AI prompts that would generate email copy aligned to the organization and the purpose of the email template. In addition, extra measures were required to produce solid email copy for Japanese, especially with the earlier versions of GPT. For instance, we quickly learned that OpenAI has better support for instructions in English. So, we crafted our prompts in English and requested that the output be in Japanese to achieve the desired results.


3. How has Smart Design impacted Benchmark Email users in the months since its launch? Please share any examples of positive user impact, feedback, or results.

Jeff Zimmerman: We’re excited to see our customers get a head start in their email design efforts. With the addition of Smart Design, our data shows that users are more likely to build and save an email within their first logged-in session to Benchmark Email. We’ve also seen a lift in users who perform other key tasks within their first seven days of using the platform – such as verifying their email address and adding contacts to their Benchmark Email lists. These indicators suggest that Smart Design makes it easier for users to create and send impactful emails.

In addition to our data, we’re also receiving promising user feedback. One customer explained how it took two hours to create a simple email with his last provider, while he was able to create a similar email with Smart Design in just 45 minutes. Our customers are also sharing their Smart Design experience with their peers on sites like G2. It’s really fulfilling to hear the positive feedback.

4. What is your next product direction? What kind of experience do you want to provide your users?

Jeff Zimmerman: We want to continue simplifying email marketing for busy marketers and help them achieve results in less time. To that end, we plan to continue infusing AI in the product. We envision AI not only helping with generative tasks, like email copy and design, but to help our users quickly leverage data and results to inform their email marketing strategy.

We’ve also heard from our customers that they would like more powerful contact management within Benchmark Email. Over the next year, we’ll be working on ways to better filter and segment contacts so our customers can tailor their email marketing campaigns with ease.

Paul Rijnders: Most recently, we’ve added the ability for users to access stock photos without leaving the email builder. In addition, our new integration with Canva allows users to use the power of Canva design in their emails. These enhancements are setting the stage for continued development of email template generation from Smart Design.

Jeff Zimmerman: One thing busy marketers want is to use AI as a companion to their marketing strategy. Our customers aren’t looking for AI to generate an email template or a subject line and send it without any human intervention. We’re working on ways to help our users easily collaborate with our AI tools so that the outcome matches their vision.

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by Benchmark Team